Since now is the time many families are planning their annual holiday card photo, yesterday I shared tips for choosing outfits for the family. Now that you’ve settled what you’re going to wear for your family photo, let’s talk about getting the actual photo taken. Investing in a photographer is definitely worth it so that you can sit back and let the professional take care of getting beautiful images, but it’s not always in the budget, especially during the holidays. There are other ways to capture a great family photo on your own though. A tripod and self-timer (or wireless remote shutter) can work, but one of the best ways to ensure a great family photo is to swap photographer duties with a friend’s family–both families get dressed for the annual photo and head out together to a great location. You take your friend’s family photo, she takes yours, and then you all go out for dinner after to celebrate having it finished. If you’re not hiring a photographer, here are a few tips to help you capture a a great image of your family this year.
The right background can set the scene for an image, but it’s good to do a little homework before your photo (it can also help guide your outfit selection). If you live in the mountains or near captivating landscape scenes, you might want more of a nature look in the background–a creek, the woods, a mountainous backdrop, a field with a red barn. If you live in the city, the urban scene may direct your shot more–old brick buildings, colorful store fronts, cool alleys with interesting textures. We live near the beach, but we have so many beach photos throughout the year that I usually gravitate toward something different for our family photo. Sometimes that includes driving around and looking for new locations–they’re hidden everywhere. Last year’s photo (that was snapped by a friend who had never taken family photos and took only five minutes!) was taken at a platform of our city dock.
Other photos in this post include the blue garage door of an old warehouse on a side street, the back of a restaurant that had shut down, the side wall of a store downtown and a historic building in a state park. As you’re driving around, keep your eyes peeled for interesting backdrops, colorful walls (or white), great architecture, fun textures or anything that might add to a photo. If you’re going to add text to your card, keep in mind that you’ll want some clean space in your shot to insert the card greeting. For instance, the photo below was taken in front of a commercial building with white walls and works great for adding text at the top (red, of course!).
The Right Time
Choosing the right time of day to take your photo can make or break an image. If you’re out in the open when the sun is blaring, you’ll likely encounter unflattering shadows, squinting and light spots. The rule of thumb for outdoor photography is to shoot during the golden hour–one hour before sunset. Look for shaded areas and natural reflectors (white walls are great). Also, consider what the environment will look like during that time. When shooting in urban areas, I like to shoot on Sunday evenings because a lot of the businesses are closed which opens up some otherwise occupied areas.
(tip: If we were to take this photo over again, I’d move us all away from the wall for some depth of field. Put space between the subjects and the backdrop. If you’re in front of a wall, get several steps away from it.)
Break up colors and Research Positioning.
Positioning everyone can be the most challenging part of taking photos. You want everyone to look as natural as possible. To begin, break up colors so that two people who might be wearing the same color aren’t standing together. One of the best ways to create good positioning is to research great photographers and screen shot group photos you love that feel natural and are aesthetically pleasing. Pull out those photos and use them as inspiration as you’re getting ready to shoot your own photo. You don’t have to recreate it exactly, but it can be great guidance as you tell people where to stand (and people like to be told where to stand! Brett often says, “If you tell me what to do, I’ll feel more natural, but I need some direction.”)
“Act Natural, Everyone!”
Easier said than done! Ideally, a photographer directs the shot and is skilled at making everyone feel comfortable and interact with each other. Personally, my favorite photos are ones where everyone isn’t looking at the camera. The shot below was taken as we were warming up for “the shot” when everyone was kind of goofing around. I ended up choosing it over the one of everyone looking because it’s more natural, more “us” and expresses our personalities more. As you’re taking photos, it’s great to take a few of the family doing something together–talking to each other, having one of the kids tell a joke, fixing someone’s hair, playing peek-a-boo, etc.
Welcome Toys & Kid Props
The scruffy old teddy bear your daughter drags around, the favorite baby doll, the Superman toy you’re inclined to take away from your son before the photo (don’t–he’ll cry)–keep them in the shot. They may help make the kids feel like they’re not getting their picture taken, they add a great interesting element to the photo, and they help capture identity–so much fun to look back on years later and remember what was loved most. The photo below is one of my favorite family photos ever taken of us, even though our faces aren’t all showing. I’ll never forget how much fun this shoot was, how funny it was trying to keep Dash from getting grumpy and that dang garbage truck that made it into every shot. It wasn’t planned, but that little pop of green and symbol of boyhood ended up adding so much to our photo that year.
Embrace the Mess
Got a runner? Embrace it. The year this photo was taken was the hardest because Dash wanted to MOVE. We finally just let him loose and Heidi kept shooting. This shot ended up making the back of our card with the line from ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas: “Now dash away, dash away, dash away all!”
Remember there are so many ways to capture a family besides lining everyone up and making them smile at the camera. Keep shooting when the kids are going bananas. Laugh at the mess. Embrace it. Have fun with it. Have parents put kids on their shoulders. Tell everyone to bust out their favorite dance moves. Make everyone hug, hand clap, do the Macarena. Whatever. But you are likely to capture the true essence of your family when you’re not aiming for perfect.
While you’re shooting the whole family, remember there are images “within” images. Zoom in closer for some beautiful individual shots. The colors and textures of the surrounding people automatically create a great backdrop.
The best shots come after “the shot”
Everyone just put their guard down because they think the shoot is over? Shhhhhh. Keep shooting. Capture individual interactions, brothers wrestling, daughters’ arms stretched around their daddy’s legs. These are great photos to keep and often end up making it into the card.
Got the shot? What next?
Remember, you can always edit photos after they’re taken to make them brighter (friends don’t let friends send dark pictures), add contrast, or adjust saturation. I like a good crisp, colorful image for our family photo, but sometimes–especially with muted light tones–a more vintage, washed-out look is preferred. Whatever the case, once your images are exactly to your liking, you can either print them and slip them into your own cards or have them made into cards online, using free design services. Minted, Tiny Prints, Pear Tree, Shutterfly and even Costco have great printing options within different price ranges.
(still one of my favorite cards we ever sent…this was in the inside)
…and another favorite inside, back before Dash was born:
Now comes the good part. As the holidays approach, they bring with them so many gorgeous scenes and memorable moments to capture. If you’ve ever been interested in exploring creativity through photography and need some help, I’m hosting Framed!, a 3-week live online photography course (starts in November and ends before Thanksgiving!) that will help you create meaningful and memorable images from the moments you love. In countless e-mails, direct messages and blog comments, readers have been asking me to create this course, and I’m so excited to finally launch it. There couldn’t be a more perfect time of year for this as my passion for photography comes alive through seasons I love most. Come along with me this year as I capture some of my favorite images of the year and teach you how to do the same. This is a great class for beginners, and you don’t even need a big fancy camera to benefit from it (iPhones and Androids are just fine). Whether you want to capture better day-to-day life images for your own enjoyment or want to take your blog and social media photos to the next level, you’ll be inspired by this course and community. (If you have a teenager with a creative itch for photography, this is perfect–I’ll take care of them!) Want to participate? You can read all the details HERE! Join FRAMED!