5 Tips For Family Photos!

By Gabrielle. Images by Blue Lily Photography for Design Mom.

In March, I put together a list of 5 tips to help you with Family Photos. Thanksgiving week is the most popular week for family photos, so I thought I’d repost the tips to get you psyched up for your upcoming family gatherings. Happy Snapping!

Tip #1: You don’t HAVE to do an elaborate photo shoot. It definitely takes time and effort. If it’s not your thing, don’t worry about it! (One of my favorite photos in the world is this one, and it was taken with no planning whatsoever.) At our house, a big photo shoot is the sort of event everyone gets into. We work together to figure out wardrobe options, make lists of items we’d like to shop for (like a red bowtie!), and scout out locations.

In the case of the Vintage Car shoot, this is how it came about (spoiler: there was a lot of luck involved). Last December I had a fun daydream about seeing my kids spilling out of a tiny vintage European-looking car. I told Ben Blair about and then went on with my busy December. The very next day, I got an email from Wendy of Blue Lily. She was coming to Paris to photograph a client’s new baby, and wondered if we wanted her to come to Normandy for a shoot.

Wendy’s email felt like a giant gift that had just dropped into my lap! Keep in mind, it was already into December. December is nuts for everybody I know. And it’s nuts for me too. There was a part of me that knew it would be easier to let this opportunity go, but a bigger part of me knew it would be worth the effort and made it happen.

I immediately got to work putting together clothing. Coordinating 8 people is a big task, so I wanted to evaluate what we needed right away. Which brings me to Tip #2: Minimize costs by planning around what you already own. Luckily, I had already mostly finished shopping for holiday clothes for the kids and decided they would be perfect for the photoshoot. (I believe I’ve mentioned this before, but I pretty much only buy Sunday clothes for Easter and Christmas — and the kids wear the same thing every Sunday till the next holiday. There are occasional exceptions, but for us, it makes life easier.)

The trick was realizing it was going to be really cold that day, and figuring out how to winterize everybody’s outfit while still maintaining a certain look. We raided our outerwear, trading and borrowing coats and hats and scarves. We got creative when we needed to — like turning June’s pink hat inside out, so only the white faux fur was showing. We bought a red hoodie for Ben Blair, but other than that, we had every bit of outerwear we needed on hand. (You can find a guide to what we wore at the bottom of this post.)

Once we had the clothes under control, it was time to hunt down a car to use as a prop. We asked all of our local friends if they knew anyone with a tiny vintage car. We looked at a couple of options but they weren’t quite right. Another car we scouted didn’t run and we couldn’t move it to the country road. We talked to the owner of a car club, but the cars he had access to were completely restored and too gorgeous — I didn’t dare let the kids touch them.

Then, our friend Caroline thought to look at Le Bon Coin — it’s like a French Craig’s List. There were 5 or so cars listed for sale that were perfect! We emailed each listing and asked if we could rent the car for a day, to use it as a prop in a photo shoot. We received no responses on 3 inquiries, received a no on 1 inquiry, and received a yes on #5. But we only needed one yes! So we were delighted.

Locating a prop like a vintage car isn’t usually something you can do last minute, and the car absolutely MADE the shoot. (In fact, we loved it so much, we ended up buying it!) So Tip #3: Plan ahead! Secure any props in advance & scout a location.

In addition to the car, we had a few other props, but they were easy. Ben Blair picked up a small Christmas tree the morning of the shoot. I asked him to pick out the cheapest one, because it was just going on top of the car and even if it was straggly, we wouldn’t be able to tell.

For the over-sized gifts. I had green ribbon on hand and red wrapping paper in my Christmas wrapping stockpile. I had shipping boxes in the barn. Done and done. On the morning of the shoot, while we got dressed, Wendy kindly did the wrapping.

The wreath was added at the very last-minute. We grabbed it off our door and put it back when we were done.

As for location, I had a road very near our home in mind. A road we’ve taken long walks on a dozen times. I scouted it out with Wendy and she thought it was just right.

Tip #4: Arrange for extra hands. It just so happened that during the photoshoot, our friends Audrey and Nick had come for a visit. They both have design and photography skills so they made great assistants to Wendy, and made great kid wranglers too. Nick kept the VW nearby so we could jump in if we needed to warm up. Audrey carried a back up camera and shot some of the behind the scenes photos that are pictured here. We couldn’t have done it without them! If they hadn’t been in town, I would definitely have called in other friends to help.

