It’s that time of year again! Time for our mailboxes to start filling up with gorgeous holiday cards, filled with happy, smiling families. I love getting these cards, I display all of them and love seeing my friend’s growing families. But I hate trying to get that perfect family photo. It can be so frustrating to get the kids to cooperate, keep them clean, and get everyone to look at the camera, let alone smile! I have taken a lot of photography classes in my life and shot thousands of pictures, but the holiday card photo shoot can literally turn me into a crazy lady!
Here’s a few tips that I can offer on ways to take a better family photo this year, without going totally insane in the process.
- First of all, you need to decide who you want in the picture. Is it a kid only shot or the whole family? Cards today offer so many different templates, that you can have more than one shot. I love seeing the whole family, but I totally understand that it can be easier to get a kids only picture taken. If you opt for the whole family, do you have a timer on your camera? If not, you are going to have to bribe (more on those) a friend or family member to help you out. If you have a timer and have no clue how to use it, grab your manual (or find in online) and figure it out. Timers are awesome and once you figure it out, you’ll use it more than you think. Set everyone up as much as possible in the pose you want, set the timer and run back. Maybe yell a silly word, do a jumping jack, make a silly face, do whatever it takes to get the kids to think you are crazy and to get them to smile pretty for the camera. If it is a kid only picture you are going for, clear the memory card, charge your battery and start shooting. I talk a lot to my kids when I am taking their picture. I don’t say, “Look at me, smile, come on buddy, smile!” Instead, I try and talk about silly things that will make them laugh and engage with me. Something like “What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?” or “What’s that stinky smell?” (I have boys, remember! Just playing to their level!) Have fun and they will have fun and you’ll see that in their expressions.
- The time of day is crucial, both for the lighting and the mood of your precious cherubs. There is nothing worse than a toddler right before nap time. Toddlers are literally bi-polar little beings. They can be so cute and so sweet and in the same breathe turn into a demon, screaming, shrieking, and hitting. That picture of the smiling family with the screaming toddler is one we all have but it usually doesn’t make the final cut (unless that’s the only one you have!) You know your family’s schedule best, so choose a time of day that your kids can handle. I know photographers are mostly concerned with lighting but we’re amateurs here so go with the best chance for happy kids as opposed to getting the magic light. But if the two coincide, bonus for you!
- This tip goes hand in hand with the next one, you need to decide on a background for your photo. To start, decide if you are going to be inside or outside. You could have the cutest matching clothes, but if you decide to go outside in November/December (in Vermont) you are going to need some coats (hats, gloves, scarves, snowpants, etc.) So before you pick out your clothes, decide on the background. If you are in the northeast this year and you want an outdoor picture, plan the background around a the pretty snow-covered trees. Remember, you are going to need to keep the temperature in mind when expecting the kids to do well outside, freezing cold, yet smiling away. Thinking about the background is a good idea, so that you don’t wind up with a strange tree branch or light sconce coming out of someone’s head. Taking a photo in front of a window is a bad idea, not only do you usually get a bad glare, but whatever is outside may overpower the people in the picture. However, taking a photo next to a window gives some beautiful natural lightso definitely try it. This also helps you figure out a
- color scheme. If you want a more neutral photo, setting up a sheet or blanket to sit or stand in front of is an easy way to create a great background.
- This brings me to clothing. Now, you don’t have to be all matchy-matchy, although it is pretty cute in my opinion! You can have a color scheme in mind though and knowing this will help you decide on the background. If you are all in white, being out in the snow won’t have much definition to the picture (although it could be cute with a few pops of color) Maybe everyone has something red on so you don’t want to all be sitting on a red couch (or an orange one for that matter!) If you are really ahead of the game, you’ll check out your favorite printing site and pick a few favorite templates and use those colors to guide you. You can always go for a black and white photo. Just keep in mind, with black and white, you have to pay a lot more attention to lighting. To learn more about shooting b&w photos go here. Along with clothing, accessories and props add great content to your photos. Maybe you go the traditional holiday way with a Santa hat or reindeer antlers. Adding a string of white Christmas lights can be really beautiful, just don’t use the flash. Whatever clothing you choose, try and avoid overly busy shirts. You know the ones that have all sorts of colors, words, pictures. You know, the ones that my kids LOVE and want to wear all the time! They don’t photograph well so try your best to avoid them.
- Finally the fifth and most crucial tip. Bribes. So, maybe you planned the best photo shoot day. Kids are fed, well rested, clean, the sun is shining, the timer is working, and still they won’t cooperate. Before screaming, pulling at your hair, or giving up, think about that treat that your kids will do anything for. They all have one, they are human after all. For my kids, it is any kind of candy. For yours maybe it is just the reminder that Santa is watching. I keep a few candy canes on hand, ready for such a meltdown. I show them to the kids, they light up in excitement, and then I tell them they can have them as soon as the picture is over. It’s not foolproof, but what bribe is, am I right? Typically I get a few more shots and worse comes to worse, a few with them sucking away on the candy cane.
Screaming, crying toddler and baby spitting up at the exact same moment: Priceless. Bribing toddler with a candy cane really does work- this was taken moments after. See what I mean by toddlers being bi-polar beings?
So, good luck out there photographer parents. I know it can be a battle but so worth it. Some of the mess up shots will be treasured for years to come, I know mine are. The best advice I can give you would be to take lots of pictures. It is great having choices and if all else fails, you can make a collage of your photo shoot effort! Take some inside and take some outside. Have fun with silly angles and props. If all else fails, go through your thousands of photos you took this year and I am sure you’ll be able to come up with a few that will work. Most card printing companies have some basic editing software available on as well, so be sure to use it if needed. Remember, you are sending these cards to your near and dear, so whatever the result, they will love it!
Click through to get in the holiday spirit with these 11 amazing card ideas and make something special for your friends and family this year.
“Getting the tree” photo card
Bundle up the brood and head outside for some playtime to create a super-cute and candid holiday card like this one from photographer and mom Sharon Bristow. Her little ones re-enacted the traditional “getting the tree” shot with just a few simple props and a natural wintery backdrop.
For your family photo card, Sharonrecommends choosing a location that reminds you of the season, such as a Christmas tree lot or a red fire station. And forget the poses for your little tots with lots of energy — let their true personalities shine through. That’s what your friends and family want to see, after all.