Whether it’s a family holiday photo, engagement pics or new headshots for your business, my go-to photographer Mary Zita Payne has tips for helping you get the most out of your photo shoot! (I’m interspersing the tips with some of the great photos from the shot she did with me and my girls!)

It’s not always about location, location, location

You don’t need perfect scenery or a perfect house, stresses Mary. “I will look for the best lighting and where to stand outdoors and I can shuffle items around that are in the way if we’re inside. The key is to choose a place where everyone is comfortable, and I will make it work!”

Don’t overplan the photos 

“I love a vision board, so go nuts on that, but don’t hone in on a specific shot or pose,” advises Mary. Whether it’s your engagement or baby’s first birthday, she says it’s best not to get caught up in recreating something exactly the way you saw it on Pinterest. “People can also get really focused on other people’s Instagram feeds and want to mimic those shots, but I’d rather see them being original and doing their own thing.”

Be flexible with time

Mary suggests that while having an itinerary for a special occasion like a wedding is a good idea, you should try to remember that it’s okay if things go slightly off schedule. “If it’s your big day, everyone will wait on you – no big deal!” And no need to watch the clock during a timed photo session. Some of the best photos come near the end, and if your photographer is a pro they’ll know what pace to use.

Nope, this isn’t my family, but it’s my work wife Sarah’s so that must count for something!
(She’s my ECE partner in our kindergarten classroom.) Photo also by Mary Zita Payne.

Comfort is key

When it comes to wardrobe, “I love a bit of matchy-match but the best photos are going to come when everyone is comfortable,” stresses Mary.  “Layers are good, maybe a nice colour tone, but it’s not about the outfits being perfect. If the kids want to wear their sneakers, let them!” (I would also add that when I had my professional photo shoot, I brought a couple of quick wardrobe and accessory changes – I find I’m getting a lot more mileage out of the photos since I don’t look the same in all of them!)

Don’t (always) strike a pose

Mary says it’s important not to feel like you have to know how to pose – unless maybe you’re a professional model! “It’s my job to warm you up and get you comfortable, so just truly be you.” I know from my own photo shoot that sometimes I felt silly following instructions like “Walk towards the camera!”, or “Laugh like something’s really funny!” but we really did get some great photos out of those moments. Mary also reminds us that sometimes the best shots are more candid and natural, so don’t be thrown off if the photographer just asks you to do your own thing and keeps clicking away. 

Be in the moment

“Try to focus on your connection,” suggests Mary, whether it’s with your partner or your kids. Be brave and go for the PDA even if it feels weird – when that affection really shines through you can get some great pictures. With headshots or anything else individual, Mary often asks the subject to name something they  love about themselves. That little confidence boost – particularly for young women who can be very self-critical – can really help focus the shoot in a positive way. 

Let kids be kids

Family photo shoots are never going to go exactly as planned, Mary warns, “so enjoy the chaos! Let me rein the kids in when I need to, and try not to get upset with them yourself. The kids will get over it but you’ll look stressed in the pictures!”

To check out more of Mary Zita Payne’s work or book her for a photo session, visit her site here.

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