Arthur Ellis Photography Blogs

How to Plan an AWESOME Milestone Family Photography Session

Updated: Jun 14, 2020

I was sitting in a coffee shop enjoying a coffee and watching a mother with a couple of kids trying to get them to pose for a group selfie family photograph and wondered if any of the kids were approaching a milestone age. The youngest looked to be close to a year old and I began to wonder how you prepare for a milestone photography session. So, I did a little research and here are some tips and tricks I found for preparing for your milestone photography session.

What are milestone family photography sessions? Milestone sessions are used to capture images of your family from one stage or age to another. I like to think of milestones as any meaningful moments in a family’s life. They are important times in a family’s journey and deserve to be photographed and enjoyed for many years to come. These images will be passed down from one generation to another.

What are examples of milestones?

This list could be a post onto itself. There are so many but here are the ones I found that top the list: the birth of a child (newborns), annual family photos, (when you children turn 1 year old, then 2, 3, 4 etc.) More milestones include: start of school, Brownie scouts, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts or Boy Scouts, athletic events (soccer, baseball, football, volleyball, etc.) and their tournaments, graduation from one school to another, i.e. Elementary to junior high or junior high to senior high and of course High School senior pictures, college graduation, and the list goes on. Now, what family milestones are about to happen in your family? Let’s take a moment and look at a popular type of milestone – a 1-year old’s cake smash and how you might plan for it.

Preparation for your photography session

Grab some paper and prepare a checklist. Here are some things that you want on that checklist: date, time, location [backup location in case of inclement weather], a theme, guests to invite, food, beverages, taking the pictures yourself or hiring a photographer, supplies based on your theme, and maybe another adult to assist you if you are going to be the photographer. You will need a camera. You don’t need an expensive professional camera, as your cell phone will work just. Next a cake. Most supermarkets or grocery stores have bakeries and they have been requested to decorate a cake for this type of event. If you bake your own there is nothing special with a cake smash cake versus a regular cake. Make sure that the cake does not have those small candy pieces on them to avoid choking hazards. Something cute written on the cake is a plus – take a picture of cake before the event too! Additionally, other props can include: a large chalkboard with vital stats such as date-of-birth, height, weight, hair color, eye color, place of birth etc., balloons, Garland, small lanterns, numbers representing his/her age, or anything colorful to make it a festive session.

Family photography theme ideas

Choosing a theme depends on the milestone. You can ratchet up your session by choosing a theme for clothing, accent pieces, decorations, etc. Theme ideas include superhero, princess, sports, tea party, vintage 30’s look, daddy’s little helper, mini-baker, fall or spring theme, any holiday theme, etc. Keep your colors in line with your theme and hopefully you can use accent colors of your background. A good resource for cute themes is BabyGaGa and can be accessed at

Ideal locations for your photo session

It might be helpful to plan several locations because you don’t know for sure if events are already scheduled in the first choice or if the weather takes a turn for the worse. Typically, county parks provide amenities and do not charge extra to host your event. I live on the east coast close the ocean so a beach location could work for me. Additional, location ideas include forests, city parks, beaches, and backyards are all great locations. Consider how far the photo session will be from the parking lot or your car. You don’t want to tote a lot of stuff a long way so choose a location you won’t have far to carry (a wagon is your best friend here!!).

Hiring a photographer

If you decide to hire a photographer to capture this moment, ask friends and families for referrals. Facebook groups are a good source for ideas and referrals. Once you get a few, go to their websites and make sure you love the images you see and can afford their services. Many times, the final image will reflect the photographer’s vision. Your photographer will tell you when they are ready for you to put the cake down and you should immediately move directly behind the photographer (if I am your photographer stand/straddle over me because I am always on laying on the ground). Call to your child and invite them to start eating the goodies in front of him or her. You do this to ensure your child’s face is looking towards the camera. Your tendency is to stand off to one side and your child will always look for you not the photographer. Here are the pros and cons of hiring a photography for your session: pros of hiring a professional photographer – they take a lot of work off your shoulders including the logistics, help with the on-site setup, suggest or finding locations, direct the session, be responsible for the posing, take the images and do all the post processing of the images and finally, your photographer should encourage you to buy prints, wall art (matted and framed images) as well as loose prints. The cons can hiring a photographer can costly, there will likely be a 1 to 2-week delay in getting the final images and if you don’t have someone referred you are taking a chance that you won’t get along with the photographer.

Being your own photographer

So, you've chosen to be your own photographer. Here are a few tips to ensuring you get some print worthy images: First, frame your shot before the session starts. Use your phone or camera to “frame” the shot to make sure that all your lovely props fit into the frame – nothing like seeing your final images with the cutest props missing from the frame in your prints. Secondly, make sure you are at the same level as you child. Get down on the ground. It’s likely your child will be on the ground and so should you. This will place your child’s eyes are in the center of your frame right where you want them! Now for the pros and cons of shooting the session yourself. Pros –You will control all the logistics (except perhaps the weather) and will able to go at your pace not the photographer’s pace. You save the money you would have spent on the photographer. Cons – You will be required to do a lot of the work you wouldn’t have to do if you had hired a photographer, including securing a location, on-site set up of the props, backdrops, and ensuring the details are all good. You will be responsible for cleaning up the location (typically, photographers help to some degree with this stuff). You will be responsible for getting the images off your phone or camera and enhancing the images in a program ala-Lightroom, Photoshop, GIMP or other processing programs. This last issue can be a big one too if you don’t have any experience doing this. Bottom line – do what you have the time, patience and skills and can afford. The bottom line is this is an important time in your family’s journey, and you want these pictures to last a long time and to be passed down through the generations.