Member, Professional Photographers of America

Session Preparation

Big Family Session? No Problem!

When was the last time you and your entire family got together for a family photo session? If you have a big family it may have been years since your last photo was taken. While arranging these types of shoots can be difficult, they are worth it!

Our very own large family portrait.

Our very own large family portrait.

Whether you’re introducing a new family member or getting ready to celebrate a family milestone, you’ll want memorable photos. So just where do you begin when planning for a fun shoot you want your family to enjoy?

Large family portrait of the LeNoir Family.

Large family portrait of the LeNoir Family.

A lot of families often ask about location, wardrobe and pose ideas. This is always the fun part for me because I get to see the personality of the family come out. Shutterfly created a great resource that helps with all these topics. You can check out their large family photo guide and share it with your family to brainstorm more ideas.

Higgins Family large family session.

Higgins Family large family session.

The most important part to remember is that I’m here to make your photo session unforgettable. Whatever makes your family feel comfortable is exactly the direction you should go!

Large family session to celebrate grandma's 75th birthday...

Large family session to celebrate grandma's 75th birthday...

...and another celebrating grandma's 85th birthday!

...and another celebrating grandma's 85th birthday!

You Charge How Much??

The first message I typically receive from inquiring clients is, "How much is a session?"  Every once in awhile I will receive a response saying something like, "That's all I get for that amount of money?"  I completely understand that the way I structure my pricing is not for everyone, however I'd be lying if I told you that those comments don't sting just a bit and I am about to explain why.

There are several photographers in our area - each with their own way of doing business. I can't speak for them in this post, but I can speak about the way I do business and what I do to give you the very best artwork for your walls. 

What do you receive when you book a session with me?  The simple answer, you will receive a completely customized session that has been planned, beginning to end, with your needs in mind.  After the session, I work on each and every image to ensure that they are the best that I can give you.  I want you to have quality artwork on your walls that showcases just how special your family is to you.  I want this artwork to show all the time that you spent preparing for the session.  I want it to show all the time that I spent preparing for your session. 

Photography can only represent the present. Once photographed, the subject becomes part of the past.
— Berenice Abbott

A Glance Into a Session

  • Initial Inquiry.  When you send me your initial inquiry I reply with a response about what you will receive and give you all the pricing information so you can make an informed decision when choosing your photographer.  There is typically anywhere from 10 minutes to an entire day on this phase, it just depends on how many questions are asked and how quickly the client and myself can reply.  Average time spent:  30 minutes
  • Booking.  After the initial inquiry, the client typically decides to book a session.  At this stage, there are several emails that need to be sent to the client.  They will receive a contract, invoices for the session, and an email with even more information and suggestions on preparing for their session.  Average time spent:  30 minutes
  • Planning.   After I have received the contract and deposit for the session I begin planning your session.  We decide on a location and discuss any special requests that you may have.  I get out my notepad and start brainstorming possible poses and arrangements within the group.  I will then take those notes and put the information into a list to take to the session.  I also take note of any props that I will need to bring to the session.  Average time spent:  2 hours
  • Session.  On the day of the session I check to make sure all of my equipment is cleaned, charged, and ready for the session.  I typically travel about 20-40 minutes to each session location and arrive there early so I have time to walk the area and plan some more.  I unpack any props and get them set up so they'll be ready.  I unpack my equipment and make sure my camera settings are set correctly.  When the client arrives the fun begins!  We spend anywhere from 30 minutes to over an hour (sometimes 2) taking shots.  After the session, I must pack up my equipment and any props.  When I get to my office I must put them away.  Average time spent:  3 hours
  • Editing.  Each image from the session is gone through one at a time.  I am very selective about which images will make it past this stage.  If they are chosen to be worked on, I comb through the image with a fine tooth comb.  I use Photoshop to correct any issues (this can be anything from trash in the background to acne).  After corrections I move on to enhancing.  I play with the colors and other effects to turn a snapshot into a piece of art.  This is by far the most extensive part of the process.  I spend anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours on a single image!  Average time spent (on a one hour session):  6 hours
  • Presentation.  After all the images are edited and enhanced, they are ready to present to the client.  The images are uploaded into an online gallery where they can be viewed and ordered.  After they are ordered, I place the order with the professional lab and wait patiently for them to arrive.  After arrival, I check each print and make sure that it meets my standards so I can prepare them for shipping.  Average time spent:  3 hours

I spend roughly 15 hours on a single one hour session.

