The holidays are upon us and Christmas is on so many people’s minds, earlier each year! All the holiday decor, music and ads are reminders: DO YOU HAVE YOUR HOLIDAY CARD PHOTO YET??? It can be stressful trying to get the best portrait for your seasonal greeting, but sending cards is such a wonderful way to stay connected with those who you care about and really does spread joy! December is the only time of year I actually enjoy getting mail, since my box is filled with holiday cards donned with gorgeous happy faces. (Many of them with portraits I’ve taken of my clients! Sign up for my session waitlist HERE so you don’t miss out the next time I announce session dates!)
Unfortunately, my calendar can’t ever seem to fit in all of the lovely families who inquires for sessions, so I created this quick tutorial so you can take your own holiday card photo. Yes, YOU can take a great photo even if you’re not a professional! And even with your smartphone. Here are my 5 easy steps for taking your own holiday card picture.
The first decision you’ve got to make is if you want a family photo including parents or just a photo of the kids. If the parents are going to be in the photo, it will add an extra step (which is why I included an extra step 6 in this tutorial). I recommend first trying with just the kid(s) and then if all goes well, trying for a full family portrait. My logic here is that if the latter doesn’t turn out, at least you’ve got one you can use of the kids!
Adding pets into your portrait adds an additional element of chaos. If you have very well trained pets, go for it. If they’re completely wild and you don’t mind a storytelling image for your holiday card, by all means, include the beasts! 😛 Again, I’d start with just the kids, and after you have a decent shot of them, then add the pets. Once mayhem ensues, it’s hard to restore order, so start with the simplest set up that has the best chance of producing a usable image.
Whether you’re looking to do the photo indoors or outside, you need to find the best light you can for a good portrait.
If you’re inside, then I recommend setting up near a window. You want the light that’s coming into the window to illuminate the faces of the people in the picture. You can see in the image below that my daughter’s body is turned toward the window that is in the left part of the frame. This is allowing that nice window light to illuminate her face and her eyes.
If you’re taking the photo outside, then you want to consider the weather and the time of day that you shoot. If it’s a cloudy day, HERE are my best tips for getting great shots in that weather. If it’s a sunny day, then I recommend utilizing either the first or last hour of sunlight for the most flattering golden hour portraits. You can read my best tips for portraits during that light HERE.
Now that you’ve figured out the time of day and light for your portraits, you need to find the best background. You don’t need a spectacular backdrop to create a great portrait. If you’re inside, an uncluttered background or a plain wall can work great. A popular favorite is in front of the Christmas tree. Just make sure that you have good light on your subject, as that is always more important than what’s in the background when taking a good portrait!
If you’re taking the photos outside, I recommend selecting a location that has some vegetation filtering the light so that your subject will stand out against the background. Better yet if there is some space between your subject and the background so that the people stand out better. I use my wooded backyard to photograph my kids often. Your subject will pop better if you don’t have a lot of bright open sky behind them, so use a filled in natural backdrop if you can.
It’s hard for kids to sit still. It’s hard for anyone to hold the perfect smile. Have your kids interact or play for a more natural picture. If you want my best tips for getting REAL smiles from children, there’s a blog post I wrote all about that HERE.
Holiday card portraits are the one time I think cheesy props work amazingly well. They can lighten the mood, give your subjects something to do and it can make your card more fun!
If something isn’t working, change the pose until you get your subjects happy and relaxed.
If you want a shot of everyone’s faces close together, then a seated or lying down pose works well for bringing people of varying heights closer together.
Your best chance of a good shot is going to be at the start, before everyone is tired of doing what they’re told. If it doesn’t seem like you’re getting any usable pictures or nobody is cooperating, don’t feel pressured to keep forcing it. You’ll just end up more frustrated and everyone will remember it as an awful experience they don’t want to repeat. Don’t be afraid to call it quits and try again at another time. You may be very surprised just how well round two turns out! Or use the crying picture that depicts reality – friends and family love seeing the real side of things too!
Skip this step if you’re just taking a picture of the kiddos. If you’re determined to be in the picture, this is my best advice for getting the full family shot:
If you’re considering stepping up your picture-taking-game, my Smartphone Photography class is exactly where you should start! In my completely digital workshop, I go over ALL of my secrets to taking gorgeous images and I guarantee you’ll be a better photographer when you complete it! I’m offering my blog readers $20 off the class using the coupon code 20BUCKSOFF. Here’s the direct link to enroll in the class!