Telling It To You Straight: The Real Deal On Family Photos

Tis the season to open your mailbox to a bundle of holiday greetings from friends and family. Inside each envelope is a beautiful family photo highlighting new babies, bright smiles and children happily holding hands with their siblings. It makes you smile. Then it makes you bitter. Why are they all so perfect when you had to bribe your own child with a trip to Disney just to stop crying in front of the camera? Or in my case, 1,000 organic lollipops from Whole Foods (which is just as expensive as Disney World).

Now see what I did there? I didn’t let on to the fact that I’ve been meaning to write this post for the past 6 months. Opps. I feel too guilty to not mention this, but I’m also thankful that I waited long enough for holiday family photos to set the scene for the following topic of discussion which I feel very passionatly about. Family photo shoots. Love them? Hate them? Doesn’t matter. Everyone should do them so that when you’re old and part of a bowling league you can bust them out to show your teammates and brag about how cute your kids were. (Or maybe at that point you brag about your grandkids? Hmm. Whatever. You get my point.) No matter how hard they seem, I think family photos are a must!

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Here’s a list of family photo truths:

  1. Family photos require planning.

  2. Family photos require a solid team.

  3. Family photos are an investment of time and money.

  4. Family photos require bribery.

  5. Family photos are always worth.

In this world of Instagram it’s so easy to scroll through your feed and see perfect, high quality photo after photo of beautifully dressed children and parents. You might even think if you hire an expensive photographer you too will capture hundreds of cherish-able photos of your family. But it’s not magic. These photos you are comparing yourself against usually have an entire team of people making them happen. Professional photographers, assistants, stylists, hair & makeup, robot children (kidding) etc. For most of us, it’s just not real life. But does this mean that you can’t get what you want? NO! With the right amount of effort, anyone can create images they are proud of.

It’s become a fact of the fitness industry that my profession now requires me to have professional photos to promote my brand. So even though I’m far from a model, I’m no stranger to the camera. Yet after having kids I quickly learned that even my most risky, physically challenging photo shoots (think side plank, on a slippery rock in the water) do not compare to getting 2 adults, 2 kids and a dog to all look good together.

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That is why I approach family photos the same way I do fitness photo shoots. With preparation, a team and a plan. Even my husband has learned to appreciate that the more we prepare, the smoother and more quickly the experience goes by.

I thought it would be fun to take you behind the scenes of my last family photo shoot with Janelle Carmela Photography this past June in Charlestown. I’m going to break down each truth I listed above to give you some insight on how we got some of my most FAVORITE images to date.

Family photo shoots require planning. If you want images you will love you need to think about what it is you actually want. Your photographer can not read your mind. The clearer you can be with your vision the more likely the photographer can help you achieve it. For example, I always make a Pinterest board of images I like and save them to my phone. I send them to the photographer ahead of time so we can plan the location or bring them up on site if we need ideas. I also like to think of one or two words to describe what I want and I share that with the photographer too.

For this past shoot I wanted our images to be more candid and less posed. I wasn’t looking for a perfect picture of the four of us sitting on the grass, smiling directly at the camera. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it just wasn’t what I was going for. (Plus, know your crew. Max is an active toddler who won’t sit still which means he wouldn’t magically change for pictures. I wanted him to be relaxed and in his element rather than stressing about him staying still.) I wanted to capture more of a “city family” look. Brick sidewalks, moody colors, love and sophistication.

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Once I had my theme I immediately called my friend Keely, the owner of B.Fetching. Keely is a personal stylist and she usually directs all of my fitness shoots. For our family I asked her to help pull looks for us. Obviously not everyone wants to use a stylist but personally I think it helps make our pictures cohesive. She always pairs things I’d never think of and helps us look our best.

The only thing I bought new for the shoot was my dress which Keely picked out for me (and brought to my home). It was totally worth it since I’ve now worn it a million times. In fact, other than workout clothes it’s all I’m featured wearing lately on my Instagram feed. HA! We worked our outfits around my dress and both Ryan and the boys wore things already in their closets.

I chose to get a spray tan because everyone looks better with a little glow. Plus my dress had a very low back and I needed some color. My go-to spray tan place in Boston is Natural Glow in the North End. I won’t go anywhere else. They are the best. I also got my hair and makeup done by GlamSquad. They were amazing because they came right to my house, saving me tons of time when getting ready. I highly recommend splurging on getting your hair and makeup done - it really makes all the difference.

