There's some prep and mind games involved.
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Credit: Choreograph/Getty

Resisting the urge to yell "cheeese" and strike a cookie cutter pose can be a tough habit to break. This might feel especially challenging when you're wrangling your brood for a group shot. But taking a family photo doesn't have to be an ordeal. We got expert tips on capturing memorable moments with your favorites.

Prep The Kids For Shoot Day

Want to have a stress-free shoot day? Talk up the upcoming photo session to your kids well in advance of the big day to get them excited.

Then, day off, keep that energy high by avoiding potential setbacks like grumbling bellies or cranky toddlers.

"Help your kids bring their A-Game to the shoot by making sure they are well-rested and well fed before the big event," says Daisy Beatty, a New York City-based photographer with extensive experience chronicling families, newborns and expecting moms.

"Schedule the shoot for a time when they are typically in good spirits, and make sure they've had plenty to eat beforehand," she says. Beatty encourgages families to bring along some snacks for refueling or if the situation calls for a little bribe. "Just make sure they are quick to eat, and don't mess up clothing or stain the teeth." The expert advises against lollipops and chocolate, and is in favor of cheese, apple slices, or nuts.

Get On the Same (Dress Code) Page

When picking outfits for the shoot try to find a common thread. This creates a cohesive look between family members that frames everyone as a unit and is pleasing to the eye.

"An easy way to coordinate clothing is to pick one or two main colors and try to have most people wear one article of clothing featuring one," says Beatty. And remember: Make sure your outfits are weather-appropriate and comfortable so no one is miserable.

"And have a similar level of formality," says the expert. "If one family member looks like she is going to a black-tie affair, the others probably shouldn't look like they spent the day cleaning out the garage."

Forget About the Camera

Getting kids to enjoy themselves on photo day means alleviating the pressure of snapping that perfect photo and forgetting that there's a camera in the room.

"Childhood isn't about forced smiles," says New York City family photographer, Michael Kormos who works side-by-side with his wife Sophie.

"For those intimate moments, we give children space to explore their surroundings and play. Bringing along a favorite storybook is a great way to allow kids to get lost in their own little world - and the perfect way to get energetic boys to stay still for more than a second!"

But action shots can produce pictures just as sweet for parents.

"For more active moments, we have children run, skip, jump, dance, and twirl," he says. "Once they're in motion, they let their guard down, and their personalities truly shine."

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Leave the Cheese at Home

Let's face it, when you're asked to say "cheese" for a picture, you look like you're saying "cheese." Sure, it gets you and the kids to grin, but the end result is completely unnatural.

"You can overcome this with some genuine fun," Beatty says. "Plan a fun activity, a silly game, or tell a joke. I like to get everyone engaged either with me or with each other, and let the good times roll."

And don't let a disinterested or eye-rolling kid spoil the fun - there are ways through their bored facades.

"There's always the good ole' reverse psychology," says Kormos. "Tell them not to laugh. Say, ‘Whatever you do, don't laugh. Seriously, don't laugh. Is that a smile? Better not be a smile.' Works like a charm every time."

Beatty's trick: Encouraging parents to dip the youngsters upside down. "The kids find it thrilling, the parents laugh, and as a result, families make this pose their own."

Location, Location, Location

While snapping photos at home where your family is most comfortable can certainly be enticing, it might add stress to the day if you're preoccupied making the space look perfect.

Instead try a beautiful outdoor location.

"Grassy fields, sandy beaches, boardwalks, or forest paths are some of our favorite settings for portraits," says Kormos. "Oftentimes the environment itself will allow for a variety of fun activities, such as running through the grass, picking flowers, drawing in the sand or collecting seashells."

Aim for ‘The Golden Hour'

The location of the sun at mid-day, when it's hovering straight up above, can cause harsh shadows on your faces. So time your photo shoot around the sun's position for the best outdoor shoots.

The ideal moments are during ‘the golden hour,' says Kormos. This occurs twice a day: after the sun rises and shortly before it sets. "During this time, the light is warm and magical. This is the perfect time of day for soft flattering light without the harsh shadows and blown out backgrounds of midday sun."

Know When to Call It A Day

With testy teenagers or little ones with short attention spans, recognizing when you've gotten all you can out of family photo day is key to not ending up with photos of grimacing faces.

"Different ages have different attention spans, so be realistic about how long the shoot will last," Beatty says. The photographer generally allots 30 to 40 minutes for a family session. This gives shyer family members some time to warm up, and is enough time for a quick snack or outfit change. "And remember, if you're aiming for a sunset shoot, give yourself enough time before the sun goes down," she says.


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