One of the great joys of the holidays is receiving greeting cards with photos of your friends and extended family. But taking your family photo is another story. From selecting what to wear to getting the children to cooperate, the process can be filled with anxiety and pressure. Whether you're taking the snapshot yourself or headed to a professional studio, follow these 10 tips to reduce stress and get a frame-worthy photo.
1. Coordinate outfits but don't match.
You've seen it a million times: The entire family-from Grandma to the family dog-is wearing the exact same outfit. It's coordinated, but not necessarily sophisticated. Which is why New York City–based photographer Meg Miller of Meg Miller Photography recommends using a more general color scheme. "I tell clients to approach the family's wardrobe as if they were decorating a room. First pick a color scheme, then add different shades, textures and patterns," she says. And remember: "Neutrals, which include denim, can and should be mixed in." Chicago-based photographer Christopher Frackiewicz of Lunel Photography agrees, with one caveat: Match styles. "You don't want Dad in a suit and your son in shorts," he says.
2. Avoid big logos or patterns.
When coordinating outfits, avoid anything that will take attention away from the whole point of the photo-the people! "The most important thing is to avoid large logos or letters," Frackiewicz says. "All colors are OK; just make sure you don't mix too many busy patterns. If you have a striped shirt, wear solid-colored pants."
3. Don't wear too much makeup.
While you may hear celebrities talk about getting "camera ready," too much makeup for family portraits is never a good idea. "I would pick a daytime look with a bit more drama," Miller says. "For instance, wear eyeliner with your day eyeshadow color or a brighter lipcolor. Makeup should add some focus, not steal the show." And don't forget, Frackiewicz notes: "There's always Photoshop-it can do post-processing wonders."
4. Involve your children in the process.
Getting the kids together for your portrait doesn't have to be an unpleasant experience. "Allow your kids to be part of the planning. Let them pick out something to wear," suggests Miller. "This is a good way to make sure your child's personality is present in the image. After all, you are trying to capture your family at a given year." She also suggests planning a fun family event after the portrait session, so your brood has something to look forward to-which will also help keep them smiling and cooperative for that perfect family shot.
5. Search around for the right photographer.
Every photographer has a different style, so Frackiewicz recommends shopping around. "Some photographers offer perfect studio lighting but regular, common poses. Other photographers capture those journalistic moments." After you've selected your photographer, collaborate. "Call and tell them your ideas and thoughts. It's totally normal to have clients inquire about location and wardrobe options," Miller says.
6. Pick your setting carefully.
If you're planning on snapping the photo, choose the setting carefully, Frackiewicz says. "I don't care how cute your kid is, if I see a pile of dishes on the countertop in the background, the picture is ruined. Every element is important." Miller is particularly a fan of family portraits outdoors. "Fall and winter are such beautiful times of year in a natural environment. The less distracting, the better," she says. "Simple but picturesque is a good rule of thumb."
7. Lighting, lighting, lighting!
When taking the photo yourself, the right lighting is key. "Natural lighting is definitely best-not direct sunlight but shade or overcast skies," Miller says. "Just make sure light is on the subjects' faces evenly. Direct sunlight will only cause your subjects to squint and have dark shadows under their eyes."
8. Stop judging and relax.
Once you're in front of the camera, relax and enjoy the experience-and let your family do the same. Miller finds that when posing for portraits, "people are overly critical of themselves and their kids." But she notes that card recipients are going to be "thinking of how big Susie got, or what a fun image you captured. They are not looking to see if you are five pounds heavier or if Bobby is wearing shoes."
9. Forget about saying "cheese."
When prepping kids for a family photo, talk about it as something fun, not a task, Frackiewicz suggests. "Mentioning that they're about to have their pictures taken is OK, but telling kids how they have to smile when asked is not going to help," he insists. "Natural emotions are the key." Miller agrees: "Candid moments are the best to capture real personality, so keep shooting even when your kids stop saying 'cheese!'"
10. Take a lot of pictures.
If you're dealing with problem picture-takers-for example, someone who blinks a lot-follow the pros' lead and take a lot of pictures, Frackiewicz says. "Take 10 or more of the same pose. One will turn out perfect and nine will go in the recycling bin. These digital days you don't have to worry about running out of film!"
Photos: courtesy of Meg Miller, MegMillerPhotography.com
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