Can I get sappy for a second? When I’m old and gray, flipping through pictures from our family photoshoots, and reflecting on mom-life with my little fellas, I don’t want to think about what I could’ve or should’ve done. I want to remember the “good ol’ days” without regret, knowing I did everything I could to record those moments.
Handcrafting photo props for growing familieshas given me the opportunity to see first-hand how other mamas are photographing and capturing their own memories, and I find their stories incredibly motivating. I’m no fortune teller, but I think my future self will be pretty grateful, too!
For the past three years, I've been taking our own family photos, and I wanted to share this in-depth look at photoshoots so you know just how to do what I do. And if you're not a do-it-yourself type of mom, there are still some easy tips you can grab to use for your next photoshoot with your favorite professional.
These are the photos that you’ll take in between any professional photoshoots, or instead of those shoots if you dare. There’s no waiting, no stressing about getting there on time, no worrying about the weather, or if there’s spit up on your dress (ok, there might still be spitup, but at least you can change outfits easier).
You’ll be ready to catch the everyday moments of life, from the sweetness of couch cuddles to peacefully chaotic walks in the park. You know what I mean here - the birds are chirping, you can feel the breeze, your heart feels at ease, but there’s still the comfortable chaos of kids laughing, pushing limits, and exploring their world.
You don’t have to be a Pinterest mom, you don’t have to plaster them all over social, you don’t have to be a professional, heck, you don’t even have to display them in your home. You don’t need a fancy camera, the perfect background, or the best lighting.
But what you do need is to know that the photos you take today and tomorrow, will be the ones you look back on when your kids have flown the coop. They’ll be the memories you hold close when your loved ones are far. And despite any upfront learning pains, I betcha you’ll be incredibly grateful you chose to take those photos.
Professional photographers can be a few hundred bucks, and if you do photoshoots a few times a year, you could be looking at a hefty investment. That’s not to say that their services aren’t worth it though. Before the day of your shoot, they’re scouting the location, setting up, and some even offer outfit advice. Some even provide outfits! They may make a genuine effort to get to know you, your style, and what you’re looking for. And after your shoot, they often give you a full gallery of beautiful photos, and might even edit some. Essentially they’re making the experience as easy as possible on you.
But if you’re anything like me, your budget doesn’t have room for professional family photos more than once per year. So for the off-season, for the in-between moments, the everyday celebrations like birthdays and holidays, I want to be as prepared as I can be to fill those shoes as best as I can.
Forever and ever you’ll be taking photos. Of your baby, of your partner, your loved ones, your pets, your lunch. Photos are an outward expression of love and they’re not going anywhere.
Have you heard the expression ‘practice makes perfect’? Give me an example of something it doesn’t apply to. ;) When it comes to family photos, the more you take, the better you get.
But there’s no such thing as the ‘perfect’ family photo. You start to learn what you like, what you don’t like, how to work with lighting, and how to position or move people around to get a photo that’s more pleasing toyoureye. I’ll say it again - the more you practice, the better you get.
Personally, the photos I took today look better than the ones I took when my oldest was born, and I bet the photos I take next year will look even better than today’s. What you water, grows. By investing in my own skills and paying attention to what I like and what works, I’ll be able to continue plugging forward on my mission to fill an album with photos I’m proud of.
So if we have the same goal, of capturing photos of our family as we grow together, you’re probably wondering how often you should be snapping the more traditional pictures, if you can call them that. You know, the ones when you make time to do your hair and to make sure everyone is looking their best. Just me? Please don’t judge. ;)
Kids change at an alarmingly fast speed, and while they’re little, we plan for one photoshoot per season, though I guiltily admit I put more energy and focus into spring and fall. That said, There are plenty of mamas and papas who do family pictures once a year, so figure out what your lifestyle and stress level can handle. There’s nothing worse than over-committing and scrambling at the last minute, so set yourself up for success by starting with realistic expectations.
Another sign it’s time for a family picture is when you have milestone occasions coming up. These could be things like birthdays, anniversaries, family vacations with the whole gang together, or even simply Mother’s Day. If the celebration of the remarkable women who bring life into the world isn’t worth a photo, tell me what is!
Once you commit to taking your own family photos, there are 5 things you need to hash out before the big day. All good things take planning, right? I’m full of corny cliches today, so here’s one more - there’s no such thing as right or wrong. We all have our own taste and style, and so while I’m about to share what works for me, what works for you might look completely different. We all start somewhere.
Whether the season you’re eyeballing is one month away, or 9 months away, there are pros and cons to each. Depending on where you call home, your weather should factor into the season you choose.
