It may seem like a small gesture, but one of the best parts of the holiday is receiving and sending holiday cards to friends and family. It's a sweet little reminder, like saying, "Hey, I'm thinking about you."
That said, taking a family photo isn't always the easiest task. From selecting what to wear to getting all the kids to cooperate, the process can be a bit of a headache. Which is why the experts are here to save you some stress. Whether you're taking a snapshot yourself or headed to a professional studio, these tips will help make sure you capture that frame-worthy photo.
1. Coordinate outfits, but don't match.
You've seen it a million times: The entire family — from Grandma to the family dog — is wearing the exact same Christmas-themed outfit. It's coordinated, sure, and can even be cute if you're all in matching pajamas in front of your home Christmas tree. But if you're headed to the studio, it doesn't come across as all that sophisticated, says New York City–based photographer Meg Miller.
As an alternative, Miller suggests matching your color scheme. "I tell clients to approach the family's wardrobe as if they were decorating a room," she says. "First pick a color scheme, then add different shades, textures and patterns. Neutrals, which include denim, can and should be mixed in." The only exception to that rule: Be sure to match your styles so everyone is at the same level of formality. "You don't want Dad in a suit and your son in shorts," says Christopher Frackiewicz, a photographer at Lunel Photography in Chicago.
2. Avoid big logos or patterns.
The last thing you want your clothing to do is take attention away from the people posing for the photo. That's why Frackiewicz says it's crucial that you avoid large logos or letters. "All colors are OK; just make sure you don't mix too many busy patterns," he explains. "If you have a striped shirt, wear solid-colored pants."
3. Show your personality.
In an interview with Good Housekeeping, the photo editors at Dreamstime.com say you shouldn't keep things super formal if that isn't your family's personality. If your family is on the quirkier side, consider some fun Christmas sweaters or even silly reindeer antlers to showcase that personality in the photo.
Your loved ones are used to you just how you are, so there's no need to cover that up with a cookie cutter photo.
4. Don't wear too much makeup.
One of the biggest misconceptions about photos is that you have to layer on loads and loads of makeup, Miller says. Sure, celebrities may need to do that to get "camera ready" because they're going to be under bright, hot lights for a long time — but a family portrait session isn't usually the same situation. Instead, go for a a daytime makeup look with a touch more drama, Miller suggests. "For instance, [you could] wear eyeliner with your day eyeshadow color, or [opt for] a brighter lip color [than normal]," she says. "Makeup should add some focus, not steal the show."
5. Get the kids involved.
Corralling the kids for your Christmas card photo doesn't have to be an unpleasant experience, and the best way to make it more enjoyable is to allow them to get in on the action, Miller says. "Letting them pick out something to wear is a good way to make sure their personality is present in the image," she says. You could also let them brainstorm fun poses that show how you all interact as a family, instead of posing like statues in front of a tree.
Another fun idea? Planning a fun activity for after the photoshoot, like ice skating or decorating a gingerbread house. It'll give the crew something to look forward to, which will also help keep them smiling and cooperative for that perfect shot.
6. Find the right photographer.
Each one has a different style, so it's important to shop around, Frackiewicz says. "Some photographers offer perfect studio lighting but regular, common poses, while others capture those journalistic moments," he explains. Once you've talked to a bunch, go with the one that best aligns with your goals, and ask them to collaborate. "Call and tell them your ideas and thoughts," Miller suggests. "It's totally normal to have clients inquire about location and wardrobe options." And if you find something you love on Pinterest or Instagram, email it to them or print it out and bring it to your session.
7. Carefully choose your setting.
If you're planning on snapping the photo yourself, think about everything that's in the room you're shooting in, Frackiewicz says. "I don't care how cute your kid is, if I see a pile of dishes on the countertop in the background, the picture is ruined," he says. "Every element is important."
To avoid that kind of faux-pas, Miller suggests going outside. "Fall and winter are such beautiful times of year in a natural environment," she says. "Look for a simple but picturesque spot — the less distracting, the better."
8. Do something active.
Rather than going for the traditional staged shoot with everyone smiling right into the camera, the photo editors at Dreamstime.com suggest getting your photos taken while doing something active like decorating your Christmas tree or baking holiday cookies.
You can also take things outside and take some fun snowy pictures of your family building a snowman or going ice skating.
9. Have some overlap.
Christmas card giant Hallmark suggests creating layers in your photos by having family members overlap. Having family members do things like sit on the arms of chairs and hug each other creates a more natural and relaxed feel.
10. Don't forget about lighting.
When taking the photo yourself, the right lighting is key. Natural lighting is definitely best— not direct sunlight, but earlier or later in the day, or with overcast skies, Miller says. "Just make sure light is on the subjects' faces evenly. Direct sunlight will only cause your subjects to squint and have dark shadows under their eyes," she warns.
11. Forget saying "cheese."
When you're ready to start snapping, simply go for it — there's no need for the "Everybody say cheese!" countdown, Frackiewicz says. "Telling kids how they have to smile is not going to help," he explains. "Natural moments are best." Plus, ditching the "cheese" phrase allows for more candid moments to be captured, and those best show off your personalities.
12. Take a lot of photos.
If you're dealing with problem picture-takers — someone who blinks a lot, for example — they key is to take a ton all at once. "Take 10 or more of the same pose," Frackiewicz says. "Nine will go in the recycling bin, but one will turn out perfect." And don't be afraid to mix up your poses. You may envision one as the perfect pick, only to find out it doesn't work quite right for your family. Trying a bunch of options give you a wide variety to choose from.
13. Stop judging and relax.
Once you're in front of the camera, try to enjoy the experience. Miller finds that when posing for portraits, "people are overly critical of themselves and their kids." But card recipients aren't going to be focused on minute details — they're going to be "thinking of how tall Susie got, or what a fun image you captured," she says. "They are not looking to see if you are five pounds heavier or if Bobby is wearing shoes."
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