5 Sure-Fire Tips For A Great DIY Photo Shoot

Inside: Want to try do it yourself Christmas family photos this year?  Check out these 5 tips for a great DIY photo shoot.

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Have you ever tried to take your own family photos?   

Maybe you tried it once but vowed “never again!” because the effort of getting everyone dressed up, convincing (bribing?) the kids to cooperate and getting everyone to “look at the camera!” wasn’t worth the less than stellar results?

I’ve been there, but I believe it’s so important to take a family photo each year. 

I look back on each family photo we’ve taken over the years – at how much my kids have grown – how they’ve gained inches and lost baby fat, gone from child to teen (!) – and I’m so grateful I took the time to take a photo with all of us together each year.

We like to take a family photo each time we go on vacation. My kids have come to expect it, and it’s easier to fit in when we’re on a more relaxed schedule.

Plus, the locations are more interesting and bring back fond memories of where we’ve been as a family.

We now have several DIY family photo shoots under our belt. Based on my experience, I’d like to offer you 5 tips for a successful DIY photoshoot. 

Don’t miss a step! 

Click on the image below to download your FREE DIY Photoshoot Checklist:

DIY Photo Shoot Tip 1: Coordinate, Don’t Match

Coordinate your outfits without being too “matchy.”  This holds true for any photoshoot, but I try to treat a DIY photoshoot like any other.

Whatever you do, don’t dress everyone in the same color, like all black t-shirts and jeans.

Trust me – Don’t. Do. It.

Here are some great tips for choosing your outfits

DIY Photo Shoot Tip 2: Shoot In “Good Light”

do it yourself Christmas family photos

Plan your shoot for a time of day when the light is less harsh.  Early in the morning or in the late afternoon when the sun is lower will give you the best results.

My favorite time to shoot is during the golden hour, in the last hour of the day before the sun goes down.

If you need to shoot in the middle of the day be sure to find some open shade – an area under a porch roof or beside a building where you’re shaded from direct sun but facing toward the light.

Open shade provides soft, flattering light and can be great for family photos.

Check out the SOL App for help as you plan the best time for your shoot.

DIY Photo Shoot Tip 3: Use A Tripod

how to take your own family photos

Must you use a tripod?  I say yes.

I’ve tried it without a tripod and it’s much harder. 

If you’re indoors you may be able to use a table or chair for your camera, but outdoors you’re unlikely to find a stable surface at the right height.

Plus, it’s SO MUCH EASIER to position the camera at the right angle with a tripod.  I’ve tried it without a tripod and ended up with cut off heads or photos so crooked I had to trash them!

And when I’ve had someone around to the press the shutter for me I composed the shot first the way I wanted it with the tripod.  So when Grandpa presses the shutter I’m not worried about whether he’s changed the composition or cut off anyone’s head!

I recommend searching for a used tripod at KEH.com.  I often find great deals on used gear there!

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do it yourself Christmas family photos

DIY Photo Shoot Tip 4: Use Self-Timer Mode and Turn Off Auto Focus

diy photo shoots

Note: We took this photo spur of the moment in our yard.  Our outfits aren’t coordinated, but we took it on my husband’s birthday, so I love it.  Capture memories, even if they’re not perfect!

If you don’t have grandpa (or grandma, or a random stranger walking by) around to press the shutter button, here’s how you pull this off, step-by-step:

Step 1: Find the Self-Timer Function on Your Camera

Most cameras have a self-timer feature. Look for a symbol on your camera that looks like a little clock. 

On some cameras, it may be a button you push.  On mine, I rotate the command dial to the timer mode, as shown below. 

But don’t put it on timer mode yet!  Take note of how it’s done on your camera.

self timer for do it yourself family photos

Next, go into your camera menu and set a time interval between shots.

Consult your camera’s manual to find out how to access the interval timer function. (Not all cameras have this feature).

