13 Secrets to Perfect At-Home Family Portraits Revealed

As moms, we all know that cold sweat that comes from the day of a photoshoot.  The weather is unpredictably cold, or hot, or wet or windy.  The lighting is only perfect when at least some of the kids should be in bed.  By the time you drive to the set location, clothes are wrinkled, curls have dropped and meltdowns have only just begun.

What is one solution to all of these family photo woes?  Consider doing your family portrait session in the comforts of your very own home.

In-home family photography is the perfect way to capture your family exactly as they are. It is both meaningful and relaxed, it is weather resistant and requires no commute. Bathrooms, makeup touch-ups, and a change of clothes are all within quick reach.  All of this is especially convenient when there’s a new baby. 

You are in your element, your comfort zone, your safe spot. Not to mention, your home is part of who you are, and a part of what you want to remember.

indoor family photo sessions in portland oregon

In Portland, Oregon where weather is unpredictable at best, I absolutely LOVE doing indoor family and newborn sessions.

Images are more candid and lifestyle or documentary, but these images are also more like a photo journal of your most important people in your most important place:


They are particularly powerful because they convey an emotion and solidify a memory that doesn't come across in a posed outdoor photo.

Here are 13 tips for getting the absolute most out of your in-home family portrait session:

portland indoor family photos

Fill out your questionnaire in detail and talk to me about specific details as they come to you during your session.  The more specifics I have about your family and how you do what you do, the better I can capture those moments that are meaningful to you.  In this example, this adorable 2 year old's mom specifically commented about how their family loves to read together and do puzzles.  At the session, they also told me that Grandma had given Martin an amazing art easel as a gift and I later discovered that dad's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle collection from when he was a kid was passed from father to son.  You better believe I didn't want to miss a single one of those details.  

Having four kids who are teenagers, I am painfully aware that the day to day reality of puzzles, Ninja Turtles and reading out loud as a family is a cherished but short lived period of life.  These small moments are treasures for me, and will be for you too.

Reading books and playing with toy kitchens isn't something you do outside in front of an epic mountain range or a beautiful waterfall.  It is something you do at HOME.  

It may not be as Pinterest worthy or as magazine cover-ish (don’t look that word up, please), but it for sure will be the pictures the kids look at in 5, 10, 15+ years and love the most: "Oh, I remember when our carpet was that color!" or "I remember THAT book, you used to read it to me all the time!"

indoor family portraits

Light is a big deal.  To get the best out of your at home session, we need a lot of natural light.  I will ask that you turn all of your artificial lights OFF...which means I need windows and as much natural light as possible.  Light can be challenging and it is a big deal, but it isn't a deal breaker.  I will work with whatever light you have available, and I will tell you which rooms we should focus on for our session depending on the light that is coming in at the time of day we do it.  If you live in a small apartment or a huge mansion on the hill, there will be rooms or even nooks or corners with beautiful light. I may have to rearrange some furniture, or use parts of your home that you wouldn't expect, but I WILL find great light in ANY home.

Have an activity planned ahead of time. This is helpful for MANY reasons.  First of all, if you aren't feeling like your home is Instagram worthy, setting up a favorite activity like baking, playing in the sprinklers, giving baby a bath, jumping on the bed, etc. allows you to enjoy the experience, document the fun side of your family, and it tremendously offsets the need for a "photo worthy" backdrop.  Another reason is that while I always do my best to get a great photo of your whole family together looking at the camera smiling, capturing non-staged images from a planned activity tells a better story of your family at the stage of life they are in.  Making breakfast together, working on an art project or playing with puzzles.  

Showing your family doing its thing makes the memories of this stage of life that much more compelling, interesting and genuine.

indoor family portraits in portland oregon
portland oregon family photographer

Let the kids be in charge, and trust me. With kids, flexibility is key.  If your child is a little shy around me, don't stress.  Remember we want to capture them as they are.  If the thumb goes in the mouth and they want to hide in a corner, don't worry about it.  Children usually warm up to me, and if they don't...they for sure won't if mom or dad starts stressing out about it or tries to force cooperation.  I like to go just go with the flow during these sessions.  If they want to dance and show off, I will get pictures of that!  If they want to snuggle on mom's lap and avoid eye contact with me for a while, I will get pictures of that too.  I promise I will get you pictures that fill your heart with joy, just let them take the lead and take the pressure off of getting that "perfect" photo.  

