Photographing Dads: How to Prompt the Perfect Moment

Photographing dads shouldn’t be stressful! Here’s how to craft moment-driven family photos with fathers at the forefront. (Featuring: KEVIN HESLIN, THE STUDIO AT DAISY HILL, & KNOT JUST ANY DAY)


Dads have a long-standing reputation for loathing the photography experience. But why? Perhaps it’s residual trauma from the all-plaid wardrobe commemorated in his family’s church directory photos? Or maybe it’s his recurring nightmare about the train barreling toward him as he lounged awkwardly on tar-streaked railroad tracks holding a “SENIOR” foam cut-out.

Whatever the reason, we challenged the assumption that photographing dads is an uncomfortable chore. Here’s how three photographers prompt memorable moments between dads and their kids, and take incredible photos that will last a lifetime.

Dad and kids running in the ocean at sunset.
Photo by Kevin Heslin

Photographing Dads with Kevin Heslin | Costa Rica

Photographer Kevin Heslin respects his clients’ initial fear of being photographed.

“Like most people, [dads] feel awkward and stiff in front of the camera – and I bet it shows in all the cell phone photos they have of themselves!” jokes Kevin. “But photos are so important. Years from now, their kids [will] want to see these photos [of] when they were young and running around with their dad.”

Kevin employs a storytelling approach to photographing dads that ensures more than beautiful portraits; he’s documenting memorable moments.

Dad and son making music on the kitchen floor.
Photo by Kevin Heslin

Prompt #1: “You don’t have to do anything.”

Kevin knows camera-shy people can feel frozen by anxious thoughts, like, “I’m so awkward,” and, “Is it over yet?” A worried client, in Kevin’s experience, is an un-photogenic client, with expressions ranging from plastered-on smiles to grumpy scowls. These results only reassure the client that they are every bit as un-photogenic as they believed.

“I like to hang out with my clients before a photo shoot, and let them know that they don’t have to do anything at all for my camera. Before photographing dads and kids, I spend a good amount of time talking with them with my camera down so they can get comfortable with me. I let them know they just need to interact with their kids like they normally would, and I’ll be snapping away.”

– Kevin Heslin, Photographer

Two dads being silly with their son.
Photo by Kevin Heslin

Prompt #2: Emphasize Activities, Not Poses

Kevin looks for genuine emotion in his images, and he achieves this by focusing on activities, not poses. He directs a kid to “sneak up” on their dad with a big bear hug, or documents a real-world interaction like building a doghouse or brushing a kid’s teeth. In short, for Kevin, the world is full of inspiration. Photographing dads gets Kevin as close to that inspiration as possible.

“Most stuff I usually just make up at the session. I find something in the environment–a log to jump up on, or a little hill–and try to think up something fun to do where they can [interact] with each other. Then they forget all about the camera and flash beautiful, genuine smiles.”

– Kevin Heslin, Photographer

Kids kiss dad on the cheeks as they swim in the lake.
Photo by Kevin Heslin

Photographing Dads with Debbie McFarland, The Studio At Daisy Hill | Georgia

Debbie McFarland focuses on the kiddos to get great photos of dads. After all, as any parent knows, happy kids = happy parents! She doesn’t demand smiles or eye contact; instead, Debbie works hard to make her littlest clients forget about her altogether. She involves Dad in that process as well, and pretty soon parent and child are happily engaged with one another instead of worried about the camera.

(Left) Dad holds flower for little girl to smell. (Right) Shirtless dad holds newborn baby to his chest.
Photos by The Studio At Daisy Hill

Prompt #3: Stinky Toes and Other Silliness

“My favorite approach to photographing dads with their kids is to help them forget we are taking pictures. Get the kids involved [and ask] if Daddy has stinky toes, or [have] them tickle Daddy.”

– Debbie McFarland, The Studio At Daisy Hill

The more fun the family is having during the shoot, the more they’ll love their photos after the shoot. Remember: the best-loved photographs are associated with happy memories.

“I love when men say at the end of the session that they actually had a fun time,” shares Debbie. “We just have fun, that’s all.”

Little girl jumps from the bed into her dad's arms.
Photos by The Studio At Daisy Hill

Photographing Dads with Steve Husted, Knot Just Any Day | Pennsylvania

Steve Husted fully embraces ShootProof’s motto Focus On What Matters Most™ and he brings his clients along for the inspirational journey.

“Poses never help me capture what matters most: the love we share with the people we keep close to us,” emphasizes Steve.

He describes one recent photo session as if it were a neighborhood picnic. “The time we spent together was more like a super-relaxed hang-out session than a portrait session. There was a fun game of tag, piggy back rides, and all of the laughter!”

Series of dad and daughter playing in the park.
Photos by Knot Just Any Day

Prompt #4: Focus On What Matters Most

Finding the unique expressions of love within each family helps Steve create one-of-a-kind photographs that tell a meaningful story of joy and connection. When photographing dads, Steve looks for interactions and moments that occur naturally. These are the memories he knows his clients want on their walls.

“We like to have fun and we want to share that fun with everyone we’re with! If games of tag and Hide ‘n’ Go Seek are part of your life, they should be part of your family photos, too! We like everyone to be themselves so we can capture who they really are: fun-loving, incredible families and friends!”

– Steve Husted, Knot Just Any Day

Series of dad playing in the park with his son.
Photos by Knot Just Any Day

Comment below and tell us:

What prompts do you use to make great photographs of dads?


Written by ANNE SIMONE | Featuring KEVIN HESLIN, THE STUDIO AT DAISY HILL, & KNOT JUST ANY DAY via TWO BRIGHT LIGHTS | Special thanks to GREETABL


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