How To Take Fabulous Family Photos

Pros dish on ways to make yours picture perfect

Maybe you’re searching for a few fresh poses that don’t involve parking your brood squarely on the sofa. You might be dying to depart from boring black clothes for this year’s shot, but too tired to pull together coordinating outfits. Or perhaps you just want your on-the-go toddler to sit still long enough for you to click the shutter (bonus points if he’s actually looking at the camera!).

Before you yell “Enough!” and start doctoring last year’s photos, read on for pro tips to help make this year’s holiday shoot a winner.


Get Inspired

Give your creative process a jolt via the online inspiration-hub, Search for “holiday family photos” to peruse striking family shots featuring unique props, non-standard locales, and distinctive poses. Create your own pin board of inspiring images — and don’t forget to share your favorites with your photographer.


Consider the Color Wheel

Dressing everyone in perfectly color-matched duds does little to showcase family members’ unique personalities, says Maui family photographer Karma Hill. For polished pictures, think “coordinate,” not “match.”       

“It’s like decorating a room,” says Hill. “You don’t use one color — you choose different colors that work well together.”

For traditionalists, photographer Emily Johnston of Pix by Emily in Gilbert, Arizona, recommends working a singular bright tone into each person’s outfit in a different way — like a red tie for dad, a red scarf for mom, and red sweaters for the kids. For a trendier look, pick a variety of colors within a similar family, like jewel tones, yellows, or gray hues from heather to charcoal.


Accessory Appeal

“A few fun, bold accessories add sharp details that make your pictures pop,” says Johnston. “Things like a flower headband for a little girl, a long layered necklace for mom, bright earrings for a teen girl, or a large wristwatch for dad.” Bonus: Letting style-conscious tweens choose a hip accessory helps ease the sting of donning parent-selected portrait attire.


Pick a Prime Time

Children are difficult to photograph under the best of circumstances, and if they’re tired or hungry, you’re not likely to get the shot you want. “If you have very young children, time photos for when they first wake up from a nap or first thing in the morning after breakfast,” says Hill.


Watch the Light

Lighting determines your photo’s quality and mood, and muddy lighting spoils an otherwise stellar shot. “Open shade” — a patch of shade surrounded by light — is ideal, says Hill. Avoid midday sun or harsh overhead indoor lights that cast unflattering dark shadows. Instead, aim for light which streams in at an angle (a condition that occurs naturally in the morning and late afternoon). And beware the unneeded flashbulb: “Using the flash lends unnatural color to skin,” says Hill.


Get Some Perspective

Ready to rise to the occasion? Photographing from up high (or down low) makes for surprising angles and interesting, frame-worthy photos. “For a fun, unique perspective, get on the floor to photograph your kids at their level,” says Johnston. Steer clear of the dreaded double chin on adults by stepping on a chair or stepladder and shooting from above.


Prop Shop

Props — objects that add meaning and dimension to photos — are the latest trend in family photography, says Johnston. Include a small chalkboard with a festive word like “Merry,” or “Joy.” A string of glowing Christmas lights is a prop with endless possibilities: try winding it around kids’ feet or letting toddlers explore the twinkling strand while you snap away.


Divide and Conquer

If the Holy Grail of family photos — all kids looking at the camera and smiling simultaneously — proves elusive, don’t lose hope. Snap individual photos of each child and have a friend or neighbor take a photo of mom and dad together. Use photo-editing software or a pre-made holiday card template with multiple photo openings to create a personalized photo collage.


Perfectly Yours

As for that group family portrait you want, it may help to soften your definition of “perfect.” Posed photos may not be your family’s thing, but an afternoon spent doing something you enjoy, whether it’s biking or playing together, could yield pure photo magic.

— Malia Jacobson is a nationally published journalist who loves snapping photos of her three kids.


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