How to Get the Best Results from Your Family Portrait Session

Some of you may have already seen it, but yours truly was published in a local magazine to share my knowledge on ‘How to Get the Best Results from Your Family Portrait Session’ for the residents of Stonebridge. Since there are so many others of you living in other areas of Ottawa, I figured I would share the article on the blog, to help you get through your fall & holiday portrait sessions this season. If you’re still looking for a photographer, there are some extra tips for you at the end. First things first, you need to know your desired outcome for the experience.



    If you are planning to send out holiday cards with your new family portraits, let your photographer know so they can shoot accordingly, and make sure they have the product available for you to purchase.

When it comes to doing a family photoshoot, you need to set your expectations up front, so that there are no surprises later on, and everyone involved knows exactly how things are going to go. Well, as planned as you can get when it involves young children! The best way to do so is to talk with your photographer over the phone or in-person to discuss intentions and desired outcomes. Be sure to get all agreed upon terms in writing for clarity.


  1. What is your intended use of the photos captured?
    • Will you be using them to print a large canvas for your home?
    • Will you be adding a few prints to the ever-growing family album?
    • Will you be creating holiday cards to send to friends and family?
    • Will you be sharing a few on your social accounts?
  2. What type of service do you want or need?
    • Do you need a quick turnaround time? Do you have a deadline?
    • Do you want to attempt a DIY session or would you prefer a full-service experience?
    • Do you want the images to be retouched to remove distracting background objects, lint on shirts, or pesky leg bruises?
  3. What type of images do you want?
    • Are you wanting everyone to be smiling and looking at the camera?
    • Are you wanting candid images of your happy family being themselves?
    • Are you wanting the style of the images to be light & airy, or dark & moody, or bright & colourful?
    • Do you want timeliness images or seasonal snaps?




Your photographer should be able to make recommendations based on your style preference and the intended purpose of your portraits, but here are a few things to look out for:

  • Try to find a location that has a few different backdrop options available within a short walking distance to allow for more variety in the gallery AND that offers prime access to the seasonal showcase, all while offering the opportunity for timeless images that can hang on your walls year-round.
  • Plan your session start time around the type of location, to ensure you have adequate daylight to work with at your chosen location. Early morning and evenings sessions are best for most places so that you can avoid harsh direct sunlight, however, in heavily shaded areas like a forest, mid-day might actually be best. Overcast days are a photographer’s best friend because they allow for perfect even lighting all day long!





This is the fun part! This is where you get to incorporate your personalities into the images, and you have the opportunity to really elevate your portraits with something as simple as wardrobe selection. Your photographer will be able to guide you on different clothing options and available props (think nice chair, vintage couch, park bench, etc.) for your specific scenario, but these guidelines are good for any session:

A beautiful timeless image; muted tones overall, and lots of coordinating layers and textures in the wardrobe. Capturing individuals adds variety to your gallery and photo album, and makes for a great update for your online profile.

  • Prepare at least a week before the session to make sure everything is purchased or cleaned, and fits comfortably. This means items that aren’t itchy, squeeze too tight, or make you feel uncomfortable.
  • Choose clothing that fit the season. This means dressing for the weather (not too hot or too cold), in items that aren’t itchy, squeeze too tight, or make you feel anything less than confident. Don’t forget about footwear! They matter just as much since many of your portraits will be head-to-toe images.
  • Stick with one or two colours, maximum of one pattern, and combine them with 1-3 neutral tones. I recommend picking one colour & one neutral, and use different shades and textures to add variety in everyone’s wardrobe without being too distracting or too similar. Try to fit the season (spring: pastels & florals, summer: brights & big patterns, fall: earthy tones, winter: neutrals), or opt for something timeless.




Before you get too excited, this does not mean get snap happy and shoot everything. It means to not overlook the simplicity of capturing individual images of each family member, and breakouts of different groupings. Having photos of just the kids is great for sharing with friends and family, and the individual of each of them is likely going to be showcasing their personality much better than a stuffy school photo. For many couples, the last time they had a portrait captured professionally of just the two of them was at their wedding–these can make for a great update, and the individuals make for great new profile photos online. Having the variety in groupings offers a much more diverse gallery, makes for more unique photo album layout options, and allows for a lot more use from the one photoshoot. Especially if you get creative with your wardrobe.




Say NO to the tripod! It can be rather difficult to get everyone all in one place, at the same time, and cooperating for long enough to get one great photo, especially with young children. Don’t make it harder for yourself by attempting to use a tripod and timer. Instead, ask a friend to help you out, or hire a professional. Having an actual person behind the camera who can assist with getting everyone’s attention and guide with posing makes a world of difference.



When choosing a photographer, you will want to observe three very important aspects: style, experience, and product availability.


  • STYLE: Picking a style is a very personal decision, and it varies from one artist to another. The way that images are captured, and the way they are edited can both impact the style. No amount of editing will take an image with blown out highlights and turn it into a dark & moody portrait. The best way to figure out what you like is to look through a few portfolios of local photographers and see what images speak to you the most.
  • EXPERIENCE: The level of experience will greatly play into the style, but it is important to be aware of the skill level of the photographer. If you are wanting a portrait where everyone is smiling and looking at the camera, then you need to make sure your chosen artist is experienced in using post-processing software in order combine several images together (very rare does this happen on its own during a family session–especially with little ones!). It is also very helpful if the photographer has worked with families before and feels comfortable interacting with children of all ages. Other things to consider are experience with the use of strobes and other equipment, that can greatly enhance a portrait when used properly.
  • PRODUCT AVAILABILITY: This circles back to the intended purpose of the portraits from your session. If you are looking to have a framed print hung in your living room and to send holiday cards to friends and family, then you want to make sure the photographer you have chosen can offer you those products. This will allow for you to narrow down the list from those whose style you love.


Of course, there is another deciding factor to be considered, but there is a reason it is the last thing to be mentioned–it’s not nearly as important as loving your images. Every family associates a different value to photography, and this is part of what you would set as an expectation from the start, of how much you are willing to spend on your experience. There is a photographer for every budget out there, and having this conversation with your partner from the get-go will allow for you to have a good idea of what your family can afford. Having that conversation with the handful of photographers you’ve narrowed your search to will help establish how far you can stretch it, whether there is a payment plan available for that coveted art piece you have been saving up for, or whether you are better off simply asking a friend for this time around and continue saving up for next time.


pregnancy maternity shoot holiday photos Hillcrest Tree Farm ottawa sunlight

All of my clients receive a prep-guide prior to their session, so that they are prepared for all things leading up to the big day, during the session, and the logistics following the portraits having been captured. If you have any questions, I am more than happy to walk you through the process of choosing a photographer. 




Stephanie de Montigny, Family Photographer
Pregnancy through Baby’s First Year & Beyond
Barrhaven, ON | 613-371-4594

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