It’s not an easy feat to get a nice family portrait during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.
Believe me, I’ve been there, with the camera propped on a chair on auto-timer, and the husband, squirmy kids, and the family pet ready to make a dash for it. But, if you don’t want to hire a professional (that’s a great idea too), there are ways to create a nice portrait of you, your kids, or the whole family to use in your holiday cards.
Spontaneous Group Shots
My most favorite family shots have been ones I’ve asked a friend to take on the spur of the moment. Here’s one of our family on a visit to Rockefeller Center.
Do an On-Location Shoot with a Camera-Savvy Friend
One year, my brother-in-law used our camera to take photos of us in various locations in Old Town. Old Town is a great local location since you can stroll up many of the quaint cobblestone streets. We used one of the Shutterfly templates to display some of the shots. I should have told everyone in the card that I was expecting baby number two in these photos instead of just looking a bit larger than usual around the middle.
Simulate a Photo Booth on Your Computer
If you have a Mac, you can use the Photo Booth app to create 4 or 5 individual images that look like you were in an actual photo booth. Or you can take photos with the camera on a tripod and timer. You can use a photo editing program like PhotoShop to simulate a photo strip or you can use a free online program like Mosaic Maker to arrange the photos in a vertical column. I love how blogger Stephanie Ford packaged her family photo strip to mail in long narrow boxes.
This is one of the family strips we made back when Ana was 4 and we still had a cat.
Create a Handmade Montage of Photos from the Year
Our friends do a montage of photos from the year of their kids. Their Mother takes images she prints out on the computer, creates a handmade collage, and then makes color photo copies on nice paper. Every year, she includes the phrase “Peace & Joy.”
You can also create a nice montage of photos from the year using one of the templates from a photo sharing site, like Shutterfly or Snapfish. Quite honestly, that’s the technique I use when all else fails. Yet, it may be one of the best ideas of all. It lets friends and family see through images what you’ve been up to all year.
Stage a Fun Photo of the Kids
Last year, I asked the girls to sit on the couch and then draped Christmas lights over them. It was a sweet photo to include in a Shutterfly template.
I also took the same portrait of Katie’s boys:
The trick to making this shot work is having the room dark enough to allow the Christmas lights to shine brightly, but light enough to expose the children well. I shot the best one at a 1,000 ISO, f 2.8, shutter speed of 1/30. So a really slow shutter, wide lens opening, and fast sensor setting. A tripod would help you keep the image clear especially with squirmy kids.
Embrace the Chaos
Dana deserves a major award for persistence, determination, and a sense of humor in her quest to stage the same photo of her kids every year. She dresses them in their Christmas outfits and has them sit on her front stoop on in front of a white picket fence. She has great attitude about the near impossibility of getting the perfect shot (her son Tobias looks like he’s belting out a Christmas carol here) and why she nevertheless keeps up the tradition.
“I liked the idea of having photos in the same spot from one year to the next as a way to track the kids growth and such. The challenge, obviously, is with three, then four (!) little ones, they’re not always willing to look at the camera. I don’t consider that a problem, though. Our family isn’t perfect and I don’t expect a photograph to show anything different. I rather like the photos where they’re NOT looking at me, where their personalities come out.”
In fact, one of the series of “outtakes” that she used one year was a huge hit with friends and families. “One year, the photo shoot went so spectacularly off the rails that I decided to use a collection of the more outrageous outtakes,” she says.
“We got lots of compliments on that one. People thought it was a hoot. I also made a pretty funny video of the behind-the-scenes variety on my blog.” For a big laugh, I’d also recommend her post on another year’s series of outtakes.
I often look around on the Web sites of professional photographers to see some of the props they use in holiday photos. This blogger compiles some great examples of shots using props like fake snow and sleds and includes a few DIY tutorials and other photography tips.
Also, this year, we’re going to take turns taking photos with another family. So, they’ll do some shots of our family and then, we’ll take some of them.
Do you have any tips or stories to share about your holiday photo shoots?