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.