What Makes a Family Photo?


Photographer behind camera
Image via Getty Images


When it comes to photographing children, Chris Knowles knows it’s important to be able to adjust on the fly. That’s what happened when the Poolesville-based family photographer worked with the Logans. Their son wasn’t smiling so Knowles had an idea—let the child take a picture of his parents instead.

Not only did it add to the dynamic of the photos—talking to their son brought out different expressions and emotions in his parents’ faces—but it loosened him up for his own shoot.

“After that, he kind of really enjoyed it,” Knowles says. “He was all sweetness and light and just all up for it.”

Knowles and Falls Church-based family photographer Jessica Caso shared with Washington FAMILY their perspectives on what makes a good family photo, especially as you’re capturing memories with family this holiday season. Learn their tips and techniques for managing wild cards like the weather, sleep schedules and even the family dog.


Authenticity Is Key


To get the most authentic photos, Caso loves to shoot in and around the home, she says.

Often an in-home shoot is requested right after someone has celebrated a significant life event such as having a baby so that she is able to capture candid shots of small, personal everyday-life moments.

“Almost as if she’s like a member of family, in a sense, but also not there,” says Lisa Sullivan-Solheim, who has used Caso as photographer for her family of five in Alexandria since her first daughter was born in 2017.

It’s very natural when she’s been able to capture “these beautiful little moments” such as breastfeeding and snuggling, Sullivan-Solheim says.

The home also adds to the photos, Caso says, because it gives you a sense of the person or people who live there.

Aryln Logan and his wife Twila, who live in Clarksburg, Maryland, with their four children, met Knowles when their children attended a small private school together. Having that connection helped bring out their natural silliness, he says.

It also allowed for a personal touch to be weaved in, he says, recalling one time Knowles incorporated an old military truck he found in a field into one of the shoots because he knew both Aryln and Twila were veterans.

“It touched my heart,” he says.

The Logan Family photo by Chris Knowles
The Logan Family: Photo: Chris Knowles Photography

Taking the Pressure Off


To get more natural smiles and genuine interactions, sometimes it’s also necessary to do some things to take the pressure off, such as having stickers and fun things to keep children entertained or showing families their progress during the shoot to boost their confidence.

“I kind of mirror what I would love to see,” says Knowles.

If the photographer sets the tone, it can also help the family relax too. Christine Sproat says her Poolesville family of five—including three very active boys and dog Ginger—always feels comfortable with him.

The Sproat Family
The Sproat Family | Photo: Chris Knowles Photography


“I have been in situations with photographers who kind of lose patience,” she says. “Chris enjoyed himself and captured the moment for my boys.”

Bijal Rock, who lives with her family of four in Arlington, Virginia, says, “Family pictures are always a drag for everybody,” but Caso manages to find ways to take the pressure off and the results speak for themselves.

“As the years go on and they grow, you see snippets of their personality in those pictures,” she says of her children. “They’re lovely memories.”

At the end of the day, the photoshoots should be about having fun—even when things go wrong. Caso recalls an outdoor shoot where a 4-year-old fell in the water and was completely drenched. His father went in to get him, and he was drenched too.

“It was one of the best sessions that I had that entire year because, at that point, all the pressure was gone,” she says.


The Rock Family photo by Jessica Caso
The Rock Family | Photo: Jessica Caso


Knowing Your Surroundings


Choosing the right environment can have a huge impact on family photos—whether it’s finding the right light during odd times to accommodate children’s sleep schedules, managing weather or finding the perfect setting that will be memorable.

It can be hard to manage the unexpected with outdoor shoots—like bugs in the summer or unpredictable winter weather, Knowles says.

“There’s been times I’ll show up to the location and I’m like, ‘How is this going to work?’” Twila Logan says.

She recalls one shoot from a previous family photographer that took place in Ellicott City when it was dark and rainy, and her family happened to be wearing black. She was worried it would look too dreary, but with the skillful use of a bit of light, the photos turned out great, she says.

Caso says good lighting is important, but she can’t always shoot at the time of day she wants when it comes to maternity or family photography. She knows there’s a “faux sunset” at 1 p.m. at Rock Creek State Park, so if she is planning around a baby’s sleep schedules, that’s an option.

Finding a memorable location can also be a game-changer for family photo sessions. Sullivan-Solheim says Caso was able to find some hidden gems in her neighborhood and beyond, such as the Winkler Botanical Preserve and little parks and fields in city areas that added a nice touch of nature.

“I would have never driven back and stumbled upon it,” she says of the preserve.

Sproat had her own location in mind—a farm with stunning cherry blossoms—and it meant a lot that Knowles was willing to be flexible and open to the suggestion because it made the photos, she says.


Color Me Happy


Families can do a little bit to prepare for their shoots by paying attention to colors and patterns.

Knowles recommends having no more than two prominent colors. They can be different shades of the same color. Caso notes families should avoid small checkered patterns because they can look off on social media and white socks, as they tend to stick out.

Mostly though, just wear what makes you feel the most confident, she says.


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