Here in northern Ohio, spring photos look best in late April or early May when the flowers and trees are starting to show their green. Don’t plan too early though, before the bareness of winter has faded, or you could wind up with photos that don’t fully show the glory of mother nature. If you’re in need of some inspiration, I’ve rounded up some picture ideas here for your spring photoshoot.
For summer photos, I try to avoid the scorching sun so we aim for outdoor photos when the sun is setting and it feels bearable outside. If air conditioning is your thing, there’s no shame in taking those summer photos indoors.
For fall photos, we aim for mid September when the leaves are changing colors. Like spring, there can be a short window between changing colors and leaves full out dropping. That’s the beauty of taking photos yourself though - you don’t need much notice to get everyone on board and ready. If you see that the leaves look just right, get your booty in gear before winter sets in.
In winter, there are soooo many photo opportunities that we don’t usually set up formal family pictures. Instead, we opt for the classics like photos around the tree, or outside in the snow; beware runny or Rudolph noses and red cheeks.
Mom-tip: outdoor winter photos can look really blue if you’re in the snow; you can adjust the color later in an editing app by dialing down that blue or the saturation.
So when it comes to the season of your photoshoot, don’t put your photos off too long, or you’re likely to end up with kiddos who have changed dramatically from one month to the next - like my youngest, who went from baby teeth to toothless overnight. Choose a season that’s close, but that you’re excited about too.
There are two questions to ask yourself to decide on a mood for your family photos.
What’s the mood or style of my home? And…
What do I want to feel when I look back on these photos in 10 years?
Let’s tackle your home first. The goal is to find a style that fits in your home,and that looks like it belongs in your space. If you picture yourself someday printing or hanging photos, we want the style to look intentional. So if your home has more of a Jo-Jo Gaines kind of vibe, photos that look super modern might look out of place. Or on the other hand, if your home is more contemporary, a rustic barn scene might stick out like an outie belly button.
Not sure what style your home is? Fear not! Popular styles these days include mid-century modern, minimalist, contemporary, bohemian, farmhouse, industrial, glam, traditional, or rustic. There are a whole slew of them, and your home might be a mix or a blend of several styles.
What that means for your family photos is that the variety in your taste lets your personality and uniqueness shine through. You’re not strict or tied to any one design scheme, so the mood or look of your photos will likely feel right at home.
Now let’s work on the vibe, or the emotions you want to get from your photos. It helps to treat this like a game of ‘this or that,’ choosing two or three ways to describe the feel you want from your photos. Any more than that, and your photo will start to look like your child’s playroom - somewhat of a hot mess, perhaps? To get you started: bright and airy, dark, edgy, earthy, ethereal, whimsical, raw, country, urban, subdued, peaceful, natural, warm, vintagey, high fashion, enchanted, timeless.
Some mamas like to start with location, but choosing where you’re taking family photos before you decide on the mood you want, can cause a mismatch. You wouldn’t head to a field of wildflowers, and be surprised that your photos are missing an industrial vibe, would you? The two need to mesh.
So once you know the mood you’re going for, narrow down your location options to ones that work with that particular look. For example, if you want a whimsical feel, you’re probably going to want to steer clear of architectural features or urban locations. Whereas a park or a field with tall grasses might fit for an earthier, bohemian mood.
If you’re staying close to home, consider a blanket in your yard, perched together on a staircase, or hanging out on your porch. You can even get cozy on your couch or a bed for some beautiful lifestyle photos indoors. Remember. It doesn’t have to be overly complicated.
Mom-Tip: Light colored blankets or bedding can brighten your photos; dark blankets or textiles create an edgier mood.
Once you have a few locations in mind, you’ll want to consider the lighting that you’ll be faced with. Light from the sun will give your photos a more natural feel, while overhead lights or lamps can completely change the colors in your photos. So if you’re able, rely on Mother Nature over your power company.
Mom-Tip: Once you find a spot with great lighting, keep using it! You already put forth the effort to find it, so why go through all that trouble for each photo?
You’ve decided on the season, the mood, and you’ve picked your location. Next up is colors! First and foremost, you want to choose colors that you FEEL good in. You want these photos to authentically capture your family, so if you look and feel your best in blue, find a way to work that in.
Speaking of feel-good moments (art-nerd over here), I’m reminded of my elementary school art teacher who pulled out the most amazing spinning color wheel ever seen in the 90’s, as she talked about warm colors, cool colors, primary colors, secondary colors, even tertiary colors. My 10-year old brain exploded, in a good way. So. Many. Colors.
But we don’t want your photos to look like a giant color wheel, so let’s bring it back down to earth. Choose anywhere from 1 to 4 colors depending on the mood and the number of family members that will be in your photos. The more people, the more colors you can get away with.
