Prepping for a Family Photoshoot: 5 Tips!

March 12, 2012

Are you ready for a longish post? I get lots of questions about family photos, so today, I thought I’d share the process of getting ready for our Vintage Car Photo Shoot, with some tips for your own family photos. I also included a little guide to what we wore at the end. And I peppered the text with 21 photos from the shoot that I haven’t shared yet, including a whole bunch of behind the scenes shots.

I hope it will be helpful!

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.

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 perfect.

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. Plus also, here’s our wardrobe guide:

Ralph wore-
Black trousers and grey pullover from Carrefore (a Target-ish grocery store here in France), black boots by NA!, white button down from Sargeant Major, and red bowtie from H&M.

Maude wore-
Red sheath dress from Zara, red sparkly tights from H&M, grey flats already in her closet, black pashmina wrap. We added a white-ish coat and an old pair of my red legwarmers because it was cold that day!

Olive wore-
Grey tweed dress from Zara, black tights, black dressy shoes already in her closet. We added a short black peacoat, red scarf and black beret from our winter stockpile.

Oscar wore-
Black jeans already in his closet, a black turtleneck sweater from Zara, a pair of Betty’s red socks and his black Adidas sneakers. We added his furry hat and a couple of long-sleeve tees under his turtleneck to keep him warm in lieu of a coat.

Betty wore-
Plaid holiday dress from Sargeant Major, black tights, black maryjanes already in her closet. Her back-to-school houndstooth coat.

June wore-
Red corduroy dress and thick grey tights from Carrefore. Grey peterpan collar shirt, and grey ruffled trench coat from Zara, both already in her closet. And grey shoes from H&M, also already in her closet. I mentioned this above, but it makes sense here as well — it was soooo cold and we hadn’t planned a hat for her. At the last minute, I thought to turn her pink snow hat inside out — it’s lined with white. Hooray!

Ben wore-
Black trousers from Celio. Red hoodie from H&M, Grey pin-stripe blazer from Banana Republic that was already in his closet. Grey casual shoes from Celty. A white button down from his closet and a glenplaid tie he borrowed from Ralph.

I wore-
Grey skirt and black turtleneck sweater from H&M that I’ve had for years. Grey booties from Zara. Grey tights already in my closet. I added my red puffy coat from Eddie Bauer, and the white hat was a gift from my mom a couple of Christmases ago.

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{ 48 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tara March 12, 2012 at 9:12 am

Thanks for sharing all these tips! So much work goes into a family photo shoot but the results are so worth it.

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2 rikrak March 12, 2012 at 9:18 am

brilliant as always, nicey!

your family photo shoots over the years just thrill me! such a special keepsake & living memory for your beautiful family!

great tips. thanks!

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3 Tania March 12, 2012 at 9:21 am

And, tip #6… have lots of kids so that you can organize gorgeous fun-filled photoshoots like this one. :) Reading about your family’s going-ons always makes me smile. Thank you!

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4 Design Mom March 12, 2012 at 2:16 pm

Hah! It is fun to have such cute models to work with. : )

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5 Sharon @ Discovering blog March 12, 2012 at 9:24 am

Thanks for taking us behind the scenes!
I’m a commercial print model, and with my age range, I’m typically cast as a mom (or a nurse). It’s always hard when the crew doesn’t understand kids, and they aren’t just little adults.
I’ve been asked to bring my kids on commercial auditions with me, when they are casting real families, and sometimes I do, but I tend to regret it. It’s too much stress, and the thought of actually booking the job and worrying if my kids will be perfect on the shoot or in the way is just more anxiety than I need.
I’m glad you kept it fun for the kids, which is as it should be.
Can’t wait to see the next family pics! It must be amazing to have such a backdrop at your fingertips!

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6 Design Mom March 12, 2012 at 2:17 pm

Oh my goodness! I can’t imagine trying to audition for myself and help my kids through an audition at the same time. I’m sure my head would absolutely burst. I am the worst at multi-tasking.

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7 Erika March 12, 2012 at 9:28 am

Thanks for this post! I love the vintage car idea, but your explanation has motivated me to seek other great photo shoot inspirations. A little (ok a lot) of planning can go a long way!! It also helps that you are in a GORGEOUS setting, and have a beautiful family.

