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10 Tips for Awesome Holiday Card Photographs

‘Tis the season of family portraits, holiday cards, and spending time with loved ones. What better way to capture new memories than with a family portrait to share with others and to treasure at home? To get you started, here are ten tips for taking a holiday photo that will wow everyone.

1. Have your kids do something they love. You always get the best results if you catch your children in a happy moment—whether they’re playing in the park or enjoying big, colorful lollipops. (Though you may want to save the lollipops for the end, as both a reward for cooperation and to prevent candied lips and sticky fingers.)

2. Capture natural expressions. Try using silly songs or words or private jokes that make them laugh. Some people even use an app that has a whole bunch of different fart sounds with silly names.

3. Be creative. Photograph your kids from a variety of angles and distances. Don’t be afraid to try a bird’s-eye view, where you photograph them from above, or a worm’s-eye view, where you photograph your subject from down low.

4. Location matters! Remember to assess the background for your portrait. It shouldn’t be too busy or distracting. Look carefully through the lens to make sure that there’s nothing behind the main subjects—like a tree or a sign post—that looks as if it could be extending out of someone’s head.

5. Understand your equipment. Read your manual so that you can achieve your technical and artistic goals. Once you understand your camera, you can use it more creatively. Consider using a wide aperture (F 2.8) so that you have a soft, blurred background behind your subject.

6. Lighting is key. Figure out where the sun is and make sure your subjects are lit fairly evenly. Try to avoid harsh shadows and overly bright direct sunlight.

7. Timing is everything. Make sure the kids are well-rested and fed. Bring snacks, a drink, a change of clothes, and a hairbrush or comb if you shoot outside of your home. Be patient and wait for the right moment to press the shutter—even if that moment comes on a different day. It also helps to have another adult on the scene. It’s tough trying to be a parent and photographer at the same time!

8. Bring props. A few of my favorites are: balloons, balls, hats, scarves, bows, tutus, lollipops, bubbles, and any of your child’s favorite toys. Also think seasonally. If you can capture the fun being had with a few amusing props, you’re well on your way to a great holiday portrait.

9. If all else fails…consider leaving it to the professionals. You can always hire a photographer to take your family portrait, which also allows you to be in it! When hiring a professional, make sure to first view their website to see if you like their style and vision before contacting them. Discuss location, wardrobe, best time of day for shooting, and any specific ideas you might have for props or poses. Don’t be hesitant to express your needs. Remember, these photographs should be artwork you will celebrate, treasure, and admire for a lifetime.

10. Have fun! Spending time together as a family around the holidays is all about enjoying each other’s company. Don’t forget to have fun while shooting your family portrait. Karen Haberberg is a New York City-based portrait and event photographer. In addition to her freelance work, Karen currently teaches at New York University and 92Y. She lives in Manhattan with her husband and two children.


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