Let’s face it, family photo shoots can be frustrating to plan/coordinate, and exhausting to execute. Usually, mom has bribed or threatened her husband and kids into dressing up, getting into the car, and acting like civilized people for 90 minutes. If the kids are young enough, they don’t know what they’re in for. But if they’re teenagers who have given up civilized living until they turn 26, a family photo shoot ranks at the bottom of their favorite weekend activities list somewhere near Yahtzee Night and Newhart reruns.

But there are ways to ease the pain. Over the last 5-6 years of photography, our awesome clients have taught me a lot about how to make family shoots more fun and successful. I’m using the Mudge’s to illustrate because they were a blast to work with and we ended up with some fantastic photos.

1. Get the men on board

When the men are having fun, everyone seems to be having more fun. You know the men in your family best. Do what you can to let them know that you need their help. That doesn’t mean you need them to be task masters or take this too seriously. You just need them to care about the experience and the results as much as you do. Put them at ease by letting them know that this will be a relaxed shoot – it’s 90 minutes of goofing off with a photographer, that’s all.

2. Send some ideas in advance

You’ve probably looked around the web and seen some other family shots that you like. Or maybe you know of a place you’ve always wanted to do your family shoot. Let us know what you’re thinking. We want to work with you to create the images that you have in your mind.

3. Block out plenty of time for the shoot

Leave plenty of time on either end of the shoot for margin. You don’t want the frazzled feeling of being late for the shoot to start things off on an intense note. And you don’t want to have anyone in your family looking at their watch and starting to get anxious about their next thing when we’re just starting to get warmed up with some great photos. So block off more time than the 90-120 minute shoot so you and everyone else can feel as relaxed as possible.

4. Think about blending rather than matching

I love the way the clothes this family chose aren’t exactly the same, but they compliment each other well. In my humble opinion, putting everyone in exactly the same outfit makes it look like you’re wearing uniforms rather than clothes you feel comfortable in. Check out the DeJong’s gallery for a great example of planning clothes that blend but don’t match.

5. Bring your sense of humor

I’ve already advised you to let the kids goof around. Now give yourself permission to goof off. We want to have fun. This should be 90 minutes of hanging out with your family and making each other laugh. The guy with the camera is just a coincidence.

6. Make it a picnic

This is one of the smartest things to do when you’ve got a big multi-family shoot that could last up to 2-3 hours. Kids and adults get grumpy when they’re hungry, and posing for another photo will be the last thing they want to do if their stomach is growling. Having some finger food around to munch on is a brilliant way to keep the atmosphere light and the mood up. I recommend bringing the food in a backpack or two. Some shoots involve a fair bit of walking and you don’t want to have to lug around an awkward basket.

7. Play the game

I’m terrible when the camera is pointed at me. When we had our family photos taken with The Youngrens I had to play little mind games with myself to loosen up. I do this a lot on a shoot with clients. I’ll tell you to close your eyes and look at the camera when I count to 3. Or I’ll try to get you to think of the last time your husband made you laugh. Or I’ll have one of your kids stand behind me making faces at you until you break down and lose some composure. We’ll try lots of little games like that on a shoot. Have fun. Goof around. Play along.

8. Give the kids a longer leash than usual

We parents are always uptight about how our kids act around other people. But during the shoot, don’t worry about it. They’re probably going to be nervous because there’s this weird guy pointing a camera at them, and they had to get dressed up so this must be a big deal, and on and on. So they goof around a little bit more than usual to work out the nerves. Not a big deal. My kids do it all the time, so I get it.

Let them be goofy. It’s intense to be told to stand here, and put your hands this way, and smile bigger. We can always take breaks during the shoot if they need it. For the sake of having a relaxed, fun photo shoot go ahead and expand your normal boundaries by about 15%. This lets you relax, and it gives them permission to blow off some steam if they need to.

9. Get closer to your family members than you’re used to

So you may not be accustomed to standing so close to your cousins, or putting your arm around your brother. That’s ok. I’m probably going to ask you to do it anyway, because as you can see it makes for great photos. In big group photos, you’re probably going to be standing or sitting hip-to-hip with Uncle Larry. It’s only for a few minutes, and then you can pretend it never happened. I won’t tell anyone.

10. Let your own ideas come out

I love collaborating to create a fun image. While we’re in the middle of goofing around and setting up shots, you may get some ideas of your own. Let ’em out. Let’s try them. It’s your shoot. When’s the next time you’re going to do this? We may as well try as many ideas as we have time for, right?