Tips for DIY Family Pictures on a Budget


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Wanting to take family portraits without breaking the bank? Here are Tips for DIY Family Pictures on a Budget that will help you take great shots!

I am a picture person. I love taking candid pictures of my kids and capturing memories. Formal family photos, though, are another story. In the past, taking family pictures has stressed me out, reduced at least one person to tears (usually me), and cost an arm and a leg. And worse, they haven’t turned out that nice. Family pictures have traditionally been a huge exercise in frustration for me.

Tips for DIY Family Pictures on a Budget

I was determined this year to get nice pictures for our Christmas cards without spending a ton of money and without the frustration or tears.  I did a little brainstorming and we did a family photo shoot. Here’s my favorite picture from the bunch! What do you think?

Tips for DIY Family Pictures on a Budget

I think we nailed it! And the best part: no one got mad, no one was reduced to tears, and, I could be biased, but I think the turned out really nice!

Here are my tips for family pictures on a budget.

Props ~

Take a look around your house and think about how everyday items can be used in your photo shoots. Greenery, decorations, chairs, stools, blankets, sheets – all of these things make excellent additions to photos and help with staging your subjects. I used a Christmas tree skirt to drape over a couple of stools. And I used a big wreath we bought to hang at our barn. Out of pocket cost – NOTHING! (Well, except for the wreath. But I didn’t buy that for the purpose of pictures.)

A very smart cousin of mine used to paint drywall for her backdrop to simulate the look of Picture People pictures. She painted two pieces the same color and put one on the floor and one against the wall. Her Christmas pictures are always awesome and I think painting drywall could be a lot of fun.

Tips for DIY Family Pictures on a Budget

Backdrops ~

Where you take your picture has a huge influence on the end product. Personally, I love to go outside. Think about pictures down country roads, a creek, near an old barn, in a pile of leaves, in the snow, the park! You’re only limited by your imagination. For our family shoot this year, we went to the barn we are in the process of restoring. Next year it’s going to look a lot different and I’m really glad we got these pictures while it still looks rustic and broken.

If you’d prefer to stay inside, I’ve had good luck hanging a large sheet from the wall so that it drapes over the floor. The sheet gives a uniform backdrop and is another way to simulate photo studio pictures for no out of pocket expense.

Timing matters! ~

Be careful of the time of day you shoot. If you go outside between 10 am – 2 pm, you may be plagued by shadows. Shadows on faces can ruin a great picture. I was lamenting shadows on Facebook a while back and a friend told me to make sure I placed my subjects IN the shade to reduce shadows. That was a huge AHA moment for me. No shadows if we’re in the shade. BRILLIANT!

Clothing ~

I love the look of kids in the matching clothes, but coordinating clothing can be a huge expense and it’s hard to do with my age of children. Personally, I like there to be variety in the clothing we wear. I don’t want everyone to totally match. So, I make sure to have two or three different, yet coordinating, colors in my family photos. In the pictures for this year, two of my children wore red, two wore white, and my hubs and I had on brown. This decision was based simply on what I could find for the least out of pocket expense. I went first to our closets and supplemented with Goodwill.

If you’re worried about color combinations in your pictures, consider simply turning your pictures black & white or sepia. Then you don’t really have to worry about matching colors at all.

Tips for DIY Family Pictures on a Budget

Photographer ~

This one’s a little tricky. I have a remote control for my camera which I had intended to use, but based on where we ended up taking the pictures, it would not have been possible to set up the camera for this shot. Luckily, a friend was on hand to snap the pictures. He sort of lucked into the deal. He didn’t know he was going to be taking these pictures this afternoon, but he did a great job. Family, friends, surely you know one person who likes to take pictures you could ask. A reciprocal agreement could work out well. You know, you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours? 🙂

Editing ~

Finally, editing. There are all kinds of free software you can download to edit your pictures. I use Picasa, a free download from Google. You can get it here. From Picasa, you can easily edit out red eyes, crop your pictures, turn them sepia or black & white. You can even do a filter black & white to add a bit of color, and add words. I love Picasa. It’s easy to use and doesn’t cost anything.

Attitude ~

A good attitude is always a plus. I know if I go into pictures stressed and uptight it makes things a lot worse. I try to stay lighthearted and funny. It’s not always possible, but it does make a difference. We usually do an obligatory funny-face photo either to loosen up the mood or after we’re finished. We actually forgot to do one on this particular day, but we almost always do them. And sometimes, they are my favorite picture of the bunch! They remind me to be carefree and enjoy life. Sometimes, I need a good reminder. 🙂

These are my tips for family pictures on a budget. Do have anything to add? I’m always looking for more good ideas!

Tips for DIY Family Pictures on a Budget



About Michelle Marine

Michelle Marine is the author of How to Raise Chickens for Meat, a long-time green-living enthusiast, and rural Iowa mom of four. She empowers families to grow and eat seasonal, local foods; to reduce their ecological footprint; and to come together through impactful travel.

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  1. Love your pictures Michelle! We used a friend that was just starting out in her business so she was super cheap. I’m so happy I did because they turned out great and I didn’t spend a fortune. I have found that there is always someone who enjoys taking pictures that would be happy to take shots of my kids or family.

  2. Our first year with my son, we took a family shot at his 12 month photo shoot at a pro studio. The gal was awesome taking my son’s shots, but our family shot sucked (it was spur of the moment and done as an extra with no sitting fee so she wasn’t trying to get a good shot really).

    After that, for a few years I did my own photography, we sat in front of our tree on the floor and I used the timer. Those pics turned out awesome! Everyone who saw them thought they were “pro”. However, last year I put the tree up late and we never got the shot done so we missed a year.

    This year, a friend (who is a photographer) wanted to get herself an iphone but didn’t have enough cash. We’d already discussed a photoshoot with her anyway so I told her I’d prepay so she could get her phone. We’re doing the shoot this week!

  3. great tips! I had a mom in our playgroup(who’s a photographer) was doing a fundraiser for a local Doula Foundation that offered cheap pics…one pose, 1 5×7, 2 4×6 and the rights to the photo for $20. That was fine for me(and it made the oldest daughter happy because we’ve never done a family photo!)