Having photographed families for years now, there are a lot of mini tips that I’ve learned that instantly make a holiday portrait session better. Whether you are hiring a professional this year or taking the photos yourself, here are some things that will make your images the best ones yet.
An easy default for holiday portraits is just picking a location that you know is pretty and showing up at a time of day when the light is nice. These will always turn out great but there are ways to bring a little more meaning to your images by putting some thought around the location. Whenever I meet a client for the first time, we always go over things that the family likes to do together as a possible starting point for where a shoot might take place. Is there a park that you always go to or a place in your own yard that is meaningful in some way or a place you always tailgate or even a favorite spot to go fishing or play on the beach? (Side Note: If you are hiring a photographer for your holiday portraits and you do have a favorite place as a family outside of town, be sure to bring this up with your photographer as a potential photo location. Many photographers are happy to shoot outside of town for an additional fee and it may be worth it to make the location more meaningful.)
It might not even be about the location but more about the activity that is significant. For example, do you like playing board games as a family? Maybe this year’s shoot should be centered around playing a game together so that you can remember this time in your kids lives when they were still up for playing silly games with their parents!
Speaking of which, holiday portraits don’t always have to be outside, especially if you’ve got some killer natural light coming into your home. It’s not like we even get fall leaves or snow in our part of Florida, so if you really want a holiday feel to your photos session, think about making cookies or pancakes as a family in the kitchen for your shoot, or even just everyone snuggling in bed with holiday themed PJs on! Just make sure you are near a window or somewhere with a lot of natural light coming in.
You instantly step up the caliber of your family portraits just by coordinating what everyone is wearing. Having said that, and I know this sounds silly, but mom, if you’re not really feeling like a rockstar in whatever you are wearing the day of the shoot, just to match the rest of the family, you’re not going to love the end photos as much from the session either. Find something that you love to wear and then match everyone else in the family from there. I always recommend picking 2-3 colors and then find things in everyone’s wardrobe in those colors with perhaps a pop of color from a scarf, the littlest one’s dress or shirt…things like that. It’s a great way to coordinate everyone’s outfits so that you look put together in photos but without being so matchy matchy that you end up on a hilarious family portraits meme.
Most photographers will recommend shooting at golden hour (just after the sun comes up or an hour before it is suppose to set). There is a reason for this as lighting at that time of day is always super, super gorgeous and if your family is good at those times of day, then definitely do photos then.
However, I’ve learned that if you have little ones, it’s much better to take photos at a time that they have a lot of energy (and not that tired kind of energy where they are literally running circles around the couch as fast as they can because they are dead tired). Little ones can lose steam pretty quickly if they haven’t slept or eaten recently before the shoot. This can still make for some cute candid images of them, but if you’re the type of person that likes at least one photo around the holidays where everyone is looking at the camera, be sure to pick a time of day when you think you’ll have the highest chance for cooperation from the little ones.
Having said this, lighting does become a much bigger issue if you’re not shooting around golden hour so you’ll want to put some thought into this. Early afternoon in the open shade, on a sunny day can be a great way to deal with otherwise harsh lighting conditions (watch out that you aren’t surrounded by too much greenery or sometimes you can get a slight green tone to everyone’s faces). A cloudy day can make it easier to shoot outside if your little one’s optimal time is like right at midday. Using flash outside can help pop some light into otherwise harsh shadows in everyone’s faces.
Annual holiday portraits is a great time to also think about updating some of the photos that you have up around your home. Are all of the framed images around the house from a few years back or more? Is there something special that each child is doing right now in this moment of their lives that you’d love to capture? Have you been meaning to put some art up in the hallway or above the mantel? There is nothing more awesome than some personalized art work around your home! And if you think you don’t have anymore room on your walls, get a photo book made! It’s so important in this digital age, where in a way everything and nothing is timeless, that you get some prints made of your images at least once a year.
Plus, I’ve mentioned this before, but the Murfreesboro Study showed that there was some evidence that photography of children seen and enjoyed in a specific way can help boost a child’s self-esteem. It is helpful in showing children that they are valued and part of a family unit.
If you’re opting to take your photos yourself, don’t be lazy. Set up the tripod to get yourself a few group images so that you can make sure the images are in focus and not too blurry. Also it is so important that you are included in your family photos! I cannot stress this to moms enough, who tend to shy away from being in front of the camera. Your children love you for who you are, every piece of you, right now with all of your imperfections. They don’t care if you are having a bad hair day, they just care that you are their mama and will take care of/love them forever and ever! Later they will cherish photos that have you in them with them!!
From there, take the camera off the tripod and start taking close ups and candids of everyone in the family. You can even give the camera to each of your kiddos and ask them to take a family photo and see what they get from their perspective and creative eye! Move in close and get down on their eye level when taking their portraits. Run around with them and just follow them with the camera so that you can wait for those perfect, precious moments when they are being 100% them. If you’re not confident in your ability to capture timely moments, try putting the camera on burst mode. At the very least it might help you overcome blinking/closed eyes mid-laughs.
I know a string of Christmas lights around the kids can make for a cute photo but please think twice about doing this with the little ones. They tend to put everything in their mouths and that can be so dangerous with lights and electricity!!
Also, I know train tracks look cute too but it’s actually illegal to take photos on them. I will admit that when I first started in photography, over 10 years ago, I didn’t know this, but railroads are actually private property of the railroad companies themselves and so anytime some one walks on them, they are technically trespassing and can get charged as such. Even if you don’t think you would get caught, train tracks are also really dangerous areas. Trains…Run…On..Them and they are full of uneven surfaces and rocks. It’s just not worth the risk to get anywhere near them.
Lastly, if you are planning on using a professional photographer for your holiday portraits, now is the time to book with them. It’s crazy but there are less than 10 weekends left before Christmas and less than 5 before Hanukkah! There are only two days in a weekend and most people prefer to do a holiday portrait session on a weekend day, so not a ton of spaces left for holiday portrait sessions. Plus, we lose an hour of light starting November 4th so trying to do portrait sessions after work on a week day gets a little tricky too. If you are taking time off around the week of Thanksgiving, check in with your photographer to see if they have those week days available (you can always bride them with promises of leftover pie!).
Hope these holiday portrait tips were helpful. If you’ve got other ones to add, drop them in the comments below!