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8 camilla March 12, 2012 at 9:40 am

These pictures are priceless! I especially appreciate your advice on what to wear. Every time it’s time for my family’s pictures, I look back on your tips for your Central Park family photos. I love that you have everyone coordinating but not matching, and that you use things you already have or will definately use again. You’re a genius!

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9 Kacy Faulconer March 12, 2012 at 9:46 am

Welp. I’m in love with Oscar.

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10 Design Mom March 12, 2012 at 2:18 pm

He is a charmer. No doubt about it.

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11 Maria @ Busy as a Bee in Paris March 12, 2012 at 10:54 am

so fun reading about your photo shoot. i’d love to do this someday, but i’d know he’d never go for it, so i just settle with the traditional, which are quite nice too ;)

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12 Ann March 12, 2012 at 11:02 am

Love that shot! I love all the tiny hints of red. We have not done an entire family photo in a long time. Must do that.

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13 The New Diplomats Wife March 12, 2012 at 11:11 am

i adored this photo shoot, but i adore more the spirit behind it. it’s easy for others to look at this and think that it just came together like that, or it came together with lots of money behind it. i love photos and family photos and have a new found appreciation for them since having our daughter. as long as you keep it light and flexible for the kids, but planned and easy for the adults, everyone looks their best. oh, and it also helps to have a photographer who “gets” the vision! beautiful pics, some of my favorite yet!

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14 Design Mom March 12, 2012 at 2:22 pm

“i adored this photo shoot, but i adore more the spirit behind it.”

Thank you for saying that.

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15 Kat March 12, 2012 at 11:19 am

These are SO MUCH FUN! Thanks for sharing your tips

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16 Sarah {Daily Design Inspiration} March 12, 2012 at 11:28 am

I love the barn shots! I love that you actually do what we all dream of trying. Lovely pictures!

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17 Design Mom March 12, 2012 at 2:21 pm

I love the barn shots too! They are so well composed. (Is it possible I like them even more than the car shots?)

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18 Esther March 13, 2012 at 2:08 pm

You all look beautiful, what a bunch of gorgeous children, and such a happy, young, cute couple!! I like the barn photos too — I love the colours and the composition of them. Thanks for your tips!! xxx

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19 Robin March 12, 2012 at 11:59 am

I love the behind the scenes pics as much as the real ones! And Wendy (I presume) has a kicky green bag!

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20 Laura March 12, 2012 at 12:44 pm

What a fun post! Your family is adorable and I LOVE this photoshoot!

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21 Blessing @ Working Mom Journal March 12, 2012 at 12:56 pm

Thanks for sharing. I am at the verge of booking a photoshoot, this really helps the planning process.

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22 Design Mom March 12, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Best of luck on your shoot!

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23 Antoaneta March 12, 2012 at 1:01 pm

Great photos!

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24 Charissa March 12, 2012 at 1:01 pm

Those are some great shots…and tips. Thanks.

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25 Stephanie March 12, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Thank you for taking the time to put this together. I’ve been very inspired by your family photo shoots and it helps to see the behind the scenes aspects of it.

And, I love the bits of red too! Red makes me happy.

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26 Design Mom March 12, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Red makes me happy too.

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27 Mackenzie March 12, 2012 at 1:25 pm

as a photographer, I wish all my clients had such inspiration, amazing ideas, coordinating outfits, 6 adorable children, etc.. to bring to the table! You are the ideal client for sure! ;)

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28 Design Mom March 12, 2012 at 2:19 pm

Too funny! I wonder if you would say that after the millionth time trying to get us all to look in the same direction at the same time. : )

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29 Lauren March 12, 2012 at 1:33 pm

I find this fascinating! Growing up, I was the oldest of four kids and one of my favorite tasks was coordinating everyone’s outfit for family pictures (of course these were cheesy Olan Mills shots, not creative photo shoots). I always admire how creative you are with everyone’s clothing and the way you use mostly what you have on hand. Thanks for sharing!

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30 Mackenzie Byersdorf March 12, 2012 at 1:34 pm

This is AMAZING! This makes me want to have more kids! :) I love that there was a common theme but it wasn’t too overdone. Great job!

