The perfect holiday card doesn’t require having a "perfect" family. Even little angels have their moments. But when their faces will be gracing the refrigerators and mantels of your loved ones this holiday season (or all year in some houses!), you certainly want them looking sweet and not sour. Whether you’re a family of two or twelve, the secret to the ideal holiday greeting card is a great portrait. To achieve that, we’ve recruited five professional photographers to help you capture your own rowdy troupe at their most beautiful and serene moment.
Family Portrait and Newborn
Family Portrait Photographer, Vermont
Lifestyle Photographer, Oregon
Wedding and Family Portrait
Photographer, South Carolina
Wedding and Family Portrait
- 1 Choose a location, date and time.
- 2 Decide if you are shooting by yourself or hiring a professional.
- 3 Prepare for the photo shoot, choosing clothing and props.
- 4 Take the photo!
- 5 Turn your favorite photo into a beautiful holiday card.
CHOOSING A LOCATION
The perfect portrait location should meet the following criteria:
- It shouldn’t be crowded at the time you take your photo.
- There should be a variety of scenery, so that you can take images with a few different backgrounds, like an open field with trees around it, or a beach with a horizon view over the water and tall sand dunes.
- Look for shade in front of and behind your family for even, consistent light (unless shooting at sunset).
- If you have ideas for the look or color of your holiday card, make sure your photo’s background colors mesh well with the card motif.
SCHEDULING A TIME
HIRING A PROFESSIONAL
GOING THE DIY ROUTE
IF YOU’RE TAKING YOUR OWN FAMILY PHOTO, REMEMBER TO THINK ABOUT:
- Hand your phone to someone else. A family selfie will look like what it is.
- Take images in both horizontal and vertical orientations, and avoid any awkward chopping off of feet and arms.
- Explore some of the editing apps to increase exposure and straighten or crop an image, but avoid filters that can make your family portrait look over-processed.
WHAT TO WEAR?
PREPPING THE FAMILY FOR THE EXPERIENCE
"I book a two-hour slot, but I take the majority of my photos of the children in the first 30 to 45 minutes, while I have their full attention," says Hunter McRae. "I move quick from the very beginning." Likewise, Kristin Dokoza recommends bringing snacks and drinks to keep energy up. "It can be tiring being a model!"
We can plan all we want, but we can’t control the rain. If the skies darken on your portrait day, Kristin Dokoza recommends having a backup plan at a museum, in front of a favorite mural or even at the library. "As long as you have ample natural light to work with, get creative," she suggests. "Try using rows of books to frame your family, with each of you holding your favorite book!"
Kristy Dooley adds that cloudy skies may actually be a blessing. "Lots of families get nervous when they see clouds rolling in, but some of my favorite family sessions have taken place on darker days with dramatic skies," she offers. "I’ve had family sessions in the snow, the wind and the cold—I just make sure people dress accordingly."
BE ON TIME
SMILE AND SAY CHEESE
"I like to keep my families busy during our session, and I make sure that I am constantly giving them something to do," says Rachel Nielsen.
Posed and candid actions may include:
- Walking toward the photographer
- Children holding hands with parents while walking
- Child whispering in someone’s ear
- Shouting silly words at the camera (provoking laughter)
"No matter what I choose to have them do for me, I am always thinking of the end pose I have in mind," says Nielsen. "I move them into the pose I want to capture, and I continue to let them know how great they are doing the whole time."
The tiniest subjects can be the toughest to shoot. Add a family pet to the mix, and these two factors can complicate the process of capturing that fleeting moment when everybody is happy with eyes open and looking at the camera. "For children not able to talk yet, bring a favorite toy—ideally one that squeaks or makes noise—to encourage them to look at the camera," says Hunter McRae.
Likewise, including your family pet is a wonderful idea—they are part of the family, after all—but don’t count on them being in every picture. "Bring a dog sitter to watch your pet after you’ve taken photos with them, since you’ll likely want some without them as well," recommends McRae.
KEEPING CHILDREN ENGAGED THROUGHOUT A SHOOT
"If children are not paying attention to me, I’ll pause and take a minute to be silly and connect with them, so that they recognize me and are interested in me and my camera, rather than all the other distractions," says Hunter McRae.
Kristin Dokoza suggests letting children help determine poses, even if it’s just to prep them for the next "real" picture. "Tell them they are the leaders and march to your next location, or ask them what they think would be a fun idea for a photo," says Dokoza.
"During a family session last fall, one of the little boys in the family kept running away. We were shooting at an enclosed, open grassy area, so there was room for him to run around without being too far away from us. Instead of fighting with him to get him to stay still, we just let him go and run where he wanted to for a few minutes. He ran to the other side of the grass and sat down pretending not to see us. He quietly played for a few minutes, and it gave me a chance to capture some individual shots of the new baby with the mom instead. After I got those shots, I put on one of my large zoom lenses and was able to take some candid shots of the boy from afar. They turned out great, because you could tell that he was truly happy and relaxed. No more than five minutes later, he was ready to participate with the whole family again."
CHOOSE A PHOTO AND CARD STYLE
Once you’ve settled on a card (or two or three options), try mocking up the final product with your favorite images with Shutterfly. You may decide to go black-and-white or create a gorgeous, colorful collage. And remember—whatever you choose this holiday season, you have the option of completely mixing it up next year!
Dokoza suggests adjusting exposure and brightness, or adding contrast to give the image additional depth. Crop, straighten and use minor adjustments to make the image pop, but don’t rely on filters to try to give your family a vintage or washed-out look—unless you designed the photo shoot with that in mind.
BUILD YOUR RECIPIENT LIST
Start building your address list early. Try to think of a happy memory with each person as you address their card, perhaps adding a personal note.