Let's say I take your photographs making minimum wage, $7.25 per hour.  From this one hour session my hourly wages would be around $108.75 - just in time alone. 

Now you might be saying, but that is just time and not an expense.  It is however, time I spend away from my family.  Time with my family doesn't have a price tag necessarily, but it is priceless.  All of the above does not happen without expenses.  I have several subscriptions to programs to make all of the above happen - to provide you with an organized, professional way to receive quality art for your walls that you will be proud of.  I have subscriptions for digital contracts, invoicing, website, editing software, gallery, storage, marketing materials.  I also have to pay taxes and license fees.  I have to buy props from time to time.  I have to pay for fuel to get to and from sessions.  I have to pay for shipping materials and costs.  I have to buy new and/or upgrade equipment as needed.  

Ask Yourself...

Before you decide on a photographer, ask yourself a few questions.

  • Is this photographer licensed?  Is this photographer viewed by the State as a professional?
  • Do I want quantity or do I want quality?  Do you want 80 snapshots or do you want 15 pieces of wall art?
  • Do I like this photographer's editing style?  Are they consistent?
  • What terms and conditions does the photographer have?  What is expected of you?  Of the photographer? 
  • How does the photographer archive my images? 

I give everything I have to my clients from the time they send me the initial inquiry to the end of time.  I strive to make sure you have the best possible experience and that your images are safely stored for the years to come.  Make sure you choose the right photographer for your needs and can give you what you and your family deserve.  As with most things in life, you get what you pay for.  Photography isn't any different.

The best images are the ones that retain their strength and impact over the years, regardless of the number of times they are viewed.
— Anne Geddes

The Battle of Prints vs. Digitals

What's better...printed photographs or high resolution digitals?  Well, that all depends.  As a mom, I like to receive high quality prints from a photographer, but I also want access to the high resolution files for a backup.  I know I will more than likely never even access the files, but I just feel some sort of security knowing that I have another copy that I can access IF (big IF) something happens to that print and I need another one.  My fear is just that...a fear.  Chances are if I am hiring a professional photographer, my high resolution files are securely stored and backed up multiple times in a variety of ways.  So IF something ever happened to the original print, I could go back to my photographer and ask her for another print.


In June of this year, I recently made the move to offering prints.  I still offer high resolution digitals as an option.  I try my best to meet a variety of needs and I realize that some clients prefer a disc.  What I have noticed however by making this move is that more clients actually choose prints over digitals.  This makes me very happy!  Why you might ask?  Well, if I print your portraits at a professional lab I know that you are receiving high quality prints that will last a lifetime.  I know the colors will be true and accurate.  I know the cropping will be what I composed.  I just have control over knowing that you are receiving exactly what I created for you.  I spend anywhere between 15 minutes to 2 hours on EACH image that I present to you in your gallery.  I want that same quality to show in your prints. 


Before June I only offered high resolution digitals on a disc.  This caused a great deal of headache for me as a photographer because clients would complain about the colors not looking accurate.  Some local chain stores use printers that give a yellow tint to the images.  Others give a blue tint.  And others are green.  Then there is the quality of paper that is used by these chains.  Some use a high quality paper, while others use flimsy photo paper.  I haven't even mentioned the issue of poor cropping! 

