Annapolis Family Photographer | Holiday Card Photo Tips

holiday card photo tips

Oh man!  How did it get to be December??  Christmas is sneaking up on us already!   Time for parties, gifts, family, and holiday cards.  I’m gonna be honest here for a sec--in my adult life, I’ve sent out Christmas cards ONCE.  That was my first year after I graduated college and I was being a ‘grown up’.  That was the end of it for me.   I attempted it the next year but procrastinated and never managed send them out.   

I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m thinking that many of you maybe haven’t gotten your photos taken/chosen for your cards yet.   I know lots of photogs out there do holiday ‘mini sessions’ for this specific purpose.  (I am not one of them--it’s just not my jam.  I would LOVE to do an in home “holiday traditions” session with you though--message me for info on that!)  At this point, probably most of these professionals are booked or may not be able to schedule you for a session in time to get your cards out..  

But don’t fret!  You can do them yourself this year.  Whether you want a shot of just the kids or one of the whole family (including YOU), I’ve got a handful of tips for you to make things go a little more smoothly.

 

This is the room where I took the rest of the photos for this post.    Notice open blids and lots of natural light.  

This is the room where I took the rest of the photos for this post.    Notice open blids and lots of natural light.  

******Before we start, let’s get something straight.  You’re going to PRACTICE with a stuffed animal or doll before you torture your family and make everyone get all dressed up and behave while you figure out what you’re doing.  Nothing says “Happy Holidays!” like a picture of disheveled, crabby kids who are over the whole situation by the time you get it your settings right.  

 

1.  Lighting--very important.  If you’re doing this in the house in front of the tree, your pics will come out much better if you work in broad daylight.  Don’t wait for night time when the tree is lit.  You’ll be disappointed with the results.   Use the natural light you have from your windows and doors.  Open everything up as wide as possible and let the sunshine in.  TURN OFF ALL YOUR OTHER LIGHTS.  If you don’t, your camera will get confused and your kids will come out all weird colors.  Trust me on this.     If you have to turn on lights, try to only use the ones that will be coming from behind your camera (ie: shining on your kids’ faces).     Position your kids between the light from the windows and your tree.

DO NOT use the flash unless your want a super bright tree with zero twinkle/magic.  Again, trust me on this.    **(see my note below for exceptions)

 

2. Camera Settings--the tricky part.  Now that you’ve figured out your lighting, we are moving on to the most important part of this post.  

I’m going to assume you have an entry level DSLR or higher end point and shoot.  You can adjust your settings with these types of cameras. I’m also going to assume you know what at least *some* of the buttons are for. For this situation, we will be shooting in AV  or A mode.  (Aperture Priority Mode, NOT automatic.)  When you’re using this setting, you will be controlling how much light gets thru the lens and into the camera.  Dial this setting to the lowest number that it will go to.  (This is also called an F-stop if you’re looking this up in your user’s manual.)   Usually most lenses will go down to somewhere around 4 or even lower.   The lower the number, the ‘blurrier’ the background.  But you also run a higher risk of having blurry subjects due to them moving around or YOU moving around.  If you have one, use a tripod.  If you don’t, set your camera on something like a stack of books or a chair to keep your movement down if you need to.  

Take a few test shots and see what you see.  Is it too dark?  If it is, then you will need to raise your ISO.  ISO is a number that tells you how sensitive to light your camera is.  The higher the ISO number, the more sensitive your camera is, and the brighter your photo gets.    Take a few more test shots.  Still too dark? You may have to turn on a light or two if you are all the way at your highest ISO setting and it’s still too dark.  And make sure your F-stop is as low at it will go too.  

(if you want more info on all the technical mumbo jumbo I was going on about just now, please check this out for the first post in my Handle Your Camera Like A Boss series.)

a simple flash diffuser that you can make out of waxed paper and scotch tap.  just slip this over your pop up flash and it will help cut out some of the harsh glare from the flash.

a simple flash diffuser that you can make out of waxed paper and scotch tap.  just slip this over your pop up flash and it will help cut out some of the harsh glare from the flash.

