As a professional photographer myself, I know how hectic a professional photo shoot for your annual holiday cards can be. As a mom, I know how stressful it can be to plan for them. It’s right around this time of year when you realize that the holidays are creeping up, and it’s time to start planning. If you wait past the beginning of October, Halloween will come, then Thanksgiving, and before you know it, you will have less than two weeks to buy presents and plan everything — Let alone take a professional family photo.
Today I’m sharing my tips for all you families out there prepping for your yearly shot. I hope you find them helpful! And if you’re in the LA area, feel free to reach out to me for yours this year at Five Arrows Photography as family photos are one of my specialties!
CYN’S TIPS FOR A SMOOTH HOLIDAY PHOTO EXPERIENCE:
Ok, I’m all about being an individual and making a personal style statement, but when it come choosing wardrobe for your holiday photos, you don’t want to upstage the rest of your family (unless you’re Mariah Carey, then by all means wear a glitter ball gown). Try and keep it simple … less is always more. I advise you to start with a neutral color pallet (navy, white, gray are always good choices), and then work with 2 to 3 accent colors tops when pulling your families picture wardrobes together.
For example, if it were my family and I have chosen to wear a red dress then maybe my daughter Steely would wear colorful rain boots, a scarf around her neck or even a cute flower crown or headband. I would put her in a navy blue dress, with her brothers wearing a navy and white plaid shirt and khaki pants. You could top the boys looks off with a red bow tie or red high tops to compliment everyone. My husband could wear a denim shirt and khakis and would blend in perfectly. Don't worry too much about everyone being perfectly matched — It's not about similar pieces of clothing so much as complimentary colors.
If you want the traditional Southern picture, where everyone is in the same colored shirt, that’s fine, but at least add some variation with different color tones and textures. I usually lay my family’s clothes out side by side and take snap shots with my phone. Please… there’s no way I could get my family to do a dress rehearsal without tears and unkind words! Anyone else in that same boat? So, the next best thing is to lay it all out and keep changing out items until if feels like it flows and it’s not too matchy. In addition, if you have a professional photographer, send them a few options and they can assist in making your final decision.
2. BUDGETING THE SHOOT
Before you get online and spend a small fortune, check to see what you already have. Last year, I was surprised from what I had stuffed in my kids closets — Items I had totally forgotten about! All I needed was some pops of color which I easily added with accessories like a bowtie, scarf, a hat, and a pair of high-top sneakers. If you feel you need to start from scratch, then venture to reasonably priced stores like Target, Old Navy, maybe JCrew, or Zara (or Mini Boden if you wanna go extra cute)!
Now I know what you’re thinking … of course, she’s gonna say, “splurge for a photographer” because she is a photographer. But honestly, if you have a little wiggle room in your monthly budget, I highly suggest a professional. You’ve gone through all this trouble pulling the shoot together, so why not have lasting photos sprinkled all over your walls you can be proud of? You’re making memories people!
3. PERSONALIZE YOUR SESSION
Storytelling sessions are my favorite. Think about what your family loves to do the most, or what represents your family, and work from there. For example, if your family loves to play board games, read, fish, explore nature, then make sure you bring those props. A good photographer will know how to capture your family personality. If all else fails, at least you had fun doing what you love.
Another great idea is to use props that represent memories i.e. an old quilt your grandmother made to snuggle in, bring your kid’s blankie, or favorite stuffed animal. However, these can get you in trouble if you don’t pull them out near the end of shoot … you don’t want to get stuck with the blankie and stuffed animal in every shot!
4. PINTEREST WITH YOUR PHOTOGRAPHER
I always create a wardrobe and photography Pinterest board with my clients. It sparks creativity for both me and my client. Plus, it gives me a better understanding of what they’re looking to achieve. Pinterest boards are such a cinch to put together, you can find all the inspiration you need on there, and they provide everyone a clear visual and tone before the shoot.
5. GET YOUR KIDS INVOLVED
I recommend letting the kids pick between a few choices for their wardrobe, so they feel like their opinion matters, and that they are a part of the shoot planning — It will make them more excited for the day! Depending on their age, let them fill a small bag with funny toys and/or props they want to be photographed with (again, for the VERY LAST set up). Also, during your session, let them have moments to make silly off the wall faces, and have the photographer show them a preview on the camera as they often get a kick out of themselves.
6. WHAT TO DO WHEN LITTLES ACT UP
I always remind my kids who I’m sending the Christmas card to, such as Santa, or their favorite family member, or a character like Peppa Pig. I tell them if they look in the camera, they might see a bunny or a flicker of light — That usually does the trick long enough to get a few shots of their beautiful eyes. Also, always have rewards ready for after the shoot. Having a special activity or favorite restaurant lined up will go a long way!
Lastly, kids can feel your stress and desperation, so plan as much as you can before, but then let go and have fun on your shoot. If it can help, bring a friend who can make the kids laugh, fix hair, carry props, and adjust clothes. You’ll be so thankful you did!
I’m a sucker for backlit photos, but unless you’re a professional it can be hard to master. So, my other favorite light is ambient or open shade, which is much easier for amateurs. Find a shady spot under a tree or in a doorway, by a window or a covered patio, and let the reflective light from the surrounding area bounce and create gorgeous and even light on your subjects (without the harsh overhead sunlight which will cast shadows and create uneven light).
Find a place that is fun, but not too much fun. Parks are great, but unless you want all of your pics on a jungle gym, I’d opt for a park with no playground. I love open fields or wooded areas with less background noise. The beach is fine, but you are usually dealing with other beach goers present and keep in mind that you may need a permit. Think about a place where your kids won’t be distracted, and you won’t be stressed.
I hope I have helped you out today! From my home to yours, I wish you a happy holiday season and please tag #TheSweetLife, so we can see how your holiday family photos turned out!
The Sweet Life By Brittany + Cynthia Daniel