I sent the same high resolution file to 4 different companies for my own "test" before I began offering prints to see for myself if there were really any noticeable differences. I can honestly say....YES!  There are very noticeable differences!  I sent the file to the professional lab that I use, WalMart, Walgreens, and CVS.  I looked for colors and tones and paper quality. 

  • Professional Lab - The colors were accurate and true.  The paper quality was high and was printed using a matte finish.  It was not flimsy.
  • WalMart - The colors were a little on the yellow side, but honestly not too bad.  The paper quality was alright and was printed using a matte finish.
  • Walgreens - These were by far the worst!  The colors were very blue and cold feeling.  The paper quality was flimsy and it was printed with a glossy finish.  There were white rectangles around the entire image because the crop did not match up to their machines.  I would have been very upset if I received photographs that looked like this!
  • CVS - The colors were very saturated and looked green.  The paper quality was the worst.  It was very flimsy and had a bad glossy finish. 

The results were clear and in front of my face.  If you are interested in seeing them, just let me know and at our session I will make sure that I bring them for you to see.  The issue arises because these chain stores might not calibrate their machines as often as a professional lab does which can really affect the colors.  I might order my prints from WalMart today and go back one week later and they could possibly look different based on their calibration.  I know that the prints I order from the professional lab will always be correct.  Printing photos is their business.  They do not sell medicine or milk...just printed photographs and wall art.  I want you to have consistent prints, time after time.


There is yet another issue with discs and/or digital files - one that is not widely discussed.  Recently, Internet pioneer, Vint Cerf, warned about a digital "dark age."  He claims that we will lose a vast amount of our digital information, including important photographs. 

We think about digitizing things because we think we will preserve them, but what we don’t understand is that unless we take other steps, those digital versions may not be any better, and may even be worse, than the artifacts that we digitized.

He also explains how technology changes very rapidly over time and at some point, discs will not be able to be read by our current machines.  This makes sense.  Just think about floppy discs!  I recently read about a woman that could no longer access her parents wedding photographs because they were on a floppy disc.  How sad is that?  He also explains about "data rot."  Data rot is when digital material decays over time on a drive, disc, or usb.  A better option available right now for saving digital files is by using a Cloud service.  However, Cloud services are expensive and there is no guarantee that the Cloud service you choose will be around in the coming years.  You can read more about data rot here. 

One of the best options you may have right now for ensuring the long term survival of important photos is to print them out physically (with materials designed for longevity) and to keep the prints in a safe place.

At Smith Family Photography we back up all our digital files - your precious portraits - a minimum of 3 times with various methods.  Yes, this is very costly.  However, if you are going to trust me with your precious photographs, you need to trust that I will have a copy of them for the years to come. 


Tips for a Successful Session

Smith Family Photography developed from a need that I had as a mother.  We have a "his-mine-ours" type of family, which consists of nine children.  Family photograph sessions with a family that size are typically very expensive and stressful.  Kids do not want to cooperate.  They fight.  They argue.  They give goofy faces.  They are KIDS!  Although they are kids, photographers have a set amount of time they can spend at each session, which just adds to the stress. 

My country girls.

My country girls.

As a mother, I hated photography sessions and the majority of the time I was less than impressed with the results.  I wanted to provide an affordable photography service specifically for families.  I strive to provide a relaxed atmosphere for the session and understand kids are kids.  A little bit of patience goes a long way with them, as I found out during my time as an elementary teacher. 

When you book a session with us, you will more than likely get to meet members of my family.  After all, Smith Family Photography is a family company and we all work together to provide a service to our clients.

I am constantly researching various areas of photography and currently I have been doing a TON of research on helping my clients prepare for their upcoming session.  I have heard many clients tell me that they want to have a family session, but they don't think their kids will cooperate and it will just be stressful.  I can honestly say that was me a few years ago! 

I recently stumbled upon an article titled, 101 Family Picture Tips and Ideas by  This artcle is FANTASTIC!!  They discuss so much more than getting kids to cooperate! 

