Motherhood · Style + Beauty

Nailing the Family Photo Shoot

Ahhh. Fall is finally here. The air feels a bit crisper, pumpkin is making its way into everything, and this “Mamarazzi” is in full family photo shoot planning. Every year I am determined that this is the year I will NAIL the Christmas card! I wish I had been given a little guidance during my early years of holiday card sending (a mere 4 years ago).  So let’s start with those and then I will show you the evolution of one family’s photo shoot history.

Tips from a Photo Snob:

  • The less skin the better. Flesh is distracting, even if you’re not a 17-year-old boy. Eyes up people! Focus on the face. I prefer long pants and shirts at least to the elbows. Especially in group pictures.
  • We can’t all wear patterns. I think its safe to say 2/3rds of your picture should be solids. So in a family like mine (there are six of us), two of us get to wear a print. Maximum.
  • When planning the shoot lay all the clothes out on the bed and start mixing and matching for the perfect formula. Visually seeing everything next to each other really helps!
  • If you are out of ideas, press on [example: everyone wearing the same thing jeans and a white shirt…is NOT a good one]. You’ll come up with something.
  • Borrow clothes for the shoot. For me, I’m only going to wear the top for about an hour – surely I have a friend with something that will work just perfectly!
  • Outdoors makes the best pictures. You can see my poor husband struggling to keep eyes open for the flash in both of our indoor shots. Natural light just makes us look better too!
  • Hire someone. You don’t have to guess which of my pictures a friend or family did and which was by a professional. Often times you can find people just starting out that will do your pictures for less than $200, edited and all. Your future self will thank you!

When I start planning my annual family photo shoot, I start by considering two things. The first is location, are we doing a field, a city shot, the ocean – these things matter (your trendy moto boots look awesome in the city, even in the field, but are just plain weird at the beach). The second, does anyone already own anything I absolutely LOVE? Or is there anything I’ve been wanting to buy that the family photo provides a good excuse for a purchase? Last year I really wanted a new denim jacket…voila! A theme was born…and a jacket was purchased. 😉

I used to use a very simple formula for choosing wardrobe: choosing colors that complement one another and don’t compete, and trying to match up 2 or more of us for cohesiveness. As my family has grown, so has my styling formula. Let’s take last year’s Christmas card photos for example. It started with denim jacket envy, and I had just bought a denim dress for the baby…done: baby Cruz and I are wearing denim on top and black pants on bottom.  What about the other 4? Whoever has the most clothes (in our case, my husband) is the last one “dressed” so to speak, because whatever I’m looking for, he probably has. Since my base layer was black and denim, I could go virtually anywhere from there. My oldest son had a great plaid button down. It was a tan/neutral base with plaid of purple, blue and red.  I chose to put my younger son in a tan sweater and jeans, because he had a really cute one from The Gap.  This freed me up to put my princess eldest daughter in purple, blue or red, depending on what she had or what I found while shopping. I found an amazing royal blue top for her at Target! I raided hubby’s closet and found a neutral/tan button down (merges the males outfits – 2 of them in the same color, 2 of them in the same style). Hey – pretty good, eh?!  So, yes, while it is still the simple formula of choosing colors that complement and don’t compete while matching up 2 or more of us…you can see that I have become comfortable making things more complex.  Which is good, since more people in the photo inevitably means a little extra challenge.

Photo Credit: Memories By Chelsea Photography

We did a cousins photo shoot with my brothers kids the same year. I was in charge of dressing kids and picking colors. I came up with: red, blue, white, and black.  When combining families are going into the extended family realm, it really becomes just a matter of raiding closets for anything within the chosen color palette. But, again, use the bed to lay everything out to make sure it does, in fact, work! I think the results were pretty amazing. Shout out to the photographer for getting seven kids all in a good shot!

Photo Credit: Memories By Chelsea Photography

I am still planning this year’s wardrobe, but I just bought both my daughters chambray dresses and I’m certain they will make the photo cut!  It is my opinion that denim by the face is super fresh and always makes girls look pretty! Obviously that’s just an opinion…but, hey, it’s free of charge. 🙂

Below is a sample of my style (and resulting family photo) evolution:

Year 1: There was no plan. Using a professional probably would’ve helped. “We can’t see your daughters face” would’ve been nice.


Year 2: Bless our sweet hearts for putting them in the matching sweatshirts.


Year 3. Playing it safe with the color palette: navy, hunter green and creams.


Year 4. I based the whole shoot off of my boys’ sweaters. I had bought them and loved them…and all I had to insert was the purples for my husband and daughter.

Photo Credit: Memories By Chelsea Photography

Year 5. This year I knew I was good.

Photo Credit: Memories By Chelsea Photography

Year 6…it’s in the works, people! Wish me luck and get to scheduling and styling yours too! TIS the season!

-Kelly, with a sincere thanks to Memories By Chelsea Photography for capturing all of the beautiful professional shots in this post.  For all you lucky peeps in the Portland area, look her up!




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