‘Tis The Season: 12 Tips for Taking Amazing Family Holiday Photos

image source: thinkstock
image source: thinkstock

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Since November is the busiest month for families wanting that perfect photo for the holiday card, I want to set you up for success by sharing 12 Tips for Taking Amazing Family Holiday Photos!

Over the last six weeks, I’ve been having a blast photographing clients from New York City to Seattle!  What am I looking for when capturing a family?  Light is always a key factor, but I’m also observing the dynamics between family members.  Subtle gestures like the way a mom laughs, the way a dad comforts his two-year-old, how a great grandma’s eyes light up when her great granddaughter squeezes her…all of these pieces play a role in creating a vision for a family portrait that is worthy of this season in their life.

Below are my 12 Tips for Taking Amazing Family Holiday Photos, whether your family has babies, toddlers or beautiful great grandparents!  When you aren’t sure where to start … start with these tips!  Taking a great holiday family photo can be a bit stressful, but it doesn’t have to be.  This year, follow my favorite photo tips and not only will you capture a GREAT holiday family photo, but you’ll also have a great time together!  (Check out my new book, just in time for the holidays!  Your Child in Pictures: The Parents’ Guide to Photography Your Toddler and Child from Age One to Ten!)  Enjoy!

12 Tips for Taking Amazing Family Holiday Photos

1. How To Get Foliage In the Background


Tree foliage can be so beautiful, but the leaves are often to high to fill the background of your photo.  How do you get around that?  To get beautiful foliage in your background, have the family stand on a hillside.  This is the only time I shoot up on people.  As long as you watch for double chins, you should be good to go!  Funny story, this was the ONLY tree last month in Central Park that had any changing colors.  There were dozens and dozens of people taking photos around this tree.  That is the other great part of shooting up on the family, you don’t see any of the people who are standing around the base of the tree taking photos.  Instead, your whole background is filled with the upper half of the colorful tree!

2. Look For Emotion, More Than Focus


This may be heresy to some photographers, but notice how the baby’s face isn’t in focus?  This is on purpose.  The story is about the emotion that these beautiful women are feeling.  This is my all-time favorite portrait of four generations. We have great grandma on one end with grandma, mama, and great granddaughter.  I LOVE the joy that is shining on everyone’s face.  When all the faces are in focus, I sometimes feel like I lose the magic of the moment.  That is when I opt to leave a couple people unfocused.

3. Start With What They Expect


These twin toddlers kept me busy!  How do you get a great family holiday photo with busy toddlers (or twins for that matter)?  You start with what they expect.  They expect to look at the camera and smile.  But they also need someone to look at.  Many times I have someone help me get their attention, or I use the Live View to frame my photo versus looking through the View Finder (and covering my face with the camera).  Keep your face uncovered, so toddlers can stay engaged with you.

4. Capture The Story Of Now


The most beautiful family holiday photo is the photo that captures the story of now.  What is the “now” for your family?  Do you have little ones who run around everywhere?  Then consider a photo like that for the holiday card because in the next few years your “now” will look very different.  Capture something about today that will be unforgettable to not only you but your friends and family!

5. Close the Gaps


When taking a family holiday photo, get everyone to close the gaps by getting as close as they can to each other.  If you can see any background between two people, have them get in closer, tighter, for a more affectionate feel.  Overlap each other.  See how mom is overlapping dad, the oldest son is overlapping the parents, etc.  I’m blurring the lines that separate them by keeping everyone physically close and tight.  Watch me demonstrate this in 30 Minute Family Photos with Nate Berkus!

6. Allow For Playfulness


I can set the family up for a great group photo, but if one of the kids has another plan in mind, I go with that!  I want the family photos to be fun, make my clients laugh, capture the essence of personalities, dynamics…and the messier the better!  What makes this year’s holiday photo your BEST one yet?  Visit my blog for reflections I’ve collected over the years, after shooting hundreds of families, on what makes a family holiday photo the BEST one.

7. Mix It Up With Dad


Over the last decade, every time I take a family portrait of dad and the kids–dad wants something different.  Nine out of ten times, he wants to be doing some kind of action with the kids whether it’s tickling them, chasing them, or even kicking up fall leaves.  Ask dad what kind of action he’d like to capture with the kids.  Be prepared for something you wouldn’t necessarily think of.  I’m always surprised by what dad’s say!  I LOVE IT!

8. Action Leads To Natural Smiles


Right after the action is over, have dad and the kids lean in to each other and look at the camera.  You won’t even have to ask them to smile because the joy will be shining in their eyes and smiles already!

9. Tip For Slimming Down Women


If you are not going to take an up-close family photo, leave a little room above their heads and below their wastes.  Cutting women off at the waste in a photo can make us look even bigger.  Get far enough back or zoom out so that their knees are almost at the bottom of the photo.  This is much more slimming, and grandma and great grandma will LOVE you for it!

10. Keep a Watch For the Unexpected


This is another all-time favorite portrait!  I’m taking the previous photo of grandma and great grandma, when all of a sudden the other family members start laughing.  I lower my camera, and look who has joined the moment!  The family told me how connected the great granddaughter is to great grandma, never wants to leave her side.  Keeping one eye open for the unexpected moments will set you up to capture unforgettable moments!

11. To Look Or Not Look At the Camera


Sometimes I have the parents not look at the camera.  Notice how mom is looking upward and smiling, and dad is adoring her?  Love the looks on their faces.  They tell me so much about how deep their love goes.  This dynamic of not always looking at the camera for the holiday photo can create a sweet energy between mom and dad that is more picture perfect than everyone smiling at the camera.

12. First Holiday


If it’s baby’s first holiday, stay inside.  Dress them down to the diaper and have mom wear a spaghetti strap tank top so lots of skin can show.  This creates a beautiful, natural look that is wonderful to capture the first year.  Have baby face the window light, as parents tuck into each other.  I love to have mom and dad in the shadows because I feel like it creates an even greater feeling of love, peacefulness, intimacy versus everyone being in the light.  Shadows is where mystery lives, and emotion runs deep.

*Get 5 MORE Photo Tips that will Change Your Photos Overnight when You Subscribe to Me Ra’s newsletter!

For more Holiday Family Photo Tips, visit my Pinterest page!

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7 Tips for Photographing Kids with Monuments

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Photograph Kids Using Soft Light and Blurred Backgrounds (VIDEO)

*To see more videos with fun photo tips, see my Disney Junior show Capture Your Story with Me Ra Koh

Me Ra Koh is proud to be one of Sony’s Artisans of Imagery.  All photos shot with the Sony a99 DSLR.

Article Posted 3 years Ago

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