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Family photos require a solid team. This is a big one. Working with Janelle is a no brainer. She’s extremely talented and a mother of two little boys. In short, she just gets it and that’s vital when working with children. She is calm, yet in charge. She takes control but is also really good at reading her clients and making them feel comfortable. You need to find a photographer you mesh with because your vibe and energy will show through in pictures. We feel like our crazy selves in front of Janelle and for some reason, she keeps agreeing to shoot us.

If you can bring along another family member, friend or in our case, a nanny - you will be so happy you did. One of our nanny’s Ashley came along on our shoot and she was a LIFE SAVER. Having an extra set of hands with small kids is key. She corralled Max when he was running away, pushed the stroller as Janelle captured images of walking down the street, she jumped up and down, made the kids laugh, handed out snacks and was an overall cheerleader to keep things going. (THANK YOU Ashley!!!)

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Family photos are an investment of time and money. Are they expensive? Yes, of course! But just like anything else, you get what you pay for. If you hire a sub par photographer, chances are your pictures will reflect this. It all depends on what’s important to you. To me, these images represent a part of our lives that we won’t ever get back. I want these pictures to be something I’m proud of. I want them to hang on the walls of our forever home and always remind me of these days and these moments. No one paid me to say this. It’s truly what I believe. So if you’re debating between the less expensive photographer whose work you don’t really love, versus the one you really want to use who might be pricer… I’m telling you it’s not a splurge - just do it. It is worth every single penny. Your kids will never be this little again. (And we will never be this young again.) Plus what’s the point in doing all this work, getting everyone dressed and crumb-free for pictures that are just O.K.? Also, yes there is a some time that goes into the planning portion of this, but again, it’s worth it. Think about the time you spend scrolling Instagram and instead look on Pinterest for photos that inspire you. It’s that easy.

Family photos require bribery. I am not against bribing my kids to get a good picture. Judge me, I don’t care. For this past shoot I packed snacks (No kid is happy when hungry. Or in my case, no husband is happy when hungry.) I had “special” treats too. Lollipops and gummy bears. Both organic and from Whole Foods - remember what I said- photos shoots are an investment. I also packed a few musical instruments in case our nanny needed to get the kids to look up and grab their attention. (Also, not related to bribery but make sure to have wipes, a lint roller, lip gloss, extra diapers and safety pins- just in case!)

Grayson with his photo shoot earning. A lollipop and toy bugs.

Grayson with his photo shoot earning. A lollipop and toy bugs.

Family photos are always worth it. Always. Always. Always. Will I ever regret this photo? I don’t think so.

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Now even if you follow all of the above rules perfectly you will not get 100 amazing photos. No one will. But with the right photographer, team and bribery you will get at least 3-5 AMAZING ONES. And that is ALL you need! The rest you can save to cherish the details… like how Grayson would pose at any given moment, how Max just wanted to run and run, how big Grayson felt in my arms, how cozy Max was when Ryan held him, how I could spin around and around forever with them both and how much love we have as a family. I will never regret how Ryan ran home to grab Noelle for our last few pics because she completes our wild family. Or lastly how it all made sense that Max was extra squiggly and grouchy for all the pictures because he had actually pooped in his diaper while sitting on Ryan’s shoulders. Opps.

In full disclosure, I thought this family session was by far our most challenging. I was sure Janelle got no good shots. Max wasn’t cooperating at all. In fact, I’m pretty sure he permanently damaged my ear lobe from ripping my earring out. But this is where Janelle stands out from the rest. She was so calm and assured me we got some great shots. I think we were out there for almost 90 minutes. (We did a full session!) And we were lucky. We didn’t just get a few amazing pictures… we got an entire collection of incredible memories of this stage of life. I’m so grateful for Janelle and her amazing work. I have no idea how she did it, but she exceeded my expectations, above and beyond. Of course, there were some major bloopers too. I too am guilty of only showing the highlights, so to show you what we were dealing with here are some outtakes… Please note… Grayson is legitimately always posing for the camera. Max on the other hand…

Here’s what came out of those hair pulls. Sorry Max, you just didn’t make the cut.

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No pain, no gain, right? Here are some of my favorites!

And to conclude… this picture was THE one. If this was the only image we captured I’d be happy forever. A split second of perfection among a moment of total chaos. If that doesn’t perfectly capture this stage of life, I don’t know what else does… Forever grateful to you Janelle.

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If you read this entire thing you deserve an award. Longest post ever! As your reward for reading I have a special DEAL for you!!!! Just mention JPPilates during your next photo session with Janelle Carmela Photography and you’ll receive a $50 print credit. (January - April 2019 only) How awesome is that!?!?!

Do you have any other tips for doing family photos? If so, please share in the comments! Thanks for reading! xoxo