You will love what you see in the final images, even if during the session you didn’t feel like we got the picture perfect moment you had in your head.

portland oregon family photography

Hobbies, schedules, life unveiled. In your questionnaire, but even if something sparks when I arrive, be sure to let me know about hobbies mom, dad or the kids are into.  Things that are common occurrences at home on a day to day basis.  Think of pictures of your cluttered dry erase calendar, the cleats and baseball bat on the floor, the piano, guitar or band instruments.  Maybe homework and text books or art supplies are often on the kitchen table.  Don't leave the house so clean that we can't see the life that is lived in your home.  Do you guys love to sit in bed and read books together or snuggle in front of the fire place? Tell the story of your life with pictures!

Bedrooms are hidden gems of light. When thinking about rooms for photos, a lot of people just think of the living room or the more formal sitting room.  While these rooms often have a lot of light and are great for portraits, I do love photos in bedrooms that capture the personality of the child in their room.  Master bedrooms also typically have great light and that giant bed makes for a great place to snuggle everyone in together.

Outside of house and Inside of House.  If weather permits, and if the yard or porch is a place where your family spends any amount of time, it is always a good idea to get a handful of photos of kids on the playground or swing set in yard, or in the chairs you sit in on the porch etc.  This is a documentary of your life at home and seeing the outside of the house will always bring fond memories.

indoor family photography near me

Dress for success.  Think about the activities you have planned for your photo session.  If jumping on the bed or dancing in the living room is on the list, consider more casual dress.  I always recommend choosing mom's outfit first and then coordinating everyone else from there.  Avoid flashy graphics or logos or words that will be a distraction in the photo.  For more specific tips on wardrobe, check out this post here. Give thought to potentially starting your session with kids in their PJ's or in a costume they always wear around the house.  Documentary lifestyle photography is less about matchy matchy and more about capturing an authentic moment.  I will be at your house for a while so there is time to change into something else after I get some costume/PJ/whatever photos (yet another benefit of doing photos at home).

Don't be Rushed.  The best stories are told when everyone is relaxed and getting in their groove.  If the session is rushed, opportunities are missed.  I try and keep the pace slow enough to enjoy the small moments, and quick enough that we don't lose dad or the toddlers (yes, they have about the same time span of interest).  Sit and chat with me for a bit, let moments unfold naturally and without pressure.  The goal is to feel unrushed and enjoy the experience!

family photos near me

Consider video.  The sound of voices, the interaction between family, little moments caught can be put together into a visual storytelling video journal.  I really love adding video to my sessions. If you want to create a simple beautiful video slide show of your own with pictures you already have, consider Animoto…you can make your video in minutes! Here is a slideshow video of my most recent indoor family session:

Music by Maor; “Home”; Licensed through Soundstripe; All photos and video by Chelsea Adams

Portland Family Photography

Details.  At home sessions have the unique advantage of capturing your current style of decor, the linoleum on your floor, the color of your wall paint, the kitchen before you remodeled it, the staircase everyone slides down, the old couch everyone flops on when they come in the family room, etc.  Things that are every day are often forgotten about or dismissed as unimportant, but looking back...even that old couch will be a fond memory!

Don't worry about how clean the house is.  I get it, you don't want to look like a slob for your photographer...you also don't want the mess caught on film.  Focus on removing clutter, but don't worry about it being spik and span.  It is really important that you don't stress.  The key benefit of doing a session at home is the more carefree, casual vibe.  Don't ruin it by stressing about the mess.  And remember, I have FOUR kids and TWO dogs. I do not judge about pretty much anything ever anymore.  ESPECIALLY not a mess! Tuck away the clutter, but do not mop the floors. ;)

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HAVE FUN!!  I truly believe that indoor family photo sessions make portraits more than just a pretty smiling face looking at the camera.  Even though I love a well posed family picture, indoor family photos push family and photographer alike beyond the ordinary traditional images.  

I want to document YOUR FAMILY as they are…perfectly imperfect.  

Capturing your authentic interactions in your home and telling your family's uniquely beautiful story is an absolute joy and privilege and it is something you will not regret.

Indoor Family Portraits Tips and Ideas