Lastly, and probably most importantly is Tip #5: Remember, they’re just kids! They’re not paid professionals. : ) The kids get worn out pretty fast. Wendy knows this and works fast. As parents, we know it too, so we try to bring an extra measure of patience to the day and do our best to keep things upbeat. Keep their comfort in mind, and if bribes work with your kids, a pack of tiny not-melty candies on hand can work wonders.

Knowing the kids would get worn out, we shot the car photos first, because they were the main shots we wanted. We did a few shots by the barn next. And then as an afterthought, we did a couple more traditional family shots in front of the fireplace — but you can tell they are an afterthought. Everyone was worn out by then.

To sum up: don’t be fooled. Putting together a photo shoot like this takes real time and real work. I would say we spent about 12-15 hours total on errands and prep. Plus 2 hours on the actual shoot. It’s not the sort of thing every one would enjoy doing. But we definitely do!

How about you? Do you like big photo shoots? Or do you like to keep it simple? Any tips you would add?

P.S. — You can see all the photos from the shoot here — and see them at bigger sizes too!

37 thoughts on “5 Tips For Family Photos!”

  1. So fun to see these photos again and get my creative juices going. We go to a Christmas tree farm the day after Thanksgiving and I am going to take our Christmas pictures there.
    Happy Thanksgiving from Cincinnati.

  2. That photo shoot you did in France last year is my all time favourite. I love the colours you wore, the set-up of the scenes, the vintage car etc. I even made my husband look at the photos. Unfortunately my kids are all grown up now, but I can enjoy your photos.

  3. Too cute! And I completely agree with you about not making a big deal about a photo shoot. I used to and then I dreaded doing them. Now I just keep my camera on the counter and capture the moment. When we do something a little more formal we definitely try to get more creative with what we have… and there has definitely been success.

  4. This has been my favorite photo session I have ever seen Gabrielle (sorry dear June, but yours is definitely my number one baby session). Every time I look at the pictures I admire them and bells ring into my heart and believe me, I have checked them out soooo many times. Mostly, I believe they are timeless, we will swan over them years and years if you keep featuring them in your blog and your children will have special pictures to show to their children. Your idea was genius, simple and like you say working around what you already have. I love this ability of yours to simplify things and make the most out of beautiful things in life. Looking forward to more dreamy pictures this year, even if they are just random shots. I haven’t yet seen many fall pictures of your place and the surroundings this year and I am a bit disappointed. Hope you will make it up on me this month :)
    Have a nice week all of you!

  5. I loved your family photos so much that I turned right around and booked Blue Lily for when they were coming through the Washington, DC area. I just received our October images from Wendy, and could not be more pleased! There is just the three of us, so I did put some thought into an “activity” for us to do and she totally captured it. In our case, pitching our 7 year old son apples to hit with his bat. Great stuff. The props added a fun dimension. My main hint for others is when you do get your outfit(s) together, have someone take a pic of you in it beforehand to look at. In my case, we did that a few minutes prior to starting, but it was enough time for me to fasten my sweater closed with a paperclip. A look I preferred more than my before “test” photo. LOVE your blog.

  6. I agree, one of the best family photo shoots ever!

    We just did ours, and my tip is, know which shots you absolutely want. So if you want grandma with all the grandkids, make sure it happens. Or just mom & dad together. Our photographer shoots outside, and is pretty casual, but she’s always checking in with me to see if she’s on track (“okay, we have the kids together and separately, do you want just [husband] with the kids?”. Honestly, the outtakes are usually my favorite. I think we’re going to do a collage of the outtakes as our Christmas card this year. May as well give everyone a smile!

  7. So nice to see these photos again! I loved them the first time and still think they are fabulous! I love that your outfits are coordinated but not too “match-y.” I am amazed you pull this off for your family–I am exhausted trying to outfit the five of us. I hope my little ones will think it’s a fun project when they are a bit older too!

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  14. Thank you so much!! I still need a family photo as a christmas gift … and it grieves me that I didn’t seize the opportunity taking pictures in the summer. Now I know there are a lot funny ideas for a nice winter shot!!

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  16. So inspiring! We love doing photoshoots. This years was not a huge success – I was too busy to plan it properly, but fingers crossed the finished card turns out ok… The kids are both doing completely opposite things, and looking in different directions. Oh well, at least we captured The Moment haha;-)

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  18. I love this photo shoot! It gives me so many ideas for our next family photo session that I can’t wait to do it! Thank you!.

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