Creating holiday family photos is a priceless gift for you and your family — but it isn’t without its challenges. Here are 7 tips to help you and your family have FUN while capturing fabulous holiday family photographs.
It is the season for sparkling dresses and black patent shoes, for snow falling and carols ringing.
And for photographs to remember it all.
Yes, the most important part of my holiday season is capturing who my family is at this stage in our lives.
But I didn’t always feel so fond about family photo shoots.
When I was growing up, the most dreaded day of the year for my siblings and I was our annual family photo shoot.
Every fall, we would begin grumbling about the upcoming event. We loathed the forced smiles, the family tension, and my father’s impatience with our poor behavior.
Given such family history, I suppose it is shocking that I became a photographer myself — and that I always take holiday family photos with my children.
Every year, I set up a special time to photograph my family before Christmas and I try to capture more impromptu photo shoots during the holiday.
However, it isn’t all rosy and perfect during my family photo shoots now either.
The fact is that when we get family together and force “smiles” on them with a tight deadline, things can get… well… ugly.
I have lost my patience on more than a few occasions with my children acting up and quarrelling with one another.
But my passion to have those annual photo memories is enough to make me keep at it, working on turning holiday photo making into a FUN time and NOT a miserable event.
I have shared before 5 Tips for Magical Holiday Photos and here I will share more ideas about how to create beautiful family photos — and have fun while you are at it.
1. Choose Your Time Wisely
For your “family shoot,” whether you are trying to shoot it yourself or you are hiring a professional photographer, plan a time that works well for the different moods and schedules of your children.
Some children are too exhausted after the dinner hour or in the evening on a school day, while younger kids may need to not have their naps interrupted. Starting off with cranky kids might make everyone fall apart.
If after school or in the evening isn’t a good choice for your family, and your photographer is booked or doesn’t work on weekends, you might consider taking a few hours off work while the kids are on holiday break to squeeze in this important family “appointment” with your photographer.
As well, when considering your timing, ensure your kids are well fed, with snacks on stand by for little ones.
2. Make Sure You Have Enough Light
If you are working with a professional photographer, then of course they will be in charge of the light.
But remember, if you are planning an outdoor shoot with your photographer, recognize that this time of year limits the hours available for your shoot. Make sure you start early enough in the day so you don’t lose your light before you get your shots.
If you are trying to photograph your children or your family yourself, your top concern must be your light. Where is it coming from? What “color” is it? And is there enough?
You don’t want to rely on an in-camera flash to take your family holiday photos. You will always end up disappointed.
So, if you aren’t a professional yourself and you don’t have access to off camera lighting or professional flashes or strobes, you need to work with natural light.
If shooting outdoors, avoid bright sunlight that will create harsh shadows and squinting eyes. If seeking shade under or near a tree, watch out for dappled light with mixed spots of shadows and light.
When shooting indoors, use window light and pay attention to where the light falls on your subject.
You will need to manually turn off your flash. And, if shooting in manual mode, you will need to increase your ISO, open up your aperature, and slow down your shutter speed.
If that last sentence was a mystery to you, no worries. When you turn off your flash while in an auto or semi-auto setting, your camera will do its best to work out the details for you and come up with a well lit photograph.
But, if your photos are too grainy or are blurry, you probably didn’t have enough light and/or there was motion while you were taking the photograph. If this is the case, do your best to increase the available light and make sure you and your subject are as still as possible.
It is also helpful to have large piece of white foam core to “bounce” light onto your subjects, evening out shadows and adding more light.
3. Get Kids Excited with New Outfits or Accessories
While some kids may not care in the slightest if they are getting new clothes for a photo shoot, for other children a brand new dress or matching clothes with their sibling or cousins might be an exciting enticement.
My twin sister, Susan, and I take our holiday photos together every year and our girls adore the tradition of us gifting them with their coordinating dresses.
We happen to have girls who love to dress up. The special occasion of new dresses and fancy shoes turns the photo shoot into an indulgence.
If you happen to have kids who don’t enjoy dressing up or wearing coordinating outfits, perhaps consider some other fun accessories such as Santa Hats, reindeer antlers, or colorful scarves for a few of the photographs.
4. Use Props, Presents and Laughter
Having kids sit still and smile for a photograph can be challenging for every family.
And while you probably do want to try and get some shots with everyone looking at the camera and smiling, the best way to achieve that is to have fun!
I sometimes tell children I am photographing that I consider a photo shoot to be a party, complete with party favors or presents. I will have small “goodie” bags with toys or a wrapped up present for them that they get to open during or after the shoot.
Engaging kids with toys to play with, presents to open, or jokes to laugh at during the photo shoot will keep them happy and allow you to capture authentic smiles.
Yes, when I am trying to get some real expressions out of my subjects, young and old, I will use all the tricks and jokes I have up my sleeve to break the tension and have some fun. I will dance, sing, say potty words — whatever it takes. A photographer has no shame.
5. Make a Seasonal Backdrop or Set
If you want an extra dash of whimsy in your holiday photos, up your creative game with a fun backdrop or “set.”
You can create your own holiday world with some spray painted branches, Christmas ornaments, mini-lights, or whatever you can dream up. Pinterest is packed with holiday photo ideas — here is one of my Christmas boards where I pin photos for inspiration.
If you don’t have time or extra bandwidth in your busy life to create an elaborate set, consider stopping by the dollar store and grabbing some bags of “fake snow.”
Yes, it is a mess to clean up, but the kids just love to play with it. I always save the snow shots to the end of the shoot, for obvious reasons, and so it is something for them to look forward to.
It is quite a treat when an adult tells a child to make a huge mess and dance around in it. Whether you are able to grab a fabulous shot or not, your kids will have a blast.
If working with a photographer, chat with them about their set options and what kinds of photographs you hope to create together. If you create a Pinterest board of ideas, consider sharing it with them so that they understand your personal style and what you hope to achieve during your shoot.
6. Don’t Wait for the Smile
As I said before, the perfect “smile” shots can be elusive. While you hopefully will coach out some real grins or belly laughs during your shoot, don’t despair if you don’t get them.
Often the best shots are when a child isn’t giving you their full attention.
They might be lost in their own world of pretend or pleasure and you just get lucky enough to capture it.
Take photos of them “doing” and don’t forget all those precious details — hair bows and crooked ties and chubby fingers.
7. Get Your Photos Off Your Hard Drive
One of my greatest frustrations is when I don’t get my photos off my hard drives and onto my walls.
I spend so much time working on other people’s images and then my own get lost in the shuffle.
In the last few years, I have made a concentrated effort to get my photos on my walls and printed in photo books.
My kids love to see their photo books and they feel how important they are to me when I hang their portraits on our walls.
There is nothing on this earth more valuable to us than our children.
I want to see their faces and remember all those different ages and stages as I go through my daily life. Seeing their photos makes me smile every day — and keeps me inspired me on the hard days.
This print I have from Minted hanging in my hallway is one of my favorites. I get compliments on it all the time and it truly makes me happier every day.
If you go to the effort of creating images of your children, please give your family, and yourself, the gift of getting those photographs off your hard drive and into your lives.
PIN IT FOR LATER:
Written by Janice Croze, co-founder of 5 Minutes for Mom and owner of Janice Croze Photography
Talk with me: @5minutesformom and Facebook.com/5minutesformom
Pin with me at pinterest.com/5minutesformom