1.  Printable Planner.  The site has a printable planner that you can use to help organize all the session during the planning stage.  You can access it here. 

2.  Choosing a Photographer.  I would love to work with you and your family, however I do realize that for whatever reason we might not be able to do so.  In such an instance, I can give you some referrals for other photographers in the area that might meet your needs. 

3.  Choosing a Location.  After you have chosen a photographer, you can nail down your location.  This is typically done at the same time as actually hiring a photographer.  You might have a specific location in mind, but if you need assistance in choosing a location I am happy to do so and provide you with example portraits from those locations.  I have several "favorite" locations that I like to use in Limestone County and Waco.  One of my favorite locations is at a private family ranch.  No other photographers have access to this location which includes a covered bridge!

Rustic exclusive location with a covered bridge.

Rustic exclusive location with a covered bridge.

4. use or not to use.  For family sessions I like to keep props to a minimum if they are used at all.  I don't want the props to distract from the family.  With seniors on the other hand, they typically need some props to personalize their session.  The same can be said for small children.  They need things to keep their interest.  I like to talk with the client and determine what type of images they'd like to have hanging on their wall and go from there when deciding whether or not to use props.

5.  Poses.  After the session is booked, I will begin planning the session.  This includes possible poses.  I will actually make a list of poses that I'd love to use for your family.  Each list is unique in that no two lists are ever the same.  I want your session to be just as unique as your family is - no two families are the exact same so why should their photos look the same?

6.  Clothes - What should we wear?  Last week's blog was all about what to wear.  You can read it here.

7.  How to Look Good in Front of the Camera.  There are several stances you can do to make yourself look more flattering in front of the camera.  Most things are simple, quick adjustments to your position, posture, and stance. 

8.  Getting Your Kids to Cooperate.  Rewards, bribes, peek-a-boo, singing, magic words, etc...nothing it seems is off limits when it comes to finding ways to get kids to cooperate.  What I have found is that they need time away from the camera every now and then.  They need to play and have fun!

Even when kids are taking a break, you can get authentic photographs of them!

Even when kids are taking a break, you can get authentic photographs of them!

9.  Getting Your Husband to Cooperate.  Bribes, rewards, compromises...they all work with husbands too!  Include your husband in the planning.  Chances are he won't want to help plan for the session, but at least you are doing your best to include him and make him a part of the session.  No one likes being told what to wear, how to stand, where to sit.  Give him some ownership in the session.

10.  Ordering Your Portraits.  Yes, ordering your portraits in printed form.  After all, you want nice photographs to display proudly on your walls and to give family members prints for their walls.  I recently began to offer prints rather than a disc and the main reason for doing so is that a disc so many times gets shoved in some random drawer and the portraits are as good as gone.  You went through all that hassle to plan a session, get everyone's outfits to coordinate, spend a lot of time on location with a photographer, and you want a disc??  Or would you rather have nice, professional quality prints that will arrive ready to be displayed on your walls?  Every session with me includes an online gallery that makes ordering prints (and digitals if you wish) extremely easy from the comfort of your home. 

11.  Displaying Your Portraits.  Looking for unique ways to display your beautiful, professional quality prints?  This article has several examples that are unique!  When I work on your portraits in post production, I have this very thing in mind.  I want all of your portraits to look uniform so that they can proudly be displayed by themselves or together in a large group.  I view the portraits that I work on as a work of art that should be displayed on your walls for years to come.

The article also includes a few extra tips that don't really fit into any of the above categories.  You can read the full article here.  If you are interested in booking a session, please don't hesitate to contact me.  Now is the perfect time of year with the holidays quickly approaching. 


What Should I Wear??

What should we wear to our upcoming session? 

This is a question that I hear from just about every client.  It is a great question!  Most people don't have portrait sessions that often so when they do decide to have their portraits taken, they want to look their very best.  After all, the portraits from their session will be displayed and shared until they decide to have portraits taken again.  That could be a year or that could be several years. Either way, you want them to look nice.

