About a month (or more) prior to the date, if you'd like to guarantee availability. I have people contact me trying to get a session last minute ALL THE TIME, and when I can, I am always obliged to book them, but sometimes, I can't do it. I like to only take a certain amount of clients per week so I can give all my clients a custom experience, keep editing times down and maintain my home life as well.
I don't typically do a lot of props when it comes to my family or maternity sessions. I prefer to keep the focus on the interactions and the feelings of the moment. I like to do a blend of posed pictures and natural unposed pictures. I do, however, give direction depending on the circumstance. When you schedule your session, we can also talk about your expectations.
For family shoots, you can never go wrong with cream, white, gray or neutral colors, as they go very well with our desert landscape. I also like variations of primary colors such as: brick red, navy blue and mustard yellow. Florals are in right now so if you want to go with that, make sure only one person is wearing them and then pull colors from the patern for the rest of the family. Clean nails look best, either without polish or a very light color. Please avoid colored candies, drinks or anything that will stain the mouth. And I can't stress enough, dress comfortably! Still looking for more ideas? Check out my Pinterest board.
For maternity shoots, I recommend bringing at least one outfit that you are comfortable in. I also have maternity gowns that I provide free of cost for your session. I prefer to do my maternity sessions outdoors so I can have more room to work and a much more interesting background. If you have a significant other with you, I can also do some neat pictures with movement of the dress's train.
Most of the places I go are outside the valley, so depending on where you live, you should account for approximately 30-60 minutes of drive time each way, as well as 45-60 minutes of shoot time. Outdoor sessions take place about an hour before sunset, so keep an eye on the time. If you arrive late, that is time we will not be able to make up if it's too dark.
Mentally prepare your family for what is about to take place. Talk about how much fun it's going to be! Make sure everybody is full and happy before the session and bring snacks! Bribery is ok in my book! Sometimes, "Ya gotta do whatcha gotta do!" Try to keep yourself calm and happy no matter what and enjoy the experience.