7 Ways to Take Better Family Holiday Photos

Holiday cards are a great excuse to take family photos. They’ll become a keepsake sure to outlast any seasonal sentiment. That you can share them with your friends and family is icing on the pumpkin-spiced cake. I’ve already begun receiving holiday cards in the mail and I love the cheer they bring. My how all the kids have grown!

We took our family photos last weekend with photographer and child whisperer Sue Hong of Photos With Sue. She did for our family photo session in 20 minute what we haven’t been able to do all year, which is capture a moment where everyone is smiling and looking into the camera at the same time. There was no yelling, no fighting. Okay, maybe a little yelling (the kids couldn’t resist rolling around in the leaves). But the overall smooth and very pleasant photo experience wasn’t exactly happenchance. It took a little planning.

Contrary to the smile-and-click moniker of picture-taking, a successful photoshoot will require conscious effort, unless you are literally the picture-perfect family. Sue provided some helpful tips beforehand and asked me to follow some very simple guidelines, which proved to be a lifesaver. The kids were cooperative, we successfully preempted any meltdowns and I believe her tips greatly enhanced the quality of our photos.

So whether you choose to take your photos professionally or with the assistance of a tripod, these tips can help you optimize results if you’re in a last-minute scramble to get those holiday cards out. It doesn’t need to be a scramble, really. Remember, you can always send Happy New Year’s cards as well. So breathe, think of something you’re grateful for this year and smile!

1. Shoot early morning or just before sunset. The most important element of a any photos are the face expressions. The last thing you want is a picture where everyone is squinting. Not to mention that lighting is most flattering when the sun isn’t beating down on your brow. So shoot for early morning or just before sunset, when the sun isn’t beaming too brightly.

2. Coordinate your outfits. A color scheme will make your family photo look much more professional. To give the photo more dimension and life, avoid wearing the exact same colors, says Sue. Try to incorporate two or three colors in varying shades, which will make the photo agreeable without looking too matchy-matchy and contrived. With all the colors of the rainbow, choosing a color scheme can be overwhelming. But it’s a lot like outfitting your house with furniture. Start with one statement piece, whether it’s your husband’s tie, the kids’ outfits or your own, and build around it. For our photos, I started with my younger daughter’s navy blue velvet jumpsuit. Then I chose my older daughter’s outfit based on something that went with the navy blue jumpsuit. And when I settled on her grey dress, I had my color scheme: blues and greys in various shades.

3. Do take candid shots. Think outside the box and take photos while engaging in a fun activity. It can be something as simple as dancing and twirling around, which is what my girls are doing in the picture above. Candid shots do more than capture a moment. They tell a story, and share something unique about your family. The free-style shots from our photoshoot turned out to be some of my favorites of the bunch.

4. Make sure to be well rested. As parents, we know all too well how fatigue shows on our face. But fatigue shows on our kids too, who will look less than enthusiastic with barely-there smiles or smiles that are forced. So plan to take photos after you’ve had a good night’s rest, and when you aren’t rushing to get somewhere after the shoot, which will alter your mood.

5. Don’t feed your kids sugar.  Confectionary treats, especially those coated in blue, will stain the mouth and tongue. But sugar ingested a few hours before a photoshoot will make your kids distracted and jumpy.

6. Prepare snacks for your child. Many moms get caught up dressing their kids and neglect to feed their kids, says Sue. And by the golden hour when they need to show their smiley whites, they become hungry and cranky. We didn’t end up needing the snacks we packed (I brought some nutrition bars and string cheese), but the peace of mind was worth the extra effort.

7. Bring a jacket. It’s cold this time of year. So if you’re shooting outside, be sure to bring a warm jacket to wear before and after takes. We initially left our jackets in the car thinking the kids could brave the cold for the short session, but having a jacket on hand was a life-saver. It kept our kids warm and happy enough to smile for their next click.

Holiday photo shoots don’t have to be stressful. It can be pleasant experience with a bit of planning. Not to mention, you can greatly enhance the quality of your photos when happiness is expressed from the inside out. Photos are a lot more revealing than what’s visible to the naked eye, and the camera picks up on the slightest nuance in feeling and mood. But you can use this to your advantage and capture genuine smiles and the holiday cheer with just a little TLC.


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