Taking those perfect holiday photographs is not as easy as it looks. From capturing those "Look what Santa left!" wrapping-paper-tossing photos to professional-grade family photos, we've got all the mom-tested tips you need to forever commemorate your special moments this season.
Mom and photographer Michelle Maffei says, "The worst thing you can do when taking a family photo is to yell at your kids. Even if they aren't smiling perfectly or looking directly at the camera, resist the urge to snap at your youngsters or you'll end up with a portrait filled with frowns — guaranteed!"
Mom of two and photographer Shawna Steverson suggests searching Pinterest (with the keyword phrases "family portraits" and "family photography") to get some ideas of what you'd like your holiday photos to look like. However, she notes that some of the best shots are unplanned and come from your own ideas.
Model, blogger and mom of three Shelley GoodStein says moms tend to be the ones snapping all the pictures. So she reminds you to hand over the camera to someone else so you're in some of your holiday photos, too!
She says, "If you're not that confident about the way you look, no worries, because now you have the perfect prop for a profile picture: an adorable child! My favorite expressions of all the photos I take are in the ones I have with my kids, because I don't have to fake the feeling to capture a genuine smile. It comes naturally and easily when my kids are in my arms."
Shelley has another little secret for helping those self-conscious moms get themselves into the photos.
She says, "One little cheat to use is to position your child in front of you for a photo. This does a couple things. Anything closest to the lens looks the biggest, so you instantly lose 10 pounds, and when the camera focuses automatically, it will be sharp on your child because [he or she is] front and center, giving just a little softer and kinder focus on your own face. This helps hide any little worry lines or bags under the eyes from lack of sleep. We all put our kids first anyway, so why not do it when you're taking a photo?"
When it comes to how you should dress for your holiday photos, Shelley says, "Basically, kids should dress like kids and adults like grown-ups. But leave the superhero T-shirts at home! Solids are best, but one person in a small stripe or plaid will be OK. Mid-tones, like blues, work great. But if everyone is dressed in denim, it will look like a sea of blue, so add some complementary colors in the same tone or go all pastels/vivid or [with] a variety of earth tones. You want to think coordinating, not match-y."
When it comes to capturing those memorable, quick-as-a-flash present-opening moments, Danielle Hark — portrait photographer, wellness writer, mental health advocate and mother to a 3-year-old — says, "Try getting down to their level by crawling or even lying down and shooting upward. It may sound silly or unnatural, but this change in perspective can really change the impact of a shot. You are more likely to get their faces and expressions, not just the tops of their heads, and they will beautifully fill the frame."
To avoid the dreaded shot filled with scary red eyes, Danielle suggests ditching the flash if you can't get enough light in the room.
She adds, "If the room is too dark and you are getting motion blur without a flash, you can use a tripod or balance your camera on a flat surface. Without the flash, your photo will look more natural and have a warm holiday glow."
I've noticed that a great photo op can happen anytime, anywhere — so it helps to have a grab-and-go camera that is small enough to carry with you at all times and pull out when the moment strikes. We at SheKnows like the Canon Rebel SL1 for precisely this reason.
Danielle says you should choose the background or setting for your photos wisely. She suggests using a simple, uncluttered background.
She says, "I prefer texture [to] flat backgrounds, such as the greenery of a park or a weathered brick wall or barn door."
Mom of three Laura Crawford says, "I say be natural. Keep it real. If the kids are screaming and sticking out their tongues in the picture, send it. That's life and memories, and the family will love it."
Author and mother Maria Mora advises against trying to get a good shot of your family smiling in front of your Christmas tree.
She notes, "It can be very difficult to achieve good lighting and clarity in your home by the Christmas tree. If you're not used to fussing with your camera settings, gather up the kids and head to a local holiday display. Shoot in the evening when the light outside is gentle and flattering. If you struggle to get your kids organized and all looking the same way, work with props and plan on using a candid photo. Silly poses with candy canes, streamers, tinsel or holiday stuffed animals are adorable and save you from saying, 'Look at the camera!' 500 times."
Mom and photographer Amy Termini says, "The holidays are chock-full of awesome moments. Remember that the details of these moments are just as important as the big picture. Think of before-and-after shots. For example, take some awesome close-ups of your grandma's famous pumpkin pie, and then get the "after" shot of your son's empty plate and whipped cream on his lip. Or take a pretty picture of presents under the tree on Christmas Eve and then the wrapping paper disaster after everyone is done opening presents. And don't forget the present 'beauty' shot either, with the opened presents arranged under the tree so you can remember what everyone got that year."
Shawna also advises against getting your hair done in a drastic new way right before taking photos, styling it differently from how you normally would or wearing a hairstyle that doesn't complement the clothing you're wearing (for example, rocking an elegant updo with jeans and T-shirts).
She adds that your normal hairstyle works best in photos because "your portrait will be more timeless and represent more closely who you are, not just what you look like."
Christine Southerland, a mom of two kids under the age of 4, suggests scheduling a family photo session during a time when your kids' temperaments are at their best — say after mealtime or a nap. And if it's just not going well, a little incentive could change the direction of their expressions.
Christine insists she "isn't above bribery" when it comes to getting an adorable photo of her kids.
One final thought from Shelley GoodStein: "Don't be overly concerned about the messy hair or skinned knees. These photos are for you — to document your life. And if you decide to send out holiday cards... well, your real friends don't judge! Be yourself, and let the love for your family show through genuinely. These are the shots people talk about!
Keep lighting in mind when you are taking photos outside. Don't plan a photo shoot for your family in the middle of the day when the sun is shining bright, as your family members will end up squinting through the session. Soft early-morning and early-evening lighting is ideal.
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