Dress for Family Success

Not-So-Typical Family Photos

By Meg Sprague | Photography by Alexis Emm 

Photos stop time. In freeze-frames, they keep our children young forever and the future familiar with past generations. They’re a way of introducing the world to people we care about. Our family photos, while they hang on the walls in our homes, are not truly for us. They’re meant for the family members who we haven’t met yet — unborn grandchildren, future in-laws or unexpected siblings. This is a concept I’ve held close to my heart for a long time. Because of that, I put a special emphasis on getting our family photos done annually. I find it important to document who we are now and how we’ll continue to evolve as years pass.

As an artistic family, I confess we don’t enjoy the typical family photo scene. In an effort to keep our photos interesting, we’ve started a tradition of yearly themes. We have themed shoots from all four seasons to location to decade. I’ve found different themes help my three kids — ages 8, 10 and 11 — to be involved with the planning process; it becomes something they are a part of. It ends up more like a special occasion or long project, rather than an obligation.

Our last family photo shoot was a 50s-sock-hop theme at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse. It turned into a notable experience for everyone. We looked like we stepped out of Doc’s DeLorean without Marty McFly, lost in a year we didn’t belong in. My daughter and I wore big colorful tulle skirts. My husband and sons sported suspenders and bowties. The crowd surrounding us was mostly in jeans and t-shirts, with fingers pointing in our direction. It was funny. We had fun. And that’s the point — to create an experience, to capture happiness beyond just saying cheese. We may have been dressed in character, but raw joy was captured, and it gave us a story we will always have to tell.

Inspired to do your own themed shoot?

If you want to do your own themed shoot, it does take some planning. After you pick your theme, the next step is to find a photographer who will execute your idea. Different photographers have different styles, so make sure you find the one who works best with you and understands your vision. If possible, also try to book about six months in advance, too. This will give you time to prepare without feeling the immediate pressure of a deadline.

It’s important to research your theme. This will inspire you and give you a lot of great ideas for locations and outfits. Pinterest is a great tool for this part.

• Take your time choosing outfits. It typically takes me about three to four months to pick out five outfits for our family. I start by looking at what we already have, and setting aside all the possible options. Thrift stores are a great resource for saving money on outfits; you won’t find everything you need, but I’ll bet you’ll find more than you’d expect. Another way to save cash on outfits is borrowing items from friends or family for the day. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but it may take some time to find all the perfect items.

• Make sure everyone has a sense of individuality. There’s nothing worse than two unique siblings wearing identical outfits. Let them be themselves. If one sister is rough and tough, let her wear nice pants while the other wears a dress. This will allow the photos to feel more natural. Remember, this isn’t about uniformity; it’s about celebrating your family and each person in it.

• For colors, I like to stay within the same range, but not use the same ones. For an example, I might dress everyone in jewel tones or pastels rather than picking one or two specific colors.

• Avoid logos, unless you’re being paid to advertise. They’re typically very distracting to the eye, which takes away from the people in the photos.

• Accessories and props are super fun to use, especially if you want a candid feel.

• Professional hair and makeup is fun, if it’s in your budget. My daughter and I like to get ours done, but it isn’t a necessity. With YouTube tutorials available for every beauty topic, achieving a specific look is doable from home with a little practice. However, with few reasons to sit in a salon and be pampered, I always advise to take advantage of any opportunity to do so.

Each family is unique in its own way, and the photos you pay for should reflect that. It could be an adventure or a sophisticated outing — it’s all up to you and yours. SWM

Writer Meg Sprague and her family were photographed at Sky Armory. For information about upcoming events and event booking at Sky Armory, visit skyarmory.com.