How to Plan a Fall Family Photoshoot (for People Who Hate Cameras)

Need a jump start on family pictures for Christmas cards? Here are three simple steps to planning a successful fall family photoshoot (for the camera-shy).

The family holiday photo has been a tradition ever since my husband and I got married (way back in 2002). 

We schedule a fall family photoshoot, and voila! We have photo Christmas cards to share at the holidays.

Sounds easy, right?

Well, not so much.

Honestly, I used to dread our annual family photoshoot. Why?

Well, mostly because I super-duper hate cameras. So do my husband and most of my five kids. We are just a camera-shy family.

That translates to: procrasting getting the photoshoot scheduled; tons of griping; and awkward smiles, blinks, and nose picking during said photoshoot.

Well, I digress.

Somewhere along the way, the yearly photo cards at Christmas kind of became my thing. I didn’t want to let the grandparents and great-aunts and uncles down. And, honestly, once I got the tradition started, the rule-keeping side of me couldn’t bare to miss a year.

So we have family photos that date back to when it was just my young hubby and my young self. As our family grew, we squished babies, toddlers, and teens into our yearly menagerie (always with varied results).

And here’s the good part. Now that most of my kids are teens and preteens, the catalog of smiling (sometimes smirking) faces is becoming very precious to me.

Nose-pickers and gripers aside, I’m deeply thankful we invested time and money into those yearly photoshoots. 

It has been totally worth the effort.

But it does require effort.

3 easy steps for planning a family fall photoshoot.
Okay, so my boys are super cute… especially when they’re being silly.

Need some help getting your family holiday photo off the “to do” list?

If you’re dreading the family holiday photoshoot, or just need a little push to go ahead and get it on the calendar, consider this your nudge.

I’ve narrowed the process down to just three easy steps.

You’ll be so glad you did it!

Step one:

#1. Get the photoshoot on the calendar ASAP.

You want to love your family photos, so give yourself plenty of time to do it right.

Pick up your phone today and get a fall family photoshoot scheduled.

Chances are, you’ll need to check the family schedule and find a day + time that works for everyone.

  • To get started, ask your photographer for two or three available dates. That will give you something to work with.
  • When is your family’s next available late afternoon or early evening?
  • Have teenagers that work outside the home? Check their schedules too.
  • Don’t forget to double check the weather forecast if you’re scheduling an outdoor session.

Find a photographer.

If you don’t have a photographer in mind, start asking your friends who they use or know. I’ve found the best photographers this way!

Freelance photographers typically offer better rates than professional studios, so that’s a big plus.

A few things to ask a new photographer:

  • Do they offer a flat rate for family sessions?
  • How long is the session? (If you have a larger family, you’ll need some extra time.)
  • How many photos are included in the package?
  • Can you get a flashdrive of all the photos and order them directly from your favorite photo website? (This will save you lots of money.)

Go outdoors, if possible.

I learned pretty quickly to stay away from stuffy indoor studios. Our experience is that kids just don’t do well with the artificial lighting, cords, backgrounds, props, etc.

Lighting is typically much better outdoors than in an indoor studio, as well.

Family photoshoot outfit ideas.
Nature is the best backdrop.

The only drawback is that sometimes little people want to play instead of get their picture taken. Oh yes, and there are the occasional bugs and bad weather.

All things considered, I still prefer an outdoor photoshoot though.

If you have little kids, here are a few tips:

  • Bring bug spray if mosquitoes, etc, are a problem in your area.
  • Pack non-messy snacks and bring water bottles.
  • Plan to let the kids play after the photo session; be sure they know it will pay off to sit (or stand) through the pictures because they get to wriggle all they want afterwards.
  • Once you’re ready to order photo prints, let your kids pick out wallet-size pictures to share with their friends; my kids love doing this.
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Checked your family’s schedule and set up a photoshoot with a photographer? It’s time for the next step (which is my personal favorite)-

#2. Decide on your color palette + shop for outfits.

I love this part!

Pinterest and Instagram are my go to resources for family photoshoot outfit ideas.

On Instagram, I enjoy Brad Searcy Photography and Jessica Images for posing + outfit inspo.

Live, Snap, Love on Pinterest has some pretty awesome family photography tips.

When choosing a color palette for our family photoshoot, keep a few things in mind.

Pick a palette that ticks all the boxes: 

  • Choose colors that look good on each family member.
  • Make sure everyone has something that fits the theme.
  • If possible, choose a color platte you haven’t worn in a recent family photo. (Variety is the spice of life)
  • Keep it timeless! Personally, I don’t want our family photos to scream “Christmas!” all year long. Go with a color palette that isn’t necessarily seasonal.

After I’ve decided on a color palette (my teenage girls always have great input here), I double check that we have shoes, accessories, and anything else we need in plenty of time before the photoshoot.

I go shopping for, or order anything we need to complete everyone’s outfits.

3 easy steps for planning a family fall photoshoot.
In 2020, our color palette included neutrals with a pop of blue.

About a week before picture day, my girls and I set out everyone’s outfits + accessories, so nothing ends up dirty (or lost) right before picture day.