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31 Martha March 12, 2012 at 3:21 pm

a well-planned photo shoot is always worth it and this has to be one of my all-time favorites!

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32 Cheryl Burchett March 12, 2012 at 4:09 pm

I know that I posted about my family’s similar vintage car ( a teal station wagon) Christmas photos, but I can’t get over how similar these shoots were! I also bring reinforcements (my sister) and candy just in case. Luckily for us it wasn’t cold in Tennessee in early December so the outer wear didn’t matter. Unluckily for us, our Christmas tree was not scrawny and it flew off our car on the way to our photos!!! Here is the link to my blog post about our “Griswald Family Christmas” themed photo shoot. http://lydiaburchett.blogspot.com/2011/12/christmas-picture-preview.html?m=1
And here is a link to our finished Christmas card with a SURPRISE announcement to our families inside. http://lydiaburchett.blogspot.com/2011/12/our-christmas-card.html?m=1

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33 sofija March 12, 2012 at 4:59 pm

Thanks for the tips!! We have 6 kiddos, too. It is always helpful to see how other families do things. I thought for sure you bought all new outfits….they are so well put together and timeless.
As our family grew I had to let go of the notion that all of us were going to look great on family pictures. Especially my third child went through a goofy face phase where a nice smile just wasn’t an option. So I decided I would be happy with the parents looking OK, and some of the older kids, and the rest…lets just say we were happy if they just looked in the general direction. I really like that now, it looks natural, and you can see everybody’s personalities better.

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34 sheri March 12, 2012 at 7:05 pm

What a great post – the shots are charming and I love how it all is so composed and thought out without looking the least bit contrived or sterile. Beautiful!

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35 Jody March 12, 2012 at 7:33 pm

Thanks so much for sharing this! I feel very inspired and plan to try to do a creative family shoot this spring!

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36 This girl loves to talk March 12, 2012 at 9:17 pm

my sister in law is a photographer and now you’ve inspired me to want to do the same! We have no photos (she’s so busy photographing everyone else and getting paid for it ;)

It really is about the hard work YOU put in to shoots as well as the photographer. Which is why its been a long time since we had a photo. You seem to have nice clothes props to start with.. my kids dont even have nice shoes and no cute clothes, that I would have to spend alot to get us a nice shoot! Nothing bad about Blue Lily but I’ve seen AMAZING shots by them and they came here to australia and some friends got shots done by them and they were nothing special :( I do think its because sometimes we (average looking people) can think we can just show up to a park and the photographer will make amazing things happen….. so I do believe your hard work SHOWS in your photos!!

I’ve seen my sister in law do amazing photos and others dont seem to have the magic. I tell people who I recommend to my SIL that they need to think of poses they like, look at other work to see what style they like, really think about the clothes and shoes! get a prop or so and a nice location. It really makes the difference.

I really like your idea about back ups. Most shoots we’ve done we’ve had to abandon due to little ones. You need an extra person to keep them all contained while you’re trying to have husband/wife shots too.

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37 Andrea @ Our Little Gems March 12, 2012 at 11:21 pm

This was well well worth the effort! These are gorgeous, fun, and wonderful! Thank you for sharing all of these tips and the extra photos. Wendy is so sweet to work with you, and I totally understand what you mean that it was a big fat gift falling into your lap. :)

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38 The Woman Formerly Known As Beautiful March 13, 2012 at 1:31 am

