What do you think of when someone mentions the phrase family portrait?

For some families, they think of a grueling day of getting dressed up, driving into a discount studio, waiting in line for what seems like forever, and getting a few images with fake smiles and unhappy kids.

But for others, it’s a completely different experience. The family portrait isn’t just about taking a quick photograph. Its about the experience of deciding locations, choosing the right look, and creating the perfect memory for this period of their lives. They understand their kids will never be this age again, their family dynamics will never feel like this again, and capturing it in a unique way will help them treasure this point in time.

A family portrait should be a happy experience that allows you to smile each time you see the finished portrait. And to make sure that happens, consider these 7 ways to make the entire family portrait experience a positive one.

1. Schedule your photo shoot when your kids are the happiest. With a professional photographer, you’ll never wait in line or be rushed through the process. You’ll have one-on-one time every step of the way, ensuring you have the flexibility you need to create the perfect experience. Schedule a time that’s perfect for you; right after nap time if they are small, or on the weekends if they are busy in school activities. If your kids are at their best, you’re more likely to have smiling faces and great attention spans.

2. Location is everything. While the main goal of a portrait is to capture each family member looking his or her best, it’s also important to choose a background that works for your family as well. The background adds the detail that will make your experience that much more memorable. A professional will sit down and talk with you about what is important. It may be in the studio in a formal setting. Or it may be out in a sunny field enjoying the sites and sounds. Its your portrait; its your experience.

3. Lighting is important. Keep in mind that if you choose a portrait in the park during the peak hours of the afternoon, lighting may not be ideal for a family portrait. Squinting eyes and harsh sunlight can give your portrait a distracting glow. If you choose an outdoors location, early morning or late afternoon/early evening produces the softest light and the ideal working conditions.

4. Know what is most important from the beginning. Why are you scheduling a family portrait? Are you celebrating a milestone, such as a child’s birthday or a high school senior’s graduation? Or is it a regular annual event? By adding special touches, you can focus in on what this portrait means to you. We can work to put the birthday boy in the center of attention. Or make sure everyone surrounds the high school graduate, proud of her accomplishments.

5. What photographs do you know you want ahead of time? Thanks to the Internet, you may have a few ideas in mind for your final images. Many families have the family photograph hung over the fireplace mantle. Every year they update the portrait to reflect the current look and feel of the family. Or you have a wall collage idea to hang down your central hallway. If you have ideas before hand, let your photographer know before the shoot. She will photograph images that will be perfect for your ideal location, be configured in the right manner for your layouts, and even consider special requests to make it more memorable.

6. Avoid patterns in your clothing. While everyone has a favorite outfit, putting them all together might not be the best choice. A green flowered shirt with an orange plaid dress may make you think twice about hanging the portrait on the wall. Instead, choose soft, neutral colors that let the eye drift naturally to your faces, not to the wild patterns. If you do have a favorite dress you want to include, talk it over with your photographer first. By knowing what you have in mind, she may be able to make changes to the shoot to keep your clothing choices looking good in your final images.

7. Go casual. Here in Colorado, we’re not a “black tie” community. Which means for most people, we’re simply not comfortable in black tie attire. A portrait experience is better suited towards what your families loves and what interests they have. If you love hiking, a portrait showcasing the Flat Irons in your background will make you smile much more than a formal image on a painted background. When in doubt, stick with what you love the most.