A few extra steps for better family holiday photos

When it comes to making holiday photos, which usually end up printed onto cards and sent to friends and families, most parents nowadays fall into the do-it-yourself group.

When making our photo each year, I’ve learned three easy steps that make the process easier and the pictures better.

I’ve taken many photos of kids, and I know that getting children to cooperate and look at you, as you try to demystify the inner workings of a digital camera, can be torturous.

This is absolutely true when they’re your own kids. Not only do you have to be the photographer, a complicated job in itself, but you also have to be the parent.

But this gives you an advantage because you know your kids really well – and with a little planning, you should able to create a great memorable image. I’ll walk you through the steps of our shot this year.

Step 1: Scout. Select a good location in your house. This is really important and one that many people don’t think about enough. It’s not enough to have them simply “near the tree” or in a “Christmasy spot.” When I’m planning the shot, I start on paper with a sketch of how I want the final photo to look. Too many people don’t do this. They do it the other way, which is to grab the kids, the camera, and just start shooting and see what happens. That rarely works.

Next I look for a few spots in the house that will work for what I envisioned. I do it with my camera in hand a few hours, or even a day, before the shoot. I want to have everything worked out before I start posing the kids. I’m looking through the camera. I’m looking for a good spot. I’m checking the background for unwanted objects.

Today, I found a nice spot in the house, but the sofa was in the way of the background, and the kitchen table was in the way of where I needed to shoot from. So I moved both out of the way so I could frame the shot just so, making the mini studio seen HERE. This is where planning comes in. My wife and I planned the shoot together, and planned for it to happen on this day, so it wasn’t like I just starting rearranging the house out of the blue. You gotta plan.

Step 2: Teamwork. My wife is MUCH better with clothes than me, and this year she picked the holiday pajama concept. She also kept the kids occupied, as I set up the shot. A team effort helps to free you up, to focus on other things. A she was picking out the pajamas, I was thinking about the light and props. I wanted to give it the “Christmas morning” feel, so I wrapped some empty boxes, and used a lighting technique seen HERE, to mimic low-angle early sunlight streaming through a window. This was all done at about 3 p.m., so I had to draw the shades in the house. If I was doing all that, and chasing the kids, and trying to get them into jammies, and keeping them out of stuff all afternoon, I’d have no energy or patience when it came time to make the picture. Maybe your spouse just isn’t in to it. But your sister or friend might be. Ask someone. Teamwork makes it happen.

Step 3. Entertain. Usually, by the time you get the kids ready to shoot, you’ve lost them already. You can avoid that only by following steps 1 and 2, making sure everything is set before you even bring the kids in front of the camera, and having a plan to keep the kids entertained.

We did it with YouTube.

My wife brought up a few snippets of their favorite shows on the laptop, and held it near my head as I shot.

You can also see in the photo at left, right where my white lens cloth is on the floor; that’s where I was sitting while shooting.

These are just little tricks that might or might not work – but what is certain is that to get good pictures, it all comes down to the light you use. Alot of folks get out their camera, and use the flash that’s on it. Don’t do this. It’s terrible light. It’s flat light. It has little color, and it’s just nasty. Avoid using the on-camera flash.

We used professional lighting gear in this shot, but not because we had to. It was more because I like the practice of trying new things with my gear (AKA, toys Santa brought me last year.) But we could have just as easily used available hard light coming in through the window. You can recognize this kind of hard light coming in. It makes patterns on the wall or floor. It’s the kind of light that comes in as shafts, and reveals dust in the air. It’s the kind of light your cat likes to nap in.

If you have this really harsh sunlight streaming in, you can hang a white sheet over the window, and it becomes a giant, wonderful and soft light source. Or even house lamps can be useable, if they have a shade on them. But be really careful with them – they can get pretty hot. But hopefully, with a little practice and a bit of planning, making your family holiday photo this year will be no sweat.

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One Response to “A few extra steps for better family holiday photos”

  1. Anastasia Devlin Says:

    The look on Philo’s face at the top is your same look. Half amused, half exasperated. I’ve seen that look before… 🙂

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