When to do family photos

When to do family photos

There are four seasons and 12 months in a year (duh), but you’d never know it by looking at the majority of family photos.

Why are so many family photos taken in the fall? Is there a “best” time of the year to do family photos? Welp, let’s dive right in.

What’s the deal with fall photos?

To put it succinctly, varying colors of leaves give visual texture and variation to your photos.

If your eyes function correctly, I don’t have to tell you that the autumn is really freakin’ pretty.

And people like pretty things in the background of their photos. *shrug*

But let’s be honest here. It’s not the background that makes the photo: it’s the connection of the people in it. I’ve taken some of my favorite photos in June, and I’ve had sessions on a beautiful October day that were just ‘meh.’

True, light has something to do with it; but golden hour happens in every month of the year, not just September and October.

What’s important to know is this: family photos don’t need fall color in order to be amazing.

Deciding when to do family photos

Let’s get one thing straight: a gorgeous backdrop doesn’t matter if someone’s missing from the group.

If you have older children off at college or in the working world, or especially active youngsters, your options are already limited.

Families with adult children: find an event on the calendar when you’ll all be together.

My family always gathers for the Iowa State Fair, so we asked everyone to fly in a day early and scheduled family photos for two nights before the fair began.

Pros: Everyone was present (and we could use the fairgrounds as our location!)

Cons: Lack of flexibility. Have a backup plan in case your first date gets rained out or someone gets sick.

When to do family photos
Our favorite place on earth: the Iowa State Fair! I’m far right; I look like the tallest one here, but it’s a trick of heels and a slanted sidewalk, tee hee. Photo by Stacie Ricklefs Photo + Design

For families with active kids: find a time of year with the fewest activities.

If your teenagers play sports or have extracurriculars with travel or frequent practices, schedule photos outside their heaviest activity months.

You’ll drive yourself (and your photographer) a little bonkers with last-minute changes. Photos at a time of year you’re already going crazy with stress isn’t a good recipe for success.

For kiddos with early bedtimes: months with earlier sunsets.

If your niños must be tucked snugly into bed by 7:30pm or they turn into Gremlins, you’ll want to do your photos in late September or October.

March, April, November, or December works too, if you live somewhere the weather doesn’t try to kill you half the year. (#iowa)

If you have Gremlin kiddos, avoid May, June, and July entirely.

Tiny babies that already have late bedtimes can hang later than toddlers, but you know your kiddos best. If they’re going to be in a terrible mood, pick a month when sunset and bedtimes pair nicely.

(Try this handy tool to find sunset times where you live.)

What if there are no bedtimes, sports, or travel to work around?

Yay, now we’re talkin’! Round these parts (Iowa), I don’t start outdoor sessions until May 1. Before that, the weather’s a crapshoot.

Exhibit A: This video of my children on APRIL SEVENTEENTH, YOU GUYS.

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What to expect each month of the “shooting season”

Okay, so you’re open to other months of the year (my photographer heart is happy to hear this). Here’s what you can expect.


  • Lots of bright greens
  • Some locations off-limits due to mud or high water
  • Blooming trees, if the timing’s right: big white flowers, crabapple blooms, etc.
  • Wildflowers! Mostly lavender, deep purple, and white, but also yellows
  • Gnats (easily deterred with Absorbine Jr.)
  • Late golden hour start times: 7pm at the beginning of May, 7:30pm at the end
When to do family photos
When to do family photos


  • More bright greens
  • Very late session start times for golden hour (7:30pm or later!)
  • Still some gnats, but not as bad as May
  • Few wildflowers at this time of year
  • That classic humid Midwest weather, and rain can be a factor, making some locations unusable due to mud or high water
  • Some limitations on clothing colors (because of sweat), but you can have bare arms and legs and still be totally comfortable
When to do family photos


  • Plenty of greens, but not the crazy neon greens from May/June
  • SO. MANY. WILDFLOWERS, particularly in late July. Black-eyed Susans, coneflowers, and so many more!
  • Slightly more reasonable start times, but still rather late, around 7pm-ish
  • HEAT! July in Iowa is not cool and comfortable… but choose your fabrics wisely and you’ll be pretty good during golden hour once things are cooling down toward sunset
  • Perfect weather to incorporate water in your session: beachside, creek stomping, wading,
When to do family photos
When to do family photos
All. The. Wildflowers!!


  • Weather is usually hot and dry, but that means most any location is going to be usable
  • Plentiful wildflowers in early August, potentially through the month’s end depending on weather
  • If the heat doesn’t bother you, August is a great month to do your family photos… everyone’s comfortable, and sunset isn’t crazy late
  • Many sunflower fields are planted to bloom in late August (here in eastern Iowa)
When to do family photos
When to do family photos


Photographer “busy season” really ramps up starting September 1, so if September is what you want, plan to book early. Most in-demand photographers book well in advance.

By the last week of September, some maples will be brilliant and fiery red, which is SUPER pretty. Like this shot of the Habhabs, which was actually on October 1. The campground had exactly ONE maple tree, and we made the best of it!

When to do family photos
Teenage boys take a while to warm up sometimes… we were a ways into the shoot before I got a smile out of the fella in the upper right, but dammit, I did it!

September is still plenty warm enough for bare arms and summery clothing, but it’s beginning to look like fall, so you get the best of both worlds!

When to do family photos


  • This month books up faster than anything else, so if you have your heart set on October, book waaaaaay early
  • Peak fall leaves in Iowa occur in the first 3 weeks of October
  • Maples (the fiery red ones) are done by week 2 roughly, so locations with oaks and hickories are great for October
  • Expect lots of yellows, browns, and some dark reds, but the brilliant reds are fleeting
  • By month’s end, you’re looking at yellows and browns, and some bare limbs on certain trees
  • Unpredictable weather is the norm for October in the Midwest: everything from upper 70s to low 40s. Your wardrobe choices need to be ultra-flexible. Layers you can add or remove are key.

There’s also a pretty stark difference in color as October progresses. Check it out:

When to do family photos
Early October: Plenty of yellows and golds, and still a fair amount of green in the grasses. Note this meadow; you’ll see it again in another photo, and it’ll look REALLY different!
When to do family photos
Mid-October; greens are hanging on, while those yellows in the trees are getting darker.
When to do family photos
Last week of October. This location has ancient oaks and hickories, both among the last to drop their leaves. This photo was taken the same day as the one below, believe it or not, so location (and the trees in that location) really matter!
When to do family photos
Last week of October. This is the same meadow from the first October photo! Those greens in the grass are completely gone, and the trees are mostly bare.
When to do family photos
Last week of October. More bare trees at this point than anything else. Bonus: fallen leaves are a toddler favorite.


Cold-weather photos are not my fave. I used to shoot in November, but cold kiddos are unhappy kiddos, so I wrap up the outdoor season October 31.

If you can find a photographer who’s brave enough to venture out in November or December, go for it!

  • Dress warm. Like, REALLY warm. Tights, warm shoes, and no single layers at all unless it’s a super thick one.
  • Go colorful with your wardrobe. November and beyond in Iowa is brown, brown, brown. If you’re wearing neutrals in an all-neutral-color environment, you’ll look like just another deer in the woods. And November is bow hunting season. Whoops.

Ready to plan your family photos?

Now that you know you have options far beyond October, the sky’s the limit for your family photos! Come on, friend! Let’s make it happen.


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