I also like to do a layout of the outfits to make sure they blend well together. If everything is good to go, we’re ready for the family photoshoot!

A few tips for picture day:

Some intentional steps can make the family photoshoot much more enjoyable for everyone, especially if you have little people.

Coach young kids on their smiles.

Kids can make the craziest faces. 

Yes, I know they do this on purpose. But I’m talking about even when they’re not trying to.

A few “practice smiles” are a good idea for the little people. (Maybe even big people too.) Some kids don’t like showing their teeth when they smile, so have them practice smiling in front of the mirror to find a grin that feels and looks natural.

Photographers advise not saying “cheese” when we smile. Instead, say something that ends in “uh” (like “pizza” or “mocha”), so that the corners of your mouth naturally turn up.

Personally, I love it when a photographer catches us laughing. Nothing is more beautifully natural than a heartfelt laugh!

Don’t expect perfection.

Family life isn’t perfect.

So why would we expect our family photos to be?

3 easy steps for planning a family fall photoshoot.
This photo captures my girls’ beautiful personalities so well.

In an air-brush-crazy world, it’s easy to want to white-wash reality into something flawless. But, really, people who love us want to see us in our pictures.

Yes, a top notch version of us.

But us, just the same.

So let your true selves shine through.

Is your family artistic or out-of-the box?

Are you a serious or classy or fun-loving family?

Let all the reality of “you” show, and you’ll probably love your family photos- even if they aren’t perfect.

And even if you sort of hate cameras.

It’s never convenient.

Do you know why my first “step” in this post is “get the photo session booked ASAP?” Because if you wait until you have time, the family photos will never happen.

I can’t think of a single instance when our family photoshoot felt convenient.

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In fact, last year the timing was pretty awful.

My grandpa passed away from Covid-19 the day before our photo session was scheduled. I had waited late in the season to set up the appointment, so I didn’t have time to reschedule; we threw on our outfits and loaded up to meet the photographer, our friend Steve, at a local park.

It was early November (see, I told you I scheduled it late!), and autumn was in full glory here in North Texas. Despite the stress of having survived most of 2020, a quarantine, and my grandpa’s sickness, our hearts felt nurtured as we wandered through the park, posing for photos and breathing in the reviving evening air.

That photoshoot is part of our family story.

When I look at our faces, I remember how we had to press through feelings of stress and tiredness to smile at the camera.

Behind the tired eyes (mine and my husband’s, mostly), I see the love and commitment that keeps our family strong through hard seasons. 

Ours is a very imperfect family. A family that sometimes wishes we could photoshop certain things right out of our lives (and, yes, our photos). 

But really, all we need is a willingness to show up one more timeTo put this tradition on the calendar, one more time.

To smile, without fear that the imperfections that might show up. Because even if they do, I’m learning that the most beautiful smiles shine best out of hard days and broken places.

#3. Decide where to order your photo prints + cards.

Last step! Time to order those photo prints + holiday cards.

If you found a photographer who agreed to let you order your own pictures, you may be wondering, Where’s the best place to order photo prints?

My cousin, who is a freelance photographer, recommended Mpix to me nearly twenty years ago. I’ve been ordering my photo prints from that site ever since.

What's the best place to order photo prints?
Worth it, every time. prints high quality photos in every size, from wallet and the standard 4×6 to canvases and gift items.

For holiday cards and photo books, I’m a big fan of Shutterfly. I’ve tried a few online card stores over the years, and you just can’t beat the quality + price at Shutterfly.

Money saving tip: Before you order your prints or cards, be sure + login to Mr. Rebates! Both Mpix + Shutterfly offer a percent back when you click through to their sites via Mr. Rebates. (I’ve earned hundreds of dollars over the years by using this cash-back website for online orders.)

By the time you’ve ordered your beautiful family photos + Christmas cards, you’ll be ready to sit back and enjoy a cuppa. Don’t forget to pack yourself on the back!

This time next year, you’ll be doing it all again. (Try not to think about that right now.) But you will have done the beautiful work of capturing this season of your life.

I can tell you, it’s worth it every time.

Your turn.

Do you plan a fall family photoshoot? What’s your biggest challenge?

6 thoughts on “How to Plan a Fall Family Photoshoot (for People Who Hate Cameras)”

  1. I love taking and looking at photos, but always have such a hard time coming up with photo ideas! This is sooo helpful! I love your tips on choosing a color palette for all and going outside! Definitely makes such a huge difference!

  2. This is so helpful. Getting ready to take family pictures this week!

  3. We started taking family photos a few years ago. Our friend started offering mini-sessions which last 30 minutes and are at a location of her choice (which means she has the “perfect” spots all lined up). My husband and boys love how quickly it goes. My biggest challenge is to find a new color palate for us. I always lean towards navy blue even when I’m trying to avoid it!!! I’ll check out the inspiration that you linked.

    • Christmas shoots are our forte, but we’re also struggling with the palette! Can’t emphasize how crucial the right photographer is for the whole endeavor – they can make all the difference, so pick carefully.


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