I recommend setting it to take 9 shots per set at one shot per second.  I also tell the camera to delay for 10 seconds (self-timer delay) so I have time to get in the shot.

Note: If your camera doesn’t have an interval timer or won’t take more than one shot per timed delay, you may need to use a remote trigger to save you from running back to the camera to press the button again for every shot. These are often camera-model specific, so make sure any remote trigger you buy is compatible with your camera.

You may also want to check out the Canon Camera Connect App or a Nikon Remote Trigger App.

Step 2: Set Up Your Shot

Set up your tripod and get one person (I recommend an adult) to stand where you want to take the photo. 

Compose your image “loosely” (known as “shooting loose”), which means step back far enough so you won’t cut off any limbs or body parts around the edges of the image.

You can always crop it closer later when you edit the image but it’s better to give yourself some space while taking the photo.

Step 3: Choose Your Camera Settings

Use your adult model to get your camera settings ready so your image will be properly exposed.

If you need help understanding your camera settings check out my FREE Photography Cheat Sheet and Quick Start Guide for Beginners.

Also be sure to check out How To Use Your DSLR Camera.

Here are my recommendations:

Keep your ISO setting as low as possible to avoid noise.

Set your shutter speed at 1/125 minimum (or faster if possible) to avoid motion blur.

For a group photo set your aperture to f/4 or f/5.6 to ensure everyone in the group is in focus.

Pro tip: Set up your photo in a location where there’s a good bit of distance between your subjects and the background behind them.  The greater the distance, the blurrier your background will be.

Step 4: Set Your Focus, Then TURN OFF AUTOFOCUS

Use your adult model to set your focus.  Place your focal point over his or her face and get the image in focus.  Take a test shot and zoom in on the back of your camera to make sure it’s in focus.

Then – DON’T MISS THIS CRUCIAL STEP – turn off your camera’s autofocus.

On most cameras, to turn off autofocus you toggle the switch on the lens to manual focus, as shown above.

Here’s why you must remember to turn off autofocus:

In autofocus mode the camera will refocus for each shot.  Without a person behind the camera to make adjustments as people move, your photos will come out blurry.

But as long as you turn off autofocus after you’ve set your focus, your photo should be sharp.

Step 5: Get Everyone In the Frame

Now it’s time to call the kids in!  Have them gather around your model.  Take a look through your viewfinder and make sure everyone’s in the shot and no one’s limbs are chopped off around the edges of the viewfinder.

If you have to make adjustments be sure to turn autofocus back on and set your focus again.

Be sure to leave room for yourself!  “Shooting loose,” as mentioned above, will help.

Once everyone’s in place and you’ve set your focus and turned autofocus off, turn your camera to self-timer mode and press the shutter.

You should have 10 seconds to get into the shot.  Or if you’re using a remote, wait until you get in the shot, then press your remote trigger.

You’ll know it’s working when you see the self-timer light blinking.

DIY Photo Shoot Tip 5: Get Close and Interact!

do it yourself Christmas family photos

Make sure everyone looks “connected” in your photo.  Ask every person to touch someone else and get as close as you can.

You can’t get too close!  Squish your heads and bodies together so there’s not much space between you. 

And remember, your photos will be better if you interact.

Have someone tell a funny joke

Tell everyone to “get closer” and “closer” and “closer!”

Tell everyone to squish their ears together or put their arms around each other.

We love the tickle fight method.  We tickle the kids or ask everyone to tickle someone else to get laughs and smiles.

It works pretty well!

Keep It Short and Have Fun!

Kids will tolerate only so much so keep your DIY Photo Shoot short.  Have fun and keep the outtakes.

Those can be the most fun of all!

do it yourself Christmas family photos
DIY Photo Shoot Ideas

Don’t let another year pass without a family photo.  Grab your tripod, find a pretty spot and have fun with your own DIY Photo Shoot!

Don’t miss a step!  Click on the image below to download your FREE DIY Photo Shoot Checklist:

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