Last year, when I scheduled a holiday family photo shoot, I did close to zero prep—I was busy enough wrangling a photo-adverse husband and two headstrong kids to consider how to make the photos actually look good. The best family photographers do the bulk of that for you, but a little preparation doesn’t hurt to get the best holiday family photo to put on your Christmas or New Year card this year.
(Looking back at 2016’s images, I laugh so hard at all the drama Kiwi caused! Poor bug was really ready for her nap.)
If you have holiday family photos on the horizon and want to capture your family at its best, look no further. I asked five of the best Portland family photographers to offer their wisdom with these 5 tips to get the holiday family portrait you’ve dreamed of.
5 steps to get the best holiday family photo
1. Find the right photographer
Before you book your holiday family photo session, figure out what style photography most resonates with you. “If you know in your heart that you love the look of a classic studio with simple backgrounds, find that photographer. If you love candid photos and want to see you kids rolling in the leaves laughing, find that photographer,” advises Portland family photographer Aubrie LeGault of Capturing Grace Photography. (Aubrie has done maternity, newborn and family photos for us, and I’m constantly getting compliments on the images she took.)
How do you figure that out? Hit up Pinterest and save images you love. After you’ve collected a bunch, you’ll see a theme—like more formal, posed photos or informal lifestyle images.
“Think about your family’s personality, too,” LeGault says. “If you know that your family will not stand in one spot for more than two seconds and they will do better running free in a park, then think about a lifestyle photographer vs. a studio.”
Then take to Facebook or your group of friends to get recommendations (and quotes, including what is included in the package). Don’t forget to mention who referred you—you or your pal could get a referral kickback, like a percentage off your photography package or a bonus like a photo book.
2. Trust your photographer
Once you’ve done the research and picked a photographer whose style and work you love, go ahead and let go. “It’s our job to make your kids smile, to look at us, to make crazy faces, to feel comfortable,” says Portland family photographer Ashley LaMattino-Perlberg of Weeno Photography. (She’s the one who did the jaw-dropping Mama Truth photography!)
After all, she says, when you’re trying to get your kid to look at the photographer or smile, you’re not looking or smiling. And when your kids do smile, you’re pointing or doing something awkward. So just relax and be in the moment, LaMattino-Perlberg says—you family will look beautiful and authentic because that’s your photographer’s job.
3. Prep your kids right
Telling your kids that you’ve dropped a ton of money on a professional photographer so they’d better be on their best behavior is the fastest way to get stressed out kids, says Portland photographer Lydia Johnston of Photography Hill—and not surprisingly, stressed out kids don’t make for great photos.
Instead of loading on the pressure, “tell your kids that you are all meeting up with a friend to take photos—that makes it more casual,” she says. Also let your kids know that this friend has some activities planned (which will include whatever you have in mind—from taking a walk in the woods to posing and smiling together). Knowing what to expect will relieve your kids’ anxiety. “Everyone will be more willing to cooperate if they are comfortable and at ease,” Johnston says.
4. Expect an “imperfect” photo
That Pinterest ideal, in which the entire family—including the dog—is smiling at the camera, is really hard to get (and probably involves a lot of bribery—no judgment). Instead of trying to get your squirmy toddler and camera-shy preschooler to say “cheese” while looking at the stranger you’ve paid to take their portrait, go for spontaneous moments that show your family’s loving interactions, says Portland photographer Julie Court Jacobs of Traveling Julie Photography.
“My favorite family photos are the ones where the family looks like they’re having fun, and they’re looking like themselves,” she says. “Often, the best laughs happen when people are looking at each other instead of the camera. So let go of the pressure of looking Pinterest-perfect!”
5. Select the right photo for your holiday card
If you’ve done the previous four steps, you’ll be overwhelmed by all the amazing holiday family photos your photographer delivers. That, of course, poses its own challenge: how to pick the right photo for your holiday card.
Portland photographer Deena Selback of D. Selbak Photography recommends a few criteria for choosing the best holiday family photo to send this year:
- The photo should include all of you. “Parents will often use photos of just the kids, but your family’s holiday card really should include the whole family,” Selbak says.
- The photo should have a neutral background. This doesn’t necessarily mean a plain backdrop in a studio, though that’s great; a relatively uniform background such as pine trees is perfect, too. “The focus should be on you!” she says.
- The photo should be tightly cropped. Although a photo of your family taken from far away might be dramatic, the loved ones receiving your holiday family photo want to see you, not a panoramic beach or river shot.
- If you’re adding text on the photo, make sure there’s neutral space—e.g. on the Christmas tree branches on the photo below—so you’re not putting words over anyone’s face!
The bottom line on taking beautiful holiday family photos and sending out a lovely holiday card: Be yourselves! Your family, friends and colleagues will enjoy receiving a card showing your loving, silly, sweet or rambunctious family, just the way you are.
Do you have any stories, hilarious or disastrous or otherwise, from taking a holiday family photo?