plan a DIY Family Photo Shoot with Lela Burris
Winter Holidays

How To Plan A DIY Family Holiday Photo Shoot

Learn how to plan a family photo shoot for the holidays without hiring a photographer, and how to get your family on board and actually excited about taking a picture together.

It’s no secret that family photo shoots are one of the most stressful events to plan and execute ever. Sometimes it may just be easier to grab a selfie from everyone’s Instagram and photoshop all the faces onto a photo you found on the web. (Don’t act like you haven’t considered that before…)

Throw in the fact that a one hour photo shoot can cost hundreds of dollars and no wonder you put it off every year! But this is your year to actually send that cute family photo card, and dammit, you’re all going to look GOOD in it!

Here are my top tips for planning a family photo shoot taken completely by yourself without spending a dime on a photographer, equipment, or a new wardrobe. And make sure you read to the end because I’ve got a free printable worksheet you can use to plan it all out on paper.

setting up a family photo shoot at home

Pick A Photo Location

The first step in planning your DIY Family Photo Shoot is picking where you’re going to take the picture. It may seem silly for this to be the first step, but your equipment, day and time, and even your outfit are all dependent on where this is going to go down.

Here are a few ideas of photo locations:

  • In front of your fireplace (classic stereotypical photo choice right here)
  • On your front porch (another classic)
  • Everyone piled up on the couch together (extended family will love the intimate feel of this one)
  • In front of wooden privacy fencing (great for decorating with garland or having open space overhead for card text)
  • In your yard (blur the background so your neighbor’s weird gargoyle statue doesn’t show)
  • At a local park (bonus points if you find another family to take the photo for you in exchange for you taking one of them)
  • At your favorite venue (is there a place your family visits often?)
  • Everyone piled up on the biggest bed in the house (super cute for a PJ photo!)

Choose THREE Dates To Take The Picture

No, you don’t actually have to take the picture three different times, but hear me out. Having one main date and two on the backburner take your stress level from an eleven to a four.

If your original date arrives and your two year old is having “one of those days” or your teenager is having a meltdown because there’s a zit on her nose, or your spouse has a headache and you just know that smile is going to be fake as all get-out, you’ll be so glad you have a backup date to push to.

Consider The Location For Your Dates & Times

  • If you’re doing it at home, pick the day after cleaning day.
  • If you’re heading off to the park, pick a weekday since weekends are busier.
  • And if you’re doing it in your front yard, keep an eye on where the sun is a week ahead of time so you know when the best (and worst) lighting will be.
how to plan a diy family photo shoot

Cameras & Equipment

Your Phone’s Camera Is Just Fine
If you’ve got a fancy camera, now is the time to dust it off and brush up on your manual shooting skills. But if not, your phone’s camera is totally ok to use. In fact, most newer phones have cameras that are almost as good as an entry-level DSLR. The photo taken of me above was from my son’s iPhone and it looks awesome!

DIY A Tripod
If you’ve got a tripod that has a phone attachment, definitely use that, but if you’re tripod-less and don’t want to shell out cash for one, get creative with how you’ll set up your phone. A good tripod alternative is a kitchen stool, a high window sill, a tree branch, or even two Command hooks stuck on a wall close together.

Use The Timer
Make sure you use the timer feature on your phone and designate one person to be the “button pusher” who will run back to the group and race the timer to get back in place. It’s a good idea to have that person standing on the end of the group. Don’t have them positioned in the middle, sitting, or crouching.

Don’t JUST Rely On Editing
Photo editing can only go so far. Make sure you are getting the best natural light you can possibly get, the sun isn’t blasting down on you making you glow, and the room isn’t conveying a “bear in a cave” vibe. If your original photo can be as clear and well-lit as possible, your editing will be a breeze.

Side note: I edit most of my photos with the app A Color Story and it’s free to use.

how to plan outfits for family photo shoot

Wardrobe Tips

Ditch The New & Matching Outfits
This may be an unpopular opinion, but I suggest NOT buying new clothes for a family photo shoot unless you absolutely need to. Why? Because it’s not necessary.

One, you’ve already got a whole closet full of clothes. And two, perfectly paired outfits in a family photo look FAKE.

Yep, I said it. Your matching buffalo plaid wardrobe looks staged. If you’re going for a catalog ad look, then sure, match it up.

But if your goal is to make your extended family and friends smile and feel connected, let them see the real family they know and love.

TIP: Lay out your outfits together to see how they look beside each other like I did in the photo above.

Wear something you love, let your kids wear something they’re comfortable in, and let your husband wear something he’s not embarrassed for his coworkers to see him in. The smiles will be more genuine and the photo will convey the true family you are. And that’s something to celebrate, not hide.

Consider Your Photo Location
Again, that photo location is coming into play here. If you’re standing in front of a brown stone fireplace and you wear a brown sweater, you’re going to be a weird floating head popping out a box of fire. And unless this is a Halloween photo, I doubt that’s the look you’re going for.

It’s best to stick with colors that contrast your background (no green shirts when you’re taking the photo outside) and be mindful of patterns and textures.

If your background has a lot of texture, your outfits should not. And if you background is a solid white wall, your clothes should have some pattern or weight to them to make them stand out.

shutterfly holiday card ideas from Organized-ish
Screenshot from

Pick Your Card Layout Before You Take The Photos

I like to pick my holiday card BEFORE I plan the photo shoot. That way I know what orientation I need (i.e. which way the camera should be turned) and how much blank space I need for text overlay.

If the card design I chose has text over our heads, I’ll know that the photo needs to have a bit of empty space over us that isn’t cluttered. And if the design I chose calls for a square photo, I’ll know that our shoes won’t (and can’t) be in the picture.

PS: I always get my holiday cards from Shutterfly because they have the best selection (in my opinion) but any printing service works just the same.

Holiday Greeting Card design from

Get Your Family On Board With The Plans

Here’s the kicker. You may know exactly how you want the photo to look. You know exactly how each kid will pose, and you know exactly which card design you’ll order once the photos are edited. But unless you share that vision, no one else has a clue.

It’s super duper important to make sure every single person that is in the photo knows the full scope of what’s swirling around in your head days before the photoshoot.

I promise, confusion is what turns more photoshoots south than anything else. I know because I have made that mistake myself.

There’s nothing like an irritated husband and an annoyed preteen while a control-freak mom is trying to pull off a picture she saw on Pinterest…

family photo shoot planning worksheet

Download This Free Family Photoshoot Planner

If your head is spinning already and you are totally overwhelmed, I got you girl. I took all the tips and advice I just shared and put them all together into a one-page Family Photoshoot Planning Worksheet.

You can put all your plans and ideas on paper so everything is clear, understandable, and figured out ahead of time so you can get a few great shots and be back in your sweatpants in no time.

You can grab that planner below by dropping in your name and email address and I’ll send it straight over faster than you can say Cheese!

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