The DYI Family Photo

It’s that time again. There are twinkle lights in windows, and the smell of peppermint and gingerbread are in the air. It’s time to order Christmas cards, and if you’re like most people, that means taking the prerequisite family photo. If you’re keen to forgo the pricey professional shoot and try for photographic perfection on your own, here are some ideas to get the perfect DIY family photo:

  • Plan ahead for props. If you take your annual pictures in August, set a bow, a string of lights, festive ribbon, or Santa hats in a marked bin when you pack away your Christmas decorations, so that they are easy to get to and can add some merriment to your shot.
  • Take advantage of existing backdrops. We’re lucky enough to have Old Salem and Reynolda Gardens in Winston, both great places for a unique shot. You can also get creative. Ask the farmer down the street if you can use his field. Do you have a friend with a beautiful backyard or a great fireplace that would let you intrude for an hour? Is there a Christmas tree already up in a church lobby you could use? Look around and take advantage of the work others have already done, rather than recreating a backdrop.
  • Get a friend to come along, or better yet, invite another family out and take turns clicking the shutter. We’ve found that without someone behind the camera, the kids just don’t smile as big, so even if you have a delay timer, you might want to bring someone else along to capture their attention and make them laugh. If you can’t find a willing friend, a timer will do. Consider setting the camera on rapid shoot so it takes a series of shots in a row. Or perhaps purchase an inexpensive camera remote (less than $20 for most camera brands), so you don’t have to make a mad dash to make it into the shot. Newer cameras even have apps so you can mirror the image on your phone’s screen to check the shot and snap the pic with a just a touch.
  • Use a tripod. If you don’t have one, a folding table will do. Anything you can do to stabilize the shot will help ensure it comes out clear, particularly when taking multiple shots that require holding the camera for long periods of time.
  • Use bribery. We’ve gotten some really great photos over the years – not an easy task with three kids in tow (one of whom pitched a royal fit last year after being banned from wearing a tutu for said session and in the resulting images looks absolutely grief stricken). The secret? A pocket full of M&Ms. Yes, it’s bribery, but at an M&M a smile, no one’s teeth are going to rot out. If you’re not keen to use candy, plan something fun as a reward after the shoot.
  • Try to pick a time when the kids are likely to be at their best, avoiding nap and meal times. If you intend to take more than a half hour, pack some snacks that won’t make a mess.
  • If worse comes to worst, one word: photo shop. Not an expert? You can have minor adjustments made for less than ten dollars at sites like All you need is an email address and a PayPal account.


  • Increase the f-stop for larger groups. This widens the area of focus.
  • Avoid direct sunlight, which often renders shots too dark.
  • The light following dawn and before dusk are often best.
  • A GorillaPod will not only act as a stabilizing stand, but you can wrap it around just about anything, making shots in the woods a breeze.
  • If you have to use a tripod, consider attaching a toy to the top to give kids a definitive focal point.