Family sessions can be very nerve wracking - for everyone - especially during the busy Fall family photo season here in Phoenix.

I love family sessions! And I’m determined to change that perception. They don’t have to be forced and awkward. Ya’ll, family sessions can actually be fun!

Here are my top 4 tips for how to make sure you have fun, spontaneous moments during your family session!

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1. Lose the ‘tude.

Dad. I’m talking mostly to you. I know that dads typically dread the family photo session, but it’s super important to rally for your squad and put on a happy face. These images will be left as a legacy, when your children are grown with families of their own some day, they will have the keepsakes to share with them and future generations. Family photos are treasures that can be cherished forever and are the only real way to document a moment in time. Oh, and once you see your happy wife being so grateful for the new photos of her beautiful family, you will be so glad that you gave this time to your her.

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2. Cheese is for crackers.

Please, parents… leave the “cheese” at home. Cheese is for crackers. So many times I have found parents who order their children to, “Say cheese to the lady kids!” Yelling and demanding young children to look at the camera to smile will only stress your children out (not to mention the photographer) and will result in strained, unnatural expressions or worse, complete armageddon with tears and fits. Take a deep breath, take a step back if need be and allow me to naturally interact and talk with your children. Let those tiny people be themselves, I promise I’ll draw out those darling, natural, gorgeously giggly and happy smiles from them without the pressure and stress.

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3. Be Free to Play.

Natural family play photographs SO, SO well. My most successful family sessions have incorporated an activity that the family enjoys doing together. And bonus… this gives you something to do with your hands and feet, engages the little ones, and brings an authentic smile to everyone’s face. Love to read together? Bring some books. Is your favorite dessert ice cream? Bring some ice cream bars or Drumsticks to your session to nibble on. Other ideas include: family dance party, piggy back or shoulder rides, races, tickle fights...the ideas are endless. If nothing comes to mind, don’t sweat it. I love asking my families to play games like tag, simon says, red-light-green-light and my personal favorite, the sneak attack (beware mom + dad - we’re coming for ya!). When families are engaged in doing something that they find joy in doing together, it gives me plenty of candid opportunities to capture some beautifully authentic moments that are sure to become some of your favorite wall-worthy images.

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4. Don’t look at me.

If you’ve connected with my images at all, you’ll notice my favorites (and also what I consider my signature style) are often the ones where everyone is engaged or interacting with each other. It’s important to understand that not every picture needs to have everyone looking at the camera and smiling at the same time. Sure, I grab a few of those at the beginning of our session (I call those the Grandma Shots) but no one said a great family photo has to have everyone looking at the camera! Love, connection and fun top my image list! I can promise that these candid captures are the photographs that you will cherish most because they tell your family love story.