THE BLOG
11/05/2013 12:05 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Simple Steps to Spectacular Holiday Photos

Holiday card photos are on a lot of people's minds. While many families feel pressure to get the perfect shot, by following some simple steps you can relax and have fun! Read over all the tips below and here before deciding your approach. Take what you like, leave what don't think will work for your family. Mix and match ideas! If your first try doesn't work, go back to the list of tips and try something else another day. Take a deep breath and look at the holiday photos provided by the pros -- and notice how very few have all family members, or even all children, in one photo looking at the camera and smiling.

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Photo: Davina Fear

Davina Fear, founder of the Familyness Photo Workshop:

1. Take your photos early!

The sooner the better. When you plan ahead you have much less stress and more opportunity to get the images you love. If a photo shoot you've planned well in advance for (with your family) doesn't work out as planned you always have another opportunity. Planning ahead relieves the stress of this moment having to be perfect and helps you to feel less like it's do or die.
Brainstorm some ideas with your kids. Would it be fun to make snowflakes? Drink hot chocolate? Jump in crunchy leaves? Play in a pumpkin field? Decorate a Christmas tree? Make holiday cookies? Decide on an activity that sounds irresistibly fun and make that your photo shoot. Make sure to get the flour covered face or messy frosting fingers.

2. Think about what works for your family.

Try not to fall into what you think everyone is expecting you to put together for a family photo. Consider creating a card that shows the personality of your family or each of your kids rather than what you envision the perfect card looking like. Have fun and you'll have a better experience and make happier memories in the process of creating your holiday card.

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Photo: Me Ra Kph

Me Ra Koh ,author of Your Child in Pictures and creator of Confidence Photography Workshops offered nationwide:

1. No More Three Second Timers With Smart Remote!

SONY now has a Smart Remote app where you can connect your smartphone to your NEX camera and see what your camera sees on your smartphone. This means that you can set your camera anywhere, but instead of setting your camera's timer for three seconds and running to jump in the photo, you can get your family all set up, look at your smartphone to see if you want to make any changes, and then take the camera's photo with your smartphone! When our family tested it out, we sat the camera on a park garbage can. A small jpg will be stored in your phone, ready to share at any time. And the larger file is stored on your camera's SD card. Rumor has it that other camera manufacturers are soon coming out with the same, amazing technology. To connect your smartphone and camera, find step-by-step instructions and photo examples here.

2. Successful Family Photo with Special Needs

I dedicated a special section to this important, often undiscussed topic, in my latest book. There isn't one photo tip that will work for all. But I have learned that if you are working with an autistic child, it's imperative that you don't cover up your face with the camera when taking the photo. They need to keep eye contact with you to stay engaged. Read lots more about photographing children with special needs here.

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Photo: Christine DeSavino

Christine DeSavino, New Jersey family photographer and creator of the DaisyGrip:

Firstly, your location and lighting has so much to do with how the image will look. Try to decide what feel you want your images to have... it could be urban, rustic, beachy, etc. That should help you decide on a location. From there, you can choose outfits that will best fit your locale. For urban, you may want a more hip or trendy wardrobe. For rustic, something more classic with nice layers and textures. And for the beach something light and airy, with pretty patterns and colors. When it comes to the actual shoot, take a look at what the light is like at different times of the day. I try to plan my sessions for the two hours leading up to sunset when the light is a beautiful golden color. This also avoids the harsh shadowing that can happen mid-day when the sun is high in the sky and at its strongest. This time of year, however, the sun is not as harsh, so don't fret if you have to do your session mid-day. Just try to be aware of where shadows and sunlight are falling on your subject's face. And don't worry if you get a cloudy day... the clouds act as natural diffusion for the sun, so the results can be soft and wonderful!

For more candid shots, here are some other techniques I use: have mom or dad tickle the kids or throw them in the air, have the kids give each other a piggy-back ride, or have them play ring around the rosey. Capturing kids in action is a great way to showcase natural expressions while showing them just as they are. Towards the end of my shoots, I may put an iPhone in the DaisyGrip with a cartoon playing and let the kids relax and watch... meanwhile, I move in close and try to get some nice close ups of them! These are beautiful additions to the family and action shots.

