5 Tips For Family Photos!

November 19, 2012

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!

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

1 susan November 19, 2012 at 11:34 am

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 sheri November 19, 2012 at 11:53 am

Wow, that is the cutest photo session ever! Thanks for sharing and enjoy the upcoming holiday season. God bless.


3 The New Diplomats Wife November 19, 2012 at 11:57 am

one of my favorite family shoots ever – can’t wait to see what you guys come up with this year!


4 Grace@ Sense and Simplicity November 19, 2012 at 12:25 pm

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.


5 Gina November 19, 2012 at 12:27 pm

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.


6 Design Mom November 19, 2012 at 3:53 pm

I need to keep my camera on the counter. That’s so smart.


7 Jane Rhodes November 19, 2012 at 12:33 pm

this will forever be one of my favorite photo shoots, ever. blue lily rocks.

and, i love photo shoots. love even more styling them…


8 Beth M Baker November 19, 2012 at 1:28 pm

Beautiful shots! I love the outfits and creativity!! Love your blog & thanks for sharing:)


9 Sarah Barksdale Design November 19, 2012 at 1:51 pm

I just love these photos! How are you going to come up with christmas photos that are cuter than these this year?


10 Design Mom November 19, 2012 at 3:50 pm

Hah! I feel the same way. I’m still brainstorming.


11 Lisa | Happy By November 19, 2012 at 3:15 pm

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!


12 DeeDee November 19, 2012 at 3:26 pm

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.


13 Design Mom November 19, 2012 at 3:49 pm

Your test picture idea is absolutely genius!


14 Wendy and tyler November 19, 2012 at 6:37 pm

These are great memories!!!


15 joy November 19, 2012 at 4:43 pm

OMG this is beyond beautiful. so cute! thanks for all the tips.


16 Angela DeMuro November 20, 2012 at 5:57 am

Thank you for the tips! These photos are amazing!!! And the props; perfect!


17 Erin November 20, 2012 at 8:37 am

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!


18 Stella November 20, 2012 at 9:27 am

These photos are so darling!


19 Karyl November 20, 2012 at 12:57 pm

Wow, how gorgeous!


20 Anneliese November 20, 2012 at 10:20 pm

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!


21 pedilu December 3, 2012 at 1:11 am

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!!


22 Bestof2sisters December 7, 2012 at 9:52 am

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;-)


23 Alicia January 3, 2013 at 1:46 pm

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!.


24 Robert at Barksdale Design February 15, 2013 at 5:38 pm

These images are brilliant. Thank you so much for sharing them



25 Derinmor April 9, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Such a big happy family, I admire all of you :)


26 Rachel November 26, 2013 at 2:45 pm

I loved these so much when you did them last year! I just got my Christmas 2013 Martha Stewart and saw that an add inside has your family photos for their page spread and on their website. I HOPE they used these with permission, and thought I would inform you in case you were unaware!



27 Carol November 29, 2013 at 8:21 pm

I laughed because the greeting on the card is “with love from the Tanners” and I said out loud, “Oh I don’t THINK so.”


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