**If all this is stressing you out or you’re still not getting good results, try flipping your camera back to automatic mode, or P mode and see if that gives you acceptable results.  In these settings your camera makes all the decisions about how much light gets in and all sorts of other technical stuff.  Sometimes it does a good job, other times it doesn’t.   You might get lucky and like what you see.    You can also put a diffuser on your pop up flash if your camera has one. Take some waxed paper and a piece of scotch tape and make a little cover that goes over your flash.  It helps take away that harsh ‘flash’ look that we are trying to avoid, but still adds some extra light.  Please practice using this if you have to go this route.  You have to make sure the whole flash is covered with the paper otherwise you get some funky crazy lighting problems.

in the first shot I'm in AV mode--I chose the f stop number (3.5).    The camera chose the shutter speed (1/80).   In the second shot, the camera was in auto mode.  Notice that it isn't quite as bright.  That's because the ISO is lower--so the camera isn't as sensitive to the light.   The shutter speed is also slower, and this increases your chases of blurry photos.    so in this case, we are better off choosing the settings ourselves.           ****  because this shutter speed is quite low (especially for wiggly kids),  I'd highly recommend upping the ISO here--doing so will allow the shutter speed  to increase and you will get better photos with less motion blur in them.

in the first shot I'm in AV mode--I chose the f stop number (3.5).    The camera chose the shutter speed (1/80).   In the second shot, the camera was in auto mode.  Notice that it isn't quite as bright.  That's because the ISO is lower--so the camera isn't as sensitive to the light.   The shutter speed is also slower, and this increases your chases of blurry photos.    so in this case, we are better off choosing the settings ourselves.           ****  because this shutter speed is quite low (especially for wiggly kids),  I'd highly recommend upping the ISO here--doing so will allow the shutter speed  to increase and you will get better photos with less motion blur in them.

3.  Posing and Positioning your kids--The way to make your family stand out from the tree is to move your kids out away from the tree and towards your camera.  This will also make it easier to get the lights and tree a little blurry.  

One great tip for taking ANY kind of pictures of your kids is to get down at their level.   Standing and aiming your camera down at them from up where you are makes the photo seem a bit amateur.  We are trying to avoid that.   You get a straight on beautiful photo of your angelic beauties if you are down where they are.  If your kids are really little and the bareness, wires and dust under the tree is showing, work some creative magic--scrunched up holiday blankets or pillows might do the trick to make it look a little more festive.    You may want to put your kids up higher on chairs or pillows to get them up away from the very bottom of the tree.  

when i moved olaf close to the "tree" the lights become less blurry and twinkly.    in the second shot, he's a few feet away from the "tree" and we get the blurry lights in the background.

when i moved olaf close to the "tree" the lights become less blurry and twinkly.    in the second shot, he's a few feet away from the "tree" and we get the blurry lights in the background.

4.  LET THEM BE SILLY.  For real.  You will get way better results if you let them enjoy themselves.  Real smiles, real laughs….  I’m all about REAL.    However, if you have your heart set on a Pinterest Holiday Family photo, here’s what you do.  

  • Ask/Tell your kids that you really want to get a nice picture of everyone looking nice and behaving.  Grab this first shot when they comply.
  • Then tell your kids ‘ok, now make silly faces/poses’.  Grab a couple of fun shots.
  • Then tell them ‘ok, now I want to see everyone’s sweetest smiles’.  This one is your family card for the year.  
  • Bribery also works, but only use this as a last resort.  You don't want sticky candy/gum/crackers/smudges in these photos.
(My very wonderful and very talented photographer friend Tara, has very graciously allowed me to show you some examples of her family's holiday card "outtakes" over the years in order to demonstrate the point I was trying to make about how the silly stuff is sometimes the best.)

Please remember that the point of these holiday card photos is to share your beautiful family with all of your friends and relatives.  These people love you and only want to share in the joy of the holidays with you.   They aren’t going to think any less of you if you don’t send them THE perfect photo this year.  If they’re anything like me, they might actually prefer a card showing off everyone’s  personalities.  

If you need more help, shoot me an email or find me on Facebook.  I'd be more than happy to talk you off the ledge.  Even better--show off your beautiful work on IG with #redefinefamilyphotos.  I'd love to see you!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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