Before we get to the fun part, take a moment to think about the colors you’re going to find at your location, and what colors you can marry into its family. For example, if you’re going to have your red brick home in the background, you miiight want to avoid bright yellow shirts, opting instead for colors that will complement your location. Or if you’re in your grassy green yard, a green-scheme can work, just be careful it’s not too matchy matchy or you risk blending into the background.
Without getting too technical on color theory, ‘saturation’ describes how intense a color is. On the outside of the color wheel, saturated colors are bright and energetic. As you work your way in, that same color becomes muted and relaxed.
Similarly, the darker a color, the moodier it typically feels, while the lighter that color is, the brighter and airier it feels.
If the mood you’re going for is relaxed and airy, a set of muted, light colors will be your ticket. If you’re going for bold and energetic, rich, vibrant shades will help you achieve that.
Let me re-introduce you to one of my oldest BFF’s, the color wheel…
Choose one color and add dimension through its shade (and later, with texture). This could look like sky blue, blue blue, and navy blue - varying the lightness and darkness within one color. This option gives your photos a subdued look, with no single person or color really taking center stage.
Choose colors that are side by side on that trusty color wheel to create a relaxing feel. You’ll start with one color to be the main event, and then add surrounding colors to be accents. If you’re starting with a green, add the next door neighbors leaning toward blue or yellow as accents.
Choose colors that are opposite each other for an energetic or vibrant feel. They’ll balance each other out visually, though it might take some experimenting to find what works for you. Make sure the colors repeat themselves in more than one spot for a cohesive look.
Add neutrals to your color scheme to make sure your photo stands the test of time - think white, cream, ivory, gold, brown, tan, greige, gray.
Lastly, did you ever participate in Spirit Week at school? We always had a ‘wear clashing colors’ day, and this is one color pairing we want to avoid in your photos. (I’m still scarred by the red sweats and neon yellow shirt that my desk buddy wore.)
There you have it! Now that you’ve got your color scheme developed, I owe you a friendly reminder that it’s meant to be used as inspiration. Think of it like a guide book, not a rule book. You’re not going to get scolded for straying from the shades you picked, or for falling in love with an outfit and going back to the drawing board on color. Family photoshoots are meant to be fun and fluid. Roll with those changes.
If you’re anything like me, this is where you’ll spend the bulk of your time (and budget). But hey, by learning to do this ourselves, we’re hopefully still ahead with the bank account even after buying any new outfits we need.
First, dress mom. You want to look like yourself, just up a notch. Flowy dresses add movement to photos, and you can even look for options with patterns or that pull in several colors from your inspiration palette. I’m definitely biased, but moms are, afterall, the glue that holds families together. So why not dress mama in something that has a little shade of everyone else too.
Moving on to your kiddos, my first stop is always their closet. They grow sooo fast, and rather than buying something new for each photo, start at home and see if you can re-use something you already have. For affordable options, Old Navy is a good starting point, along with H&M for simple pieces you can pair together.
Don’t forget to incorporate a little personality, keeping in mind a little goes a long way. Think butterfly barrettes vs. a butterfly patterned dress. Or dinos on a bowtie instead of a stegosaurus shirt. What are your kids into, that will be a fun memory down the road, but that won’t overshadow them?
Then comes your partner. Add layers to the outfit choice to mix things up, and to pull in more of the colors you picked earlier. And don’t be afraid of jeans; consider them a timeless neutral.
And finally, the often overlooked part of dressing for family pictures. Footwear! True story, the very first time I did our own family photos, shoes completely slipped my mind. The boys ended up barefoot, which worked out, but only because my choices were light up sneakers or dino slippers. No thanks. That and their toes were still teeny enough to be considered cute.
Mom-Tip: Give your kids an accessory that they can hold, touch, or play with. Not only will it distract them while you snap, but like a dress, it adds life and movement to your photos. These could be things like caps, hats, bows, ribbons, bowties, or suspenders. Let them flip that hat around, dig deep to see if anything is inside, swirl that ribbon in the breeze, or playfully snap their suspenders. I can already see how carefree and natural your photos will look. Be careful with hats though, they can throw shade on faces and bring on the dreaded hat-head.
Once you have outfits planned out, lay them all out so you can see how everything looks together, or do a quick trial run to make sure everything flows and fits.
Now that you’ve got your plan set in motion, here are 3 final tips to get the photos your heart desires.
Now you’re well on your way to your next DIY family photoshoot! When you look back at these photos in 20 years (and you will), I hope that they truly reflect your family, your personality, and the memories you’re making together.
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