Do it yourself photo shoot

I have been fortunate that since my children were young I have been able to take advantage of ‘holiday photo shoots’ to get a decent holiday card photo. These shoots have not been by a portrait studio but organized by friends and co-workers. The photographers aren’t always professionals, but those who enjoy taking photos and are willing to let me get in front of the camera with my family once a year.

I’ve been so pleased (and relieved) by this opportunity that I wanted to share some of my do it yourself tips that you may be able to employ if you are motivated by this idea.

1. Find a location: We’re fortunate in Northern California to be able to do the shoots outside well into November and there are beautiful public gardens and parks to choose from. Often you’ll see other professional photographers at these locations and you can watch where they set-up shoots and pose families for your own inspiration.
2. Pick a date: We usually pick a full day with 30 minute slots that lets the families we’re working with find a time that fits in their schedule. Some families know mornings work best. Others try for right after nap time. If there’s enough demand you may double book times and find a second photographer.
3. Take lots of photos: The first shoot I participated in, the photographer was still using film! But these days of digital mean you can hold the shutter button down and take lots of pictures. Make sure to provide direction (arrange the order they sit, where their hands go, and how close together they are) and mix up the folks who are in each frame – just kids, just dad with kids, the whole family – for a variety of different photos that will be treasured throughout the years (not just on this one holiday card).
4. Turn around the pictures fast: The other expectation of digital is that the sharing will be almost instantaneous. Make sure you block some time after the shoot to upload to Shutterfly or burn CD’s of the images so the families have their photos quickly.

A couple of other thoughts that may work for you. I’ve done these as fundraisers in the past, charging $20-$30 that goes directly to an organization the families and I feel passionate about. Try it! (Or have them bring canned goods or an unwrapped gift to be donated to a local service organization for families in need during the holiday season.)

Use Shutterfly Share sites to help organize your shoot. There’s a great new ‘sign-up module’ that allows you to put a schedule together for your shoot and let families sign up for time slots online. It makes it a lot easier to coordinate the times vs. having to keep track of requests in email. It’s also a great place to share back the images to families quickly (and they can order cards and gifts in just one click!)

I look forward to hearing about your photo shoot experience and about any additional ideas and tips that you think might help others.


  1. Joey says

    Great article Lara! I have always wanted to venture out and try this, as i know the holidays are fast approaching, i knew some people would want to have photos done. I have asked a few people, but the time schedules haven’t worked out yet. My sisters in-laws asked me on a nice fall day in October. I told her I am not a professional but i have seen many books in Gallery and have ideas. i just need people to practice on. Her kids are 10, 8 and 4. It was fun but like you said above, i forgot that I’m the one who needs to arrange people. I usually captured my nieces and nephews just by fluke. When they didn’t know I was ‘shooting’ them. Sometimes they are good about having me ask them to smile. This photo shoot I did with my sisters in-laws went pretty well for my first time. It showed me I need pratice with dealing with shadows, lens glares, sunlight. I took over 500 and I narrowed it down to around 200; My main point is I want the family to have fun, and for it to be fun for me as well. I know a lot get stressed about family shoots. I did post a few photos on my site just for any tips and i made the family a book of their pictures. I took some of each child individually, then just the kids, then with mom, and with dad, also the whole family. I liked shots of the kids running and playing on the slide.
    Just have fun with it.
    I love your idea of fundraising!! I’ll scout out more willing people!!
    Thanks for this great article. Happy snapping and i love the photos above!

  2. says

    I am slowing becoming the one people are asking to do this for. I love the one location idea. Have them come to you makes it easy. Thanks again Lara for such great ideas on striking out on my own taking portraits.

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