When I was a kid around this time every year my mom would drag us all out for the annual Christmas card photo. And every year we’d end up fighting and grumpy. When I had my own family I would do the same thing, with the same results. Trying to take family photos with a grumpy family is no fun.
Eventually, I learned a few secrets for hassle-free family photos that don’t leave everyone fighting and annoyed.
1) Keep it short – My last family Christmas card photo took 30 minutes
This will require a little organization and preparation. You’ll want to know ahead of time where you are going. But don’t just pick out the location. Know where at that location you want to go. If I’m hired to do a photo shoot for a location I’ve never been I will go there a day or two before and scout the location. I want to know where the good backdrops are and where the light looks the best. Once you have not only the location but also the specific areas of that location you can move quickly to get the shots you want.
These examples are from Jenny’s senior photo session in Rhododendron Gardens in Portland. It had been several years since I’d been there, I didn’t remember much of it, so I arrived early to scout the location. I found so many great locations my little photographers heart nearly burst with excitement. A charming pond, large grassy area, a bridge with so many possibilities and even *gasp* a waterfall!! I chose the locations I wanted to shoot and mapped out a loop through the 9-acre gardens that would allow us to efficiently use the location in the time allowed.
2) Don’t force it – This only makes people grumpier
In my various photography jobs over the years I’ve seen it time and again. The kid is tired, upset or just downright mad and the parents stand there, “come on smile”, “we’ll get ice cream if you’ll just stand here” or my favorite a threat of punishment if the child doesn’t smile. If you want good, relaxed and natural family photos you cannot force people into submission. You have to work with them.
This grandkids photo session was so much fun!! For this photo, the girls wanted to have everyone climb the tree. The young man had no interest in this venture. I’ll admit I was disappointed he didn’t want to climb the tree and his family tried to convince him. But I didn’t want to force him into something he obviously didn’t want to do. So instead I had him stand at the base of the tree and the expression on his face just makes this photo! Because I listened and didn’t push him I ended up with a better photo because his personality shines through giving this image a fun and comical quality.
3) Plan for a time when everyone is rested – Especially young kids
Several years ago I worked for a Santa at a local shopping mall. I spent Thanksgiving thru Christmas taking pictures of kids sitting on Santa’s lap. I saw it happen time and time again, kids tired from shopping or being out late unable to handle one more holiday thing. Then their parents would set them on a strangers lap and tell them to smile. Instead, the kid would have a meltdown. While it can make for some hilarious photos, most parents would get frustrated their child would not cooperate. When your kids are tired, it’s time to stop.
This sweet family hired me to take their family photos several years ago. Oh my, it’s hard to imagine how old these kids must be now. We wandered all over their little town, taking pictures and ended up in this field right around sunset. That’s about the time the little guy decided he was done. I was able to snap this photo and that was the end of the session. I think it’s a fun family photo that shows what having young kids is truly like. But it’s probably not one you’d want as a 20×30 canvas on your wall. 😉
4) Let everyone have input – Giving kids a voice keeps them involved and they are less likely to get bored
When I took my family out for our annual Christmas photo shoot, everyone would get a turn posing and taking the photo. Kids can come up with some really fun ideas. You never know what you’ll end up with when you hand over the control. Sometimes their ideas are better. 😉
This family was so much fun to photograph because they had so many great ideas. The tree image above and this jumping image were both their ideas. I find these images way more engaging than everyone lined up smiling for the camera. When people are involved in the process, they have more fun and thus more genuine smiles.
5) Give them something to do
Having something to do helps people to relax. When the camera comes out, people automatically tense up. So give them something to do with their hands or something to look at.
Several years ago I was visiting my friend in South Dakota, while there she asked me to take their family photos. We had a fun day running around the park taking pictures. We decided to take a break from the heat and take a couple photos in the shade of this tree. Their dog plopped down and they all turned to look at him, and I snapped the shot! This is one of my favorite images because it shows them connecting as a family with their dog.
My sister on occasion will ask me to take their family photos. With 3 boys and a dad who likes to goof off, they can be quite the challenge to photograph. This year I figured out the secret . . . . give them something to do. They had a lot of fun throwing leaves multiple times so I could get this shot.
6) Play together and have fun
Sometimes we make photography to serious. Stand here, smile, and take the picture. We miss the connection and interaction we have as a family when we shoot this way. So loosen up, have some fun, and be silly. You’ll enjoy these pictures much more in the future, than the stiff and posed images.
Have I mentioned that taking photos of my sister’s family can be tough? I learned this lesson when we tried getting family photos on the football field. It was going ok until we brought in the football for a prop. With this football-crazed family that was the wrong thing to do. My photo shoot suddenly became a football game. But I got some fun shots of this athletic family. This one is one of my favorites from this session because my at the time, 1-year-old niece lined up to take on the whole family. It makes me giggle every time.
My friend wanted her family photos on the beach this year. While I was taking photo’s of one of the boys, mom and daughter started playing one of those clapping games. I swung my camera around to capture photos of them interacting. The game quickly dissolved into some silliness that resulted in mom grabbing her daughter to pull her in for a hug. I snagged this image. I love the connection and joy of this photo.
Family Photo’s don’t have to be the thing everyone dreads. Be silly, get everyone involved, but most of all have fun and enjoy your family.
7) Hire a professional – You knew I’d throw this one in 😉
This could probably be a blog post all its own. By letting a professional do all the heavy lifting, you can take a lot of stress off you and your family when it comes to getting family photos. In addition, a professional will bring years of experience, education, and knowledge to the photo shoot to ensure you get family images that you love.
Contact me today to book your family photo session! (shameless plug) 😉
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