I try to lay away extra money for all the therapy my children will need post family photo shoot where I’ve undoubtedly screamed, “Must you always fill your cheeks, copious as they are, with so much air in the picture, Bridget? And you, yes you the gangly one, what’s with the death mask face? Has Phinneas died and left Candace to gloat? Did you find out Pa Ingalls got married three times in real life? Yes, it’s disillusioning. If we couldn’t count on Michael Landon who could we count on? But you have to suck it up and smile kid. The show must go on. Henry. What happened to your face?” “What face?” “Yours, the one that now has a blog instead of a nose and not so much eyes as pig slits.” “Allergies.”
“Allergies?? I can work like this!” “I’m just a little puffy.” “Maybe what you need is you need a face double. Someone who looks just like you but isn’t you so they aren’t puffy.” “Who’d you have in mind?” “Brad Pitt – people say we look like a couple due to my remarkable likeness to Angie – although those lips are a bit over top if you ask me, Do you think they provide shelter for two more children? Each in one lip? Or perhaps we should replace you with the poor man’s Pitt — Jonas Hill.” “If we’re taking it that direction why not just bring in Chris Farley?” “He’s dead”. “”Exactly.” Sigh. “So we’ll make your face work. Photo shop in a little Clooney.” “Yes my dear, darling. By the way the girls and I have decided you should take the shot.” “But…” “You know you upstage us with your ravaging glory.” “I suppose you’re right…okay everybody…line up! But you’re out too, with that blow fish face. Girls? Ready…..

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39 Janette March 13, 2012 at 2:00 am

Thanks so much for this post! I live in Auckland, New Zealand and have booked Blue Lily in for a photoshoot while they are here and I have been seriously daunted by the task of trying to plan it! and I only have a husband and 2 kids..not quite the brood you have! I am so excited and I really will set a bit of time aside before they get here in April!

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40 Gina March 13, 2012 at 6:00 am

I can’t wait to return to this mail tonight. It’s a sit down and read post. That photo shoot was really one of a kind and one of the best I have ever seen. It fit your family so beautifully; the colors of the season, nature were so perfectly suited for you and your family, the styling extrodinary… magic. I can’t wait to read the details and tips! I have to say that I don’t stage our Christmas photos but this one had me thinking, why not! So extremely well done. Gina

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41 robin March 13, 2012 at 10:14 pm

It was a great shoot and definately well worth the effort particularly since you’ll only have one holdiay season in France. I like you take tons of pictures of my family, but I am rarely in them! Then when I am I’m to self conscious about how I look and do not make a good editor! You obviously had a LOT of great images come out of it and that road is divine and I love the barn. I don’t think anyone here in Boston would let you borrow a car for a photo shoot! and I speak from experience – I try to get them for photo shoots from time to time and even flat bedding them,paying a decent chunk of change, and the added props of saying hey that’s my car running in a major publication doesn’t win people over. I definately checked out Blue Lily’s schedule after seeing these photos (and started running location ideas and wardrobe options through my head) but I haven’t committed yet…

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42 Stephanie March 14, 2012 at 12:50 pm

Wonderful tips! I’ll keep them in mind for future photo shoots. Such a beautiful idea!!

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43 PA March 15, 2012 at 6:12 pm

Great photos! I have a restored Jeep Grand Wagoneer (woodie) that I would love to use to create similar photos with (www.1991jeepgrandwagoneer.com)

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44 Shira March 23, 2012 at 1:10 pm

What a great post! Just stumbled upon your blog and love already. These tips will actually come in handy for product photography as well. Really dig the cool lighting and retro clothing of the whole family! Lucky you! Will continue to follow!

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45 Maria April 26, 2012 at 4:58 pm

We’re having Blue Lily pics in a couple weeks! Can’t wait!

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46 Patricia Gilbert January 22, 2013 at 5:12 pm

Salut! I found you through Pinterest. I was looking for videos I could show my French class. What a great look you have! I’m subscribing today so I don’t miss any of your wonderful content.
Merci!

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47 Susie November 7, 2013 at 10:07 pm

Just saw these photos as some of the samples on the tinyprints website for holiday cards. They were instantly recognizable! This photo shoot has always left an impression on me. Makes me want to rent a vintage car too! In the French countryside. With an adorable family. In cute just-coordinating-enough outfits. Mais, bien sûr!

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48 Posy Quarterman March 18, 2014 at 1:04 pm

Your styled family shoots are always beautiful (I remember that NY library one from years back). I love the look of them, and the way you style the sessions to suit your family’s style. But I’m curious, as someone who loves to document families in and around their homes, doing their daily things, have you ever had your family photographed just the way you are in your day-to-day? Weekend downtime, favorite moments/activities/time together? I love the way families and children are in their own environment, and I love the idea of kids and families having those photos to look back on, photos that look like their actual memories. You know? I’m just curious if you’ve ever had your family photographed this way.

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