Snap Family Holiday Photos Like a Pro

Taking Family Photo

The holidays are here and taking the annual family greeting card photo tops your to-do list. Looking forward to it? Or dreading it? Here are a few simple guidelines – and a bit of encouragement – to help you and your family enjoy this season's photo shoot.

Select your clothes

The key to a good holiday picture is to take a photo that represents your family. "Avoid the 'aren't really' photo where the photo shows your kids wearing colors and clothes that they would never wear," says photographer Tamara Lackey of Tamara Lackey Studio in Durham. "Think about what colors they look good in and what style of clothing. People look good and natural when they feel good about what they are wearing." Lackey, a mother of three, created the Capturing Life Through (Better) Photography resources.

Select a color for one top and shades of the same color for other family members. A darker top allows the focus to be on the face. If your daughter has a green ruffled dress with a few extra colors, select a complementary color for the other child.

Lay the clothes out on a bed and "squint" at them. "Plan clothes as if you are dressing one person," says Bianca Palmer, a Raleigh-area photographer and owner of A Moment Like This photography studio.

Don't limit yourself to traditional red and green. Whether your holiday card is green and red or white and blue, you can incorporate another coordinating color. Consider green and shades of green if your location is going to be outside with lots of browns in the background.

Lock down location and lighting

Photography experts say one of the biggest mistakes parents make with holiday pictures is choosing a location with too much clutter.

"Make sure your location has a clean and uncluttered background," says Lackey, whose next book, Envisioning Family (New Riders Press: Voices That Matter), releases in December. Remove extra items that are in the way or appear to be growing out of someone's head. This may be as simple as changing the shot's angle.

Early morning and late afternoon, when lighting is soft, is the best time of day to take photos. Also, kids are often in better moods earlier in the day.

Check your attitude

Keep your children's ages and limits in mind. "Go with the flow. Be playful and engage your kids," says Palmer, mother of two.

Talk to your kids about the situation ahead of time. "Let everyone know what to expect so no one will be ready to vault after five minutes," suggests Al Gorham, photographer and teacher at Wake Tech Community College.

Also, make sure you're confident in what you are doing. How many times have you snapped a shot and, after you look at it, realize it didn't quite capture the moment the way you wanted?

"Read your camera's manual," Lackey advises. Your point-and-shoot camera probably has more helpful features than you know about. A few extra minutes reading the manual may help you take a better picture. You will also be more relaxed about getting the right shot.

Trigger your timer

Some photographers don't recommend using timers because they often result in fake smiles and stiff poses. Instead, consider a remote trigger. There are even remote iPhone camera-trigger apps.

For example, the Transcriptics Remote DSLR Camera Control app (99 cents) allows you to snap your fingers and control a Cannon EOS or Nikon DSLR camera remotely from your iPhone or iPod Touch. Find information about costs and reviews of various trigger apps at iTunes.

And don't forget the juice. A few days before your photo shoot, charge the batteries and make sure your memory card has ample space.

Relax and engage the whole family

You may not want to be in the holiday picture, but remember: These pictures are going to serve as keepsakes for your kids. "When they grow up, how much are they going to value a picture with the entire family?" Palmer asks.

Let your kids interact with each other. Encourage them to get close to one another – almost uncomfortably close – and just snap the picture. When you see the shot you want, take it and be prepared to take another photo immediately. After the first click, kids seem to relax and giggle their anxieties away. That's when you should be ready to click again.

Also consider asking someone else to photograph you and your kids, possibly trading photographer duties with another parent. Kids are used to mom and dad, so a new person may bring more energy to the situation. They might use funny expressions or sounds to get your children's attention.

Don't forget the family pet

Most pet-owners won't feel the photo is complete if it doesn't include their beloved dog or cat. Take photos first without your pet, then bring out the canine or feline members of the family. Lackey recommends not using treats because some pets become too focused on the treat and won't listen to your commands. You may just take a perfect photo while your kids are playing with the family pet.

Play with different angles and lighting while you are photographing with your kids. Make this holiday family photo shoot an experience to remember.  n

Jan Udlock is a freelance writer and mom of five who rarely takes holiday pictures. This holiday, however, is going to different. She blogs at Imp3rfect Mom,

Do's and don'ts for photo sessions


*     Plan your photo shoot two weeks in advance so you have extra time in case you need it.

*     Read your camera's manual and experiment with the camera before you take your holiday photos.

*     Tell your kids what to expect.

*     Use freshly charged or new batteries.

*     Snap a picture and be ready to snap again.

*     Avoid using a flash if possible.

*     Have fun, engage your kids and enjoy the moment!


*     Have the attitude that there is a perfect family photo.

*     Wear sleeveless or low-cut tops; eyes are attracted to skin.

*     Plan your photo shoot mid-day since strong sunlight casts shadows.

*     Wear turtlenecks, since they give the appearance of "no neck."

*     Try to take photos of hungry or tired children or adults.

*     Say cheese. Just smile!

Give a memorable gift

A photo book makes a memorable holiday gift, and thanks to Internet technology, you can easily make photo books online from your personal photos. Photo book services offer simple templates on which you can drop various photos and captions. You can also record simple thoughts about the event and add titles. You don't have to be particularly artistic because online book services like Kodak Gallery, Shutterfly and Snapfish have done most of the work for you. These gifts are perfect for grandparents or faraway relatives, and can often be sent directly to their homes.

An actual print of your family is a treasure. In the digital age, photos are often on phones or computers, so putting a print in a frame is still a thoughtful gift.

If you cannot do one more thing this season, consider downloading your family photos online at a membership store such as Costco or Sam's, or discount retail store such as Target or Walmart near your relative's home. Then they can pick up the prints. It's less work for you and a convenient gift for them.

Photography gift resources

*     Adoramapix:

*     Kodak Gallery:

*     My Publisher:

*     Shutterfly:

*     Snapfish:

*     SmileBooks:

*     Target Photo Center: (search for Target Photo Centers)


Categories: At Home, Family, Family Ties, Home, Lifestyle, Relationships, Seasonal, Seasonal Fun, Things To Do, Winter, Winter Holidays