After a successful session, it's time to put the images together in a layout. Very often, I like a montage that includes a group shot in the center of the layout, with single shots on each side or underneath. Or it's nice to combine a wide shot with some beautiful close ups. You may like a card with a more formal, posed image on the front and a silly image on the back. Here's where having a variety of images can really comes in handy! You'll have more to choose from to come up with the perfect combinations for your layout! One last bit of advice...try not to stress out. When parents are stressed, the kids can feel it. So start nice and early and give yourself some time, in case the first round doesn't go as planned. Good luck and have fun!

Courtney Slazinik, founder of Click it Up a Notch:

1. Clear the clutter. Remove the pictures from the walls, take lamps and clocks off tables. You want a nice clean palette for your photograph so lamps aren't coming out of anyone heads and nothing in the image is distracting the viewer from focusing on your lovely family.

2. Encourage interaction between you and your family. This gives helps to create a connection between everyone in the family. Tickle, tell jokes, say silly words like "poop," or hug to get everyone giggling. Avoid the dreaded word "cheese" at all costs.

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Photo: Binkies + Noseprints

Leslie Chang, Washington, DC family photographer, Binkies + Noseprints:

Compose Your Shots: Use the Rule of Thirds, the Camera Tilt, and Foreground, Middleground, and Background. Apply these tools for visually interesting and compositionally strong group and individual images. In addition, make sure everyone in a group photo is "squished in" as tightly as possible -- try to leave as little spaces as possible between the subjects. When possible, arrange everyone in a triangular composition, with the highest point of the triangle in the middle of the composition. For individual images, try to get in close and Fill the Frame (another handy compositional tool) with the gorgeous faces of your little ones. Lastly, if you plan on inserting your images into a pre-designed card from vendors such as Tiny Prints or Minted, make sure you take photos in both the portrait/vertical orientation as well as the landscape/horizontal orientation, and/or compose your shots such that they could be inserted into vertical or horizontal or square slots in the card design.

If taking the advice to find good light and have fun means leaving the house you will want to make sure your camera is protected. I recently discovered Camera Coats, which are cute padded pouches you can put your camera in to safely carry your camera in any purse. If your holiday photoshoot will have you on the move a strap is essential to make sure you don't accidentally drop your camera when you have to make sure little Suzy doesn't fall off the monkey bars. The Joby Ultrastrap for Women was designed with Moms in mind and has kept my camera safe on many occasions when I had to let go of my camera to run after a little one in need.

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Photo: Camera Coats

Because you want your card to really shine, consider looking beyond the big box stores for printing. One of the most highly regarded consumer printers is Mpix. Overnight Prints is the printer of choice for Davina Fear and others for their high quality and creative options, including rounded corners. You can also search these sites for alternatives to the traditional card and consider sending out magnets or paper ornaments.

A tripod can help you make sure you get in the picture since you will not need anyone to hold the camera for you. This is particularly important to get a family photo for your holiday card since you can't rely on a family member to help. Tripods also help you get sharper photos because you will not need to worry about shaky hands. My personal favorite is the Joby Gorillapod since it is ultra-light, fits in my camera bag, and has an amazing design that allows you attach it to nearly anything, anywhere. Joby Gorillapods are available for DSLRs, point-and-shoot cameras, and even iPhones. They are priced to fit a Momtographers budget. Joby also makes an Ultraplate that allows you to quickly attach your camera to the tripod if using a strap and a hand strap with an Ultraplate attached. The minute or two this might save you getting your camera on your tripod may not seem like much, but it can mean the difference between a great photo and your kids losing interest in being in front of the camera. The Ultraplate fits any brand of tripod.

Another idea my family is considering for a creative holiday card is to recreate holiday photos of years past place old and new photos together on a card. We recently tried out ScanMyPhotos to have old family photos converted to digital form so that we can easily use photos taken in the old days of film on our card. As a bonus, I will get to clear out a stack of old photo albums in the process and replace them with a single thumb drive.

In addition to the blogs mentioned here, another good source for tips is Nick Kelsh's "Tip of The Day" on "How to Photograph Your Life." He provides holiday-specific tips as well as tips for getting great shots everyday. It's a great way to get a daily dose of photo education, especially if taking a full class is not a something you can do right now.

Most of these tips can be used year-round so don't stop having fun with your kids and your camera once your holiday cards have been placed in the mail. I'm looking forward to getting lots of wonderful holiday cards this year!