Leah O'Connell

families, for photographers

3 fun prompts for outdoor family photos

prompts for family photos
I'm Leah!

I’m obsessed with stories of family, creativity, and simple joys.  A nostalgia nerd, educator, wife, and mom of 3, I believe life’s most fun when you’re dreaming big and having kitchen dance parties. 

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These 3 prompts for outdoor family photos are some of my go-to games to help families loosen up during their session. Even though lifestyle family photos start as something contrived, the goal is to create photos that feel natural, playful, and celebrate who you truly are as a family.

That’s where the job of a photographer goes from taking the picture to making the moment.

Some photographers call this posing.

I call it directing because “posing” feels so stiff.

prompts for family photos

So what’s one of the biggest keys to making family photos that feel natural, playful, genuine, and connected?


Play is the best way to get people who hate getting pictures taken or who are “awkward” in front of the camera to let loose and be themselves.

Little games can lead to interaction and interaction leads to those little sweet moments where you’re doing your secret handshake or your head is thrown back in laughter as your kids pile on top of you.

Those are natural moments.

It just takes some instigating to get there.

These prompts for outdoor family photos are practically foolproof, because even though it is the same basic instruction or activity every time, it always yields different results because of what the family brings to the table.

3 Fun Prompts for Outdoor Family Photos

1. The sneak + tickle (or bear hug)

Ask one person (or more) to stand in a given spot and then ask everyone else to go behind them a few steps. When you give the signal, secret word, or signal the people in the back are to run forward and tickle or bear hug the people in front.

It’s silly, yes. That’s the point.

The bonus is that this can be adjusted with any combination of people. They can go big or gentle. It’s all based on the people and their vibe.


  • One person in front and 3 in back.
  • Mom + kid 1 upront and dad + kid 2 in back
  • Parents up front and kids in back
  • Wife up front, husband in the back.

Literally, a million ways to play. Ages, number of kids… works all around.


You might notice that one person is making a really scrunched face when they grab the person in front or they’re poking out at an odd angle. With repeat tries, you can give subtle directions like

“That was amazing!! This time we’re going to try it again, but Sam, your job is to tickle dad on this side this time!”


“So SO good guys, but oh my goodness you almost completely knocked over mom and dad!! This time, we’re going to do butterfly hugs instead of monster tackle hugs, okay? Let’s try it!

Next level

The trick is to give the subjects a “test run,” and then do it like… 2 more times. The more they sneak and gain confidence that they’re doing it right and it looks awesome, the more they’ll buy-in and the better/more playful it becomes.

2. The spin-move

Nothing gets a toddler giggling like some spins. Try it with just one parent or within the family pose. If the kid being held is being wiggly or upset, get everybody into position and then tell mom to just twirl or dance in place with the kid and freeze back at the front!


If mom’s face is scrunching when she spins or she’s looking down at the spinning kid and creating some un-flattering angles, encourage her to toss her head back and laugh while she’s spinning!

Next level

This move is not only fun for kids, but it will create movement in clothes and hair. If parents can really embrace the fun of this move– which is by-the-way, something they probably do often with their kids for fun anyways— it’s likely that everybody else will naturally look at what the spinner is doing and smile.

If you didn’t know, smiling’s contagious. 

3. Cloud shapes

I usually pull out this pose when I want to reign the kid energy down a notch or simply get a shot of everyone together with some variety. I just tell them all to lay down in the grass or pile on dad or literally however they will lay is fine in my book. Usually, a little one wants to be on top of mom or dad. Cool.

Then, I just ask them to look at the clouds and talk about the shapes they see.


No clouds? Play who can spot the first plane or star. Sky is completely bare or they’re not into that idea? No biggie. Pick somebody to draw a letter in the sky with their hand and see if the rest of the family can guess what it is! Or even (this has worked before, I promise!) play the quite game and be as quiet as can be… they might just turn in for the sweetest cuddle.

Let the play unfold however it needs to for that family.

family of 5 laying in grass and laughing for fall family photos

Next level:

The key to making this look good is by getting heads close together – in armpits and around others wherever possible. You can also vary the direction of bodies for visual interest.

I hope this little behind-the-scenes peek at some of my outdoor family session games and tricks is helpful to see that love-soaked, personality-filled photos don’t always (okay never) come from perfection, holding a position, or even intentionally smiling.

Are you interested in family photos that are full of vibrance and joy?

Awesome, me too. Reach out here to tell me more about your crew and get the ball rolling!

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Hi, I'm Leah.
Family photographer, writer, educator.

I’m  one of the first to meet your newborn baby, the one who won't judge your clothes baskets and unmade beds, and the one who can capture the way your husband looks at you with a twinkle in his eye after 12 years of marriage. I believe in honoring people and telling stories.

I believe art has the power to light up the world in dark places, starting at home.