I recently found an article that provided several tips for choosing the perfect outfits for your portrait session:

1.  Coordinate; don't match.  For some reason, even I'm guilty of this, everyone in the session feels the need to match and wear the same colored shirt with the same colored jeans.  However, portraits tend to be much more interesting when everyone's colors coordinate rather than match.   Shopping for clothes for your portrait session can be simplified by shopping for collections, which tend to consist of coordinating colors. 

One of my favorite "go to guides" when trying to decide what to wear for an upcoming session.  Originally found on .

One of my favorite "go to guides" when trying to decide what to wear for an upcoming session.  Originally found on

2.  Choose colors that will coordinate with your home's décor.  The portraits from your session will be displayed on the walls of your home.  Those colors should "go with" the décor in your home.

3.  Accessorize!  Use various accessories to add texture to your portraits.  Scarves, hats, necklaces, bracelets, etc - all those extra accessories can help add some flare to your portraits.  You never know, they could also come in handy for some of the shots!  Perhaps a child could hide behind a hat or mom could pull on dad's tie.  Accessories are a fun way to add a bit more originality into your portraits.

The Harrison Family is coordinating, not matching.  Mom has a nice colored scarf as an accessory, which adds texture and interest to the portrait, as well as provides a feeling of warmth.

The Harrison Family is coordinating, not matching.  Mom has a nice colored scarf as an accessory, which adds texture and interest to the portrait, as well as provides a feeling of warmth.

4.  Watch out for patterns.  This does NOT mean completely avoid patterns.  It just means that certain patterns clash with other patterns.  Certain patterns are unflattering.  Patterns have the ability to pull all the color schemes together, however they can also be distracting if they are not used carefully.

Every member of the Breton Family is wearing clothes with a pattern.  Notice how the patterns all consist of the same coordinating colors and all the guys' shirts have a subtle pattern to help showcase mom's pattern.  This is an example of patterns working well together.

Every member of the Breton Family is wearing clothes with a pattern.  Notice how the patterns all consist of the same coordinating colors and all the guys' shirts have a subtle pattern to help showcase mom's pattern.  This is an example of patterns working well together.

5.  Plan ahead.  If you're family is anything like mine, when you book a portrait session you start thinking about clothing choices and try to work with what your family already has in their closets.  Consider the following scenarios.  You might think Suzie's dress will fit because the tag says it is a size 10, but on the day of the session Suzie is unable to zip up the dress.  It is just way too small.  Tommy's shirt coordinated with Suzie's dress, but Tommy decided to wear that shirt when he went to the movies with his friends last weekend and it never made it to the washing machine.  Now what?  What will Suzie and Tommy wear?  What will the entire family wear?  The session is in a few hours and there's no time to go shopping!  Plan ahead!  Check to make sure all clothes are clean and fit nicely soon after booking your session so you have time to find other options if you need to do so.

6.  Characters are cute...just not in portraits.  Jimmy LOVES Buzz Light Year!  His Buzz shirt is his absolute favorite!  While it is cute and shows his personality, do you really want Buzz Light Year staring at you every time you look at your portraits?  Just like patterns, characters can be distracting in a portrait.

7.  Consider your background.  When choosing coordinating colors for your portrait session, consider the background at the location.  If it is a very green area and full of trees and shrubs, dark greens are probably not the best choice since dark green will blend into the background.  You don't want to blend in with the background.  You need to stand out from the background.

8.  Timeless.  These portraits will be displayed on your walls for years to come and even when they are replaced, they will be stored for others to see in the future as a keepsake.  Make simple, yet classic, clothing choices that will give your portraits a timeless feel. 

You can read more about these tips at Click it Up a Notch by Courney Slazinik.  This article even has inspiration boards for each month with examples of what to wear for your upcoming portrait session.