Behind the Scenes of a Family Holiday Photo

What mom doesn’t want a GREAT family photo for their holiday card?

The sheer reality of how bad we want this makes it become so easily stressful.  Over the years, I’ve taken endless holiday portraits.  I have seen it all, friends: from the crazy, stressed–out moms to whom I suggested taking a walk to ease their jitters, to the kids who wouldn’t behave no matter what reward their parents offered, to the resistant dad who wanted to talk shop, hoping to avoid being in the photo.

But picture having a film crew, sound guy, makeup lady, and all the rest of the people that go into producing a show on top of the typical holiday-photo stress.  Mix that with a little girl who just finished her first week of full-day school.  Guess who is super tired and doesn’t want to have their photo taken?  Yep, the little girl you’ll see in the video below.  When we all met at a park in Seattle, WA to film the “How to Take a Holiday Photo” episode for my new show Capture Your Story with Me Ra Koh, she took one look at the crew and started crying.  In not so many words, she said “no thanks!” and wouldn’t get out of the car.

Moments like this is are when I am so thankful for all the years of shooting experience.  After doing this endless times, having experienced the good and bad of what a family portrait shoot can look like, I was totally good with her being exactly where she was at.

This is the key to remember when taking a family holiday photo.  You don’t need the kids to cooperate until the last moment when you are ready to snap the photo.  It doesn’t matter how uncooperative the kids are in the time that leads up to taking the photo.  If you play it cool, ignore their bickering, fussiness, and even tears, and just let it be until you are seriously at the moment when you are ready to take the family photo–I guarantee you will be surprised at how they turn around for you.

I see parents make the mistake of doing the opposite all the time.  They want their kids on best behavior two hours before they have even left the house to have their photos taken.  By the time they meet up with me, I can spot the comotose look in the kids’ eyes and tell that mom has been lecturing them for the two hours at home and the hour long ride to see me.  The kids take one look at me and think “This is the lady who has made my mom crazy this morning?!”  Guess who they’re not really interested in being around at first?  Me.  Can you blame them?  So the first thing I do is have dad take the kids and let them run and play, while I get to know mom, in order to let the kids get space so mom can relax and kids can tap into their joy again.

I totally get where the mom is coming from.  I’ve been that stressed mom too!  It’s understandable:  moms have a lot invested in the family holiday photo.  Nine out of ten times, they’re the ones who book the photo shoot.  They are the ones who often design the holiday card.  They’re the ones who make sure the cards are mailed to all their family and friends.  The family holiday photo is a big deal, so of course, there is potential to be stressed.  But moms must remember that they have the power to make or break the photo shoot.  I’m not sure about your home, but in ours, if mom is stressed the whole family is stressed.  But if mom is happy, the whole family is–you got it–happy.

Below is the How to Take a Holiday Photo episode.  This mom was amazing!  She trusted my lead on giving her daughter space.  We both knew her little one was just worn out from a long day of school.  I got to hand it to the mom because the pressure was on but she handled it with total grace.  As you watch the video, now you all know the behind the scenes story!  In the beginning, when I’m talking to mom about what she hasn’t liked about her holiday photo in the past, the little girl was crying in the car.  The mom and I can laugh about it now.  What an adventure that was!  You would never know watching the video!  Ha!  Good times!

Below are thirteen photos from the episode, along with the tricks of how I helped the stress come down, especially when a little one didn’t want to cooperate.  With a few of these tricks tucked up your sleeve, you’d be surprised at how the most unresponsive child can become the most happy.  It’s all about out outsmarting those little ones.  Who knew taking a Family Holiday Photo could be so mental!

I’m inviting my certified CONFIDENCE teachers to share some of their best holiday photo tips in the comments!  We want to help set you up for total success this year!  And feel free to share your own with us!

All photos were taken with the SONY a77 DSLR and 16-50mm, f/2.8 lens.

  • Start with What Kids Expect 1 of 13
    Start with What Kids Expect
    When taking a Holiday Photo or any Family Portrait, I often start with everyone looking at the camera and smiling because this is what kids come expecting to do. But if the results are so-so, I suggest the unexpected.
  • Room to be Silly 2 of 13
    Room to be Silly
    When kids are stressed or not wanting to be a part of the family photo, it helps to allow room for silliness. We had so much fun laughing as the kids played a game of falling backwards which produced genuine smiles for later.
  • What Do They Love 3 of 13
    What Do They Love
    Have your kids bring a couple toys that they love. Suggest taking a few photos of them and their favorite toys or blanket. This can help the focus move away from performing for the camera and more to storytelling.
  • Let the Moment Unfold 4 of 13
    Let the Moment Unfold
    Even if the kids aren't buying into the photo shoot, I will still snap the camera. Kids are so smart, and they listen for that shutter sound. The reassurance of the camera shooting gives us more room to breathe so we can let the moment unfold.
  • Here It Comes! 5 of 13
    Here It Comes!
    This sweet girl made such a turn around! I was so proud of her! You can see she is starting to get into the photo.
  • Bring High, Fun Energy 6 of 13
    Bring High, Fun Energy
    Remember to bring high, fun energy when taking photos because kids need someone to follow. If you are excited, they are more likely to be excited. If you are stressed, it's that much harder for them to relax.
  • Watch for the Invitation 7 of 13
    Watch for the Invitation
    I LOVE this photo because she is right there, present with me and the moment, and wants to be there. You can see it in her sparkly, beautiful eyes. You can tell her smile is genuine. And even though we didn't start here, she was so amazing to let me in.
  • Now Take the Family Photo 8 of 13
    Now Take the Family Photo
    At this point, the kids are ready to cooperate. Now it's time to get the family photo!
  • Give Thanks 9 of 13
    Give Thanks
    I had everyone look at big sister and smile down on her. We all knew how much she had given us, how tired she had been, and it's important to let kids know how thankful you are--that you recognize how much they've given to be engaged in picture taking.
  • Surprises! 10 of 13
    I often tell parents to bring a surprise for the kids. Depending on the parents and kids, they will know it's coming or just be surprised. We brought Mickey Mouse dolls for these two, and the sheer joy of the surprise was the BEST!
  • Magic of Who They Are 11 of 13
    Magic of Who They Are
    Even though you may have set out to capture the holiday family photo, watch for that moment when the joy comes freely, they forget about the camera, and you see the magic of who they are.
  • Notice the Light 12 of 13
    Notice the Light
    We planned this video/photo shoot to happen a hour before sunset so that the grass field would turn golden as the sun set. Golden light adds even more emotion and magic to the photo!
  • Give Them a Hand! 13 of 13
    Give Them a Hand!
    Who would guess that she was crying when we first started. If you have a moment, give these two kids a hand in the comments today! Proud mama will be reading them all, and did I say how AMAZING the mom was. (Thank you to the whole Dugaw family!)

Me Ra Koh loves cameras, kids, and parents, and spends her life bringing them together.  See her new show Capture Your Story with Me Ra Koh on Disney Junior.  Her book Your Baby in Pictures is a national bestseller.  She is honored to be one of SONY’s Artisans of Imagery.  Me Ra and her team of certified teachers lead CONFIDENCE photography workshops for women nationwide.  She has been featured in The New York Times, Parenting, American Baby, Popular Photography, and her photography has been on exhibit from San Fransisco to New York.  You can find her at

Like Me Ra on Facebook  and Follow Her on Twitter.



Article Posted 4 years Ago

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