Photo Prep 101: Part III

It’s time for the 3rd installation of my collaboration with Elle from Life Styled by Elle from our series:

rock the shoot.

From now through April 3rd, Elle and I will be giving you advice on how to prep for your family’s photo session — everything from how to pick a photographer to what kind of headband your 7 year old should wear.  Really, we’ve thought of it all!

On today’s agenda?


Props.  Either you’re totally into them or you’re not.  Here’s my (personal) view on props: they date photos, they are distracting, and they make the photos look cheap.

However, there are a couple exceptions.

(1) the prop you are using has incredible sentimental value to you.  A grandma’s quilt.  A brother’s baseball mitt.  A daddy’s dog tags.  That kind of thing.  In these cases, what you’re showcasing is not only the subject (your baby, your family, etc.) but also this special item.  I get that 100%.  But I think you should be really careful in how you present this prop.  1 prop at a time.  Maybe use grandma’s quilt as part of the location – lay it down while you’re all sitting on top of it.

(2) the prop you are using gives us a little more insight into the subject.  We had photos taken this fall and Maria brought her violin.  The photos were magical.  And…they tell a little about Maria.  But she was the only child who brought a prop along.  I didn’t want to bring a random stuffed animal for Charlotte to hold just because the colors match.

If props really, truly add to your photos, then make sure the props you use are personal and meaningful.


Number one — TRUST YOUR PHOTOGRAPHER.  You have already decided you like his/her style enough to pay big bucks to capture your family.  Rest assured he/she will come into the session with a really good idea as to how to place all of you.  Chances are, they’ve seen what has worked and what doesn’t.  Posing a family of 3 is much different than a family of 7.  If you’re a big family, but you really like the way your cousin’ photos were and they’re a family of 3….you might have to adjust your vision for the session.

It’s okay to come with your own ideas.  LOTS of times I’ve said, “I saw this picture that was amazing….they were all standing blah blah blah blah” and once I knew my photographer got the jist of what I was saying, I let her just take it and run with it.  Ideas are great.  But don’t try and run the show.  If that’s what you want to do, set a camera up with a timer and shoot your own photos.

Colors and clothing.  I’d love to do a poll on photographers and ask: “How many times do clients ask what they should wear?”  I think the number would be ridiculous.  There are lots of things to consider when you’re choosing your clothing for photo sessions:

1) Your own personal style.     Don’t be afraid to be who you are!  You want to be able to recognize your family when you look at your photos, right?  You may have looked at photos online and loved what you saw — but knew that dressing up in vintage 50’s garb just wouldn’t be your thing.  You can still like those photos, but when it comes to styling your own, be you.  Don’t put on jeans and heels if you’d never be caught dead in that combo.  Don’t make your husband wear a bow tie if he took a look at it and thought it was for your 5 year old daughter.  You will regret it, I promise!

2) The location.  This is a hard one to navigate I think.  I always try to consider where photos will be taken before choosing clothing…but I also think it can be different and fun to, for example, dress up in formal wear for pictures on the beach.  The juxtaposition can be really interesting and different. But….that will only work if that’s your style!  Also, if your backdrop is going to be rather plain, a pop of color and/or patterns can look pretty great.  If there’s a ton going on, though (maybe if you’re at a carnival or some place busy), patterns can be distracting. Always ask your photographer if you have any qualms about what you’re wearing and how it might look at the location.

3. Your body type. This can be a sensitive topic for some, but I think we’re all very aware of what looks good on us and what doesn’t.  Let’s be honest — when we look at our pictures, we want to see ourselves looking amazing, right?!  (confession:  if I could have every photo of me professionally photo shopped to get rid of my muffin top, my fat chin and blemishes, I’d do it in a heartbeat). The truth is, we are who we are.  Duh, right?  But it’s true!  Right now in my life, I have too much around my midsection.  Why?  Because I just had my 5th baby a year ago.  This is where I am in my life and this is how I look.  AND I can make this body look really, really great! If you have larger legs that aren’t your favorite, don’t wear big printed leggings and a white shirt.  But maybe they’re your favorite feature — show those puppies off!!  As far as the fit of clothing and how it looks on you, only you are the one who can decide what you want to show off and what you want to hide.  I think the majority of us aren’t sure what pieces do this for us and that’s when you can hire someone to come and help you!  Look here.  But it’s really important that you feel comfortable in what you wear.  If you are uncomfortable or self conscious, it will show in your images.

4) Trends   I recommend staying away from really trendy styles.  A while ago, every single beach picture you saw had the subjects in khakis with white shirts.  Dude.  Let’s step away from that.  Think outside the box.  Wear something you might actually wear out together to dinner.  Would you all walk into a restaurant in matching white button ups and khakis?  Probably not.  Now, I know that you don’t coordinate when you go out to dinner, so find that middle ground.  Don’t match, but look nice together.

If you’re on pinterest, I’m sure you’ve seen the color palettes that look like this:

Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 11.51.12 AM

I love these!  At first glance, you wouldn’t necessarily think that a green like that would look great with coral plus a little brown and grey thrown in.  But it does.  It looks fantastic.  You don’t all need to wear jeans.  You don’t all need to wear khakis.  Mix it up, but bring it all together with something like this.  (oh, and even if a polka dot shirt and a plaid shirt each have some of these colors in it…say no).

In our last family picture, Jamie wore mustard pants and a plaid bow tie with a sweatshirt, I wore a grey dress, Charlotte wore a grey dress with mustard shoes, Maria wore a purple plaid dress, Danny wore khakis and a plain blue top, Olive wore a dark burgundy plain dress, Alice had a purplish dress.  Think of all those colors together.  Would you think they’d look good?  They looked amazing.  Lay everything out before you decide.  X might look so great with Y, but clashes horribly with Z.  It takes time and a little bit of patience to find the right palette and pattern combo for your photos, but it’s worth it!

5) Accessories.  I’m all for accessories as long as they don’t slide into the ‘prop’ category.  If you’re wearing a plain top, it’s so fun to spice it up with a cute and bright scarf, necklace, or earrings.  For little boys, bow ties, hats.  For little girls, headbands, scarves, and shoes.  Moms and dads:  jewelry, hats, shoes.  Again, it all goes back to your own style.  If you don’t ever wear earrings, don’t put on huge hoops for your session.  Common sense can take you a long way.

(Oh, and stay tuned — at the end of our series, we’re announcing a REALLY fun and exciting opportunity for you all to get help in choosing clothes and accessories!)

Our Thursday post will cover little kids and give you 3 options for clothing:  cheap budget, mid-range, and splurge.  We will give you an example of an outfit we might choose for our littles for each category with links to the stores.  I will be doing baby girls, Elle will be doing baby boys.  The fun stuff is coming up, so stay with us!


1 thought on “Photo Prep 101: Part III

  1. Pingback: Rock the Shoot, Part III: Posing, Props & Palettes | Life Styled by Elle

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