Save Money on Holiday Cards with a DIY Family Photo Shoot

Powers Holiday Photos
Our holiday portraits from the last three years. Credit L-R: Ten Little Toes Photography, Cortney Talbott, Anna Hollister

This year, a professional family photo shoot is not in the budget for us. I love our local Scottsdale and Phoenix photographers (see footnote for a list of ones I’ve worked with personally), and I have happily paid for professional family photos before, but for a number of reasons we won’t be going that route this holiday season.

What does this mean for our holiday cards? At first I thought I’d just pull from the bazillion photos I’ve taken this year and create a collage card. But then I had an idea…

Here’s the plan: we’re teaming up with another family and heading to a pretty local spot to take each other’s family photos! We have an afternoon set aside this month and we’re treating it like a casual family playdate – just with more intentionally chosen outfits. Our kids are all the same ages, our husbands are good friends, and our plan is to create a low-stress, fun environment and just be ready with the cameras.

If you’re opting out of professional photos this year and want to do something similar, here are a few ideas for getting great photos:

1. Pick an easy, low-key location

You’ve probably seen photographers and families at a few local hot spots for taking family photos. I’m avoiding those and going with something close to home, fun for the kids, and off the beaten path. We found a common area in the neighborhood where my parents live that has a grassy knoll, cool rocks for climbing, and some nice picnic tables and benches scattered around.

2. Shop your closets

We aren’t buying new outfits for these photos (would kinda defeat the money-saving purpose, right?), so I went shopping in our closets. When all the laundry was clean I started pulling out clothes I think will photograph well (I’m liking layers, textures and patterns lately – within a family of colors but not “too matchy”). Once I had a few pieces I knew I wanted to include, I built the rest of the family wardrobe around those.

(Okay, I DID buy these gold baby shoes for $5. Because: GOLD BABY SHOES.)

gold baby shoes


3. Search Pinterest for inspiration

Let’s be clear: I have no intention of pulling off professional quality photos this year. Photographer friends, I know what you do is an art and a learned skill and I’m not trying to come off as a cheap hack, promise. 🙂 Having said that, as an amateur I still enjoy looking at photography boards on Pinterest for visual inspiration and ideas. If only to get in the mood…

4. Keep the vibe low-key

My friend Stacey and I know what we have in mind for our family playdate/photo-shoot. The husbands will probably figure it out when we select their outfits for them. The kids? They’ll be none the wiser. As far as they know, we’re going to play with friends and climb rocks. Mom whipping out the camera every five seconds? Just your average day in the life of a kid.

5. Know the basics of lighting

Photographers love that late afternoon light, and that ended up being a good time for our families. But anytime of day can work (and let’s be real: perfect golden afternoon sunlight does you no good if it falls during your baby’s witching hour or at the toddler’s dinnertime). A shady area on a sunny day works great.

6. Make friends with your camera

You know how you’ve been meaning to learn to use your camera? This would be a great time to google the owner’s manual and make sure you can use the most basic settings. And YES, by all means, a simple point-and-shoot or iPhone camera will do the trick!

camera settings

7. Give up on the idea of a perfect full-family photo (and if it happens, BONUS!)

One of the reasons we pay photographers is that they’re trained to get everybody looking the same way at the same time (also: they have all kinds of other mad skills we don’t). I think we’ll attempt an all-family shot during our playdate, but I don’t plan on spending more than 5 minutes or an ounce of stress on getting one. If it happens, great. If it doesn’t, see my next tip.

Instead, I plan on spending our time snapping candids, and pulling 2-3 members of our family together for quick “cheese!” moments. Having our friends there means we’ll have two camera-wielding mamas to go paparazzi-style on everybody (including each other’s kids).

8. Embrace the photo collage card

If there’s not a single photo of all five us that I love, I’m going collage-style all the way. Last year I designed my own card using PicMonkey (it’s free!) and printed it at Costco using their custom template holiday card. Every major card provider has collage options, and since these photos will all have been taken in the same outfits at the same time and location, the overall look will still be cohesive.

I’m excited to try this idea this year and see how it goes. What are your plans for holiday photos? Have you ever attempted a DIY solution like this one?

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Looking for a local Scottsdale or Phoenix family photographer? See the SMB photography archives for all the ones we’ve featured on the blog. I’ve personally loved working with the following: Ten Little Toes Photography, Anna Hollister Photography, Cortney Talbott, Wish Portraits, Session Nine Photographers, and Dream Photography Studio.