Looking to upgrade your ho-hum holiday family photo? Maybe you’re searching for a few fresh poses that don’t involve parking the brood squarely on the sofa. You might be dying to depart from boring black clothes for this year’s photo, but too tired to pull together coordinating trendy togs. Or perhaps you just want your on-the-go toddler to sit still long enough for you to click the shutter (bonus points if he’s actually looking at the camera!).
Before you yelp “Enough!” and start doctoring last year’s photos in an attempt to pass one off as brand-new, read on for pro tips to help make this year’s holiday photo shine.
Give your creative process inspiration via Pinterest. Search for “holiday family photos” to peruse striking shots that feature unique props, non-standard locales, and distinctive poses. Create your own pinboard of inspiring images—and don’t forget to share your favorites with your photographer (even if it’s your neighbor).
Use the color wheel, accessories, and lighting—>
Use the Color Wheel
Dressing everyone in perfectly color-matched duds does little to showcase family members’ unique personality, says family and wedding photographer Karma Hill. For polished pics, think “coordinate,” not “match.” “It’s like decorating a room,” says Hill. “You don’t use one color—you choose different colors that work well together.”
For traditionalists, photographer Emily Johnston recommends working a singular bright tone into each person’s outfit in a different way—like a red tie for dad, a red scarf for mom, and red sweaters for the kids. For a trendier look, you can outfit your family in a variety of colors within a similar family, like jewel tones, yellows, or gray hues from heather to charcoal.
“A few fun, bold accessories add sharp details that make your pictures pop,” says Johnston. “Things like a flower headband for a little girl, a long, layered necklace for mom, bright earrings for a teen girl, a fedora for a boy, or a large wristwatch for dad.” Bonus: Letting style-conscious kids choose a few hip accessories helps ease the sting of having to don parent-selected portrait attire.
Avoid a "screaming kids" photo—>
Avoid Prime Time
Planning for a family shot right after naptime or right before dinner is a recipe for disaster. Children are difficult to photograph under the best of circumstances, and if they’re tired or hungry, you’re not likely to get the shot you want (unless a “screaming kids” photo is what you’re after!). “If you have very young children, time photos when they first wake up from a nap or first thing in the morning after breakfast,” says Hill.
Lighting determines your photo’s quality and mood, and muddy lighting spoils an otherwise stellar shot. “Open shade”—a patch of shade surrounded by light—is ideal, says Hill. Avoid midday sun or harsh overhead lights that cast unflattering dark shadows under the eyes. Instead, aim for light that streams in at an angle (in the morning and late afternoon). And beware: “Using the flash lends unnatural color to skin,” says Hill. “With good natural light, there’s no need for it.”
Get Some Perspective
Ready to rise to the occasion? Photographing from up high (or down low) makes for surprising angles and interesting photos. “For a fun, unique perspective, get on the floor to photograph your kids at their level,” says Johnston. Steer clear of the dreaded double chin on adults by shooting from above on achair.
Explore aperture, use seasonal props, or consider a photo collage—>
Your camera’s aperture setting determines its range of focus; a lower number puts the focus on the subjects and blurs the background. “If your camera has aperture priority mode, use it!” says Hill. This mode lets you adjust the aperture without fussing with other settings.
Shop for Props
Objects that add meaning and dimension to photos are the latest trend in family and kids’ photography, says Johnston. Try including a banner that says “Happy New Year!,” small chalkboards with a festive word like “Merry,” “Happy,” and “Joy,” or a square sign with the family’s last initial. A string of glowing Christmas lights is a prop with endless possibilities: Try winding it gently around kids’ feet or letting toddlers explore the twinkling strand while you snap away.
Divide and Conquer
If the Holy Grail of family photos—everyone smiling while looking at the camera—proves elusive, don’t lose hope. Snap individual photos of each child and have a friend or neighbor take a photo of mom and dad together. Use photo-editing software or a pre-made holiday card template with multiple photo openings to create a personalized photo collage.
Make it Perfectly Yours
As for that group family portrait you want, it may help to soften your definition of “perfect.” Posed photos may not be your family’s thing—but an afternoon spent doing something you enjoy, whether it’s cooking, surfing, or horseback riding, could yield pure photo magic. Match your photography goals to your family’s unique taste and temperament, and you’re sure to score the mantle-worthy shot of your dreams.
Malia Jacobson is a nationally published freelance writer specializing in parenting.