For all that I love to travel when taking photographs of stunning couples, beautiful weddings, and lovely families and christenings, sometimes it’s equally wonderful to work close to home and close to the heart. During a recent family photo session I was granted this opportunity, having once again been invited to shoot the wonderful family of my long-time hometown friend Lena (you can see our previous photo shoot here).

Lena and her children, Edy and Miriam, are always amazing subjects (as you can see from the images below); their inner light and individual personalities come through incredibly well when I photograph them, along with the radiance of their eyes and smiles. There’s more to this than just my skill as a photographer; this beautiful family photo session in Cyprus is as much their creation as mine. How, you ask? I’ll tell you: There’s a lot a family can do in order to help create a memorable, successful family photo shoot.

If you’re planning a family photo session of your own, use the tips below to prepare—the results will be well worth it:

Dress for success.

There’s more to dressing for a family photo session than just choosing nice clothing. In fact, you will want to avoid the mistake some families make in choosing overly stiff, formal attire; opt instead for light, flowing clothing that is easy to move in, as this results in more natural poses. Colours also need to be selected carefully; the whole family should co-ordinate and be dressed in neutral shades (light browns, creamy whites, soft blues, grays, etc.) as these shades don’t overwhelm the true focus of your images: The smiling faces of your and your family.

Let your children get to “know” the photographer.

Children, especially young children, can be shy around strangers; as such, you should let your children spend a bit of time becoming comfortable with the photographer prior to the shoot. One of the main reasons Lena’s children look so relaxed and happy in these shots is because they are—I’m an old friend of their mother’s, after all.

Incorporate the interests and talents that make your family unique.

As you can see from the photos below, I made sure that each family member got the chance to display his or her talents and passions: Lena is an artist and a singer, while Edy (Edward) is an aspiring graphic artist who is now studying at the University of Greenwich. Sister Mariam is already joining in the family tradition of creativity, too, through playing classical guitar.

By involving the family’s interests in this way, I not only show a bit more about who they are, I ensure that the poses in the shoot will be more natural and vibrant. When having a family photo session it’s key to avoid artificial-looking “staged” shots where everyone is simply standing and smiling into the camera, as such bland images say nothing about the deeper bonds and dynamics of a family.

The greatest secret to the success of any family photo shoot is this: When you encourage people to be themselves, their true beauty shines through, and their poses begin to reflect subtle aspects of their familial interactions—cues which speak of the profound love between family members. In the photo below of Edy standing over his mother and sister, for example, you can see that he is already becoming the man of the family, while in others where he smiles, you can tell that he is still his mother’s first love, the little boy with the incredible laugh. In Lena’s eyes you can see the patience, love, and wistfulness of a mother whose babies are growing up and becoming incredible people all their own. It is these moments, and these feelings, which make a family whole—and which create photographs that capture not only the face, but the soul.

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