How to take your own Christmas Card Picture!
As parents, we get WAY TOO STRESSED about taking a Christmas card picture. So let’s just say from the beginning that getting a family photo for your holiday card is not on the same level as finding a cure for cancer. This is not going to fix global warming. This is not saving for college educations or averting a nuclear crisis. It’s taking a picture.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s focus on some tips to make that picture a reality.
Choose a good time
Think about when your kids are at their most pleasant. Is it right after breakfast? Is it Sunday afternoon when they have had a chance to recharge over the weekend? Whenever that magic time may be in your house, use it to your advantage. Set aside 15 minutes to capture your picture. It really can be any time of day so long as it is during daylight hours.
Choose a good location
Decide on a spot that has what pros call “open shade”. This is an area outside that is not in strong direct sunlight. The benefits of shooting in open shade are:
no harsh shadows
nobody will squint
you will not have to change your camera settings
You can find open shade in an area with lots of leafy trees or on the shady side of a building. There is no need to venture to a location with epic beauty since your family will take up most of the image. A backyard or local park is usually perfect.
Don’t make it a big deal
Try to underplay the importance of getting a nice picture. Do not set expectations for small children to behave a certain way and definitely do not bribe them, as this usually just makes them focus on getting the bribe as quickly as possible and not necessarily cooperating. Keep a very lighthearted and happy disposition while you are getting ready and your kids will pick up on this happiness and mirror it back to you. If possible, get your camera set up before you get your family involved so that they do not lose patience at “crunch time”. Do not skip over this step. It’s key.
Prepare clothes, but be flexible
You may have some idealized notions about what everyone should wear… perfectly coordinated yet not too matchy-matchy outfits, anyone? That’s great, but if little two-year-old Johnny insists on wearing his favorite Thomas the Tank Engine t-shirt just go with it. The friends and family who will receive your card will remember his smiling face much longer than they remembered his t-shirt. Teens can be just as tricky so be flexible with wardrobe when it comes to older kids too!
Stop all photography efforts if things go south
There may be points along the way when the photo process is not going as planned. It’s often best to stop altogether and try another time. Forcing your children to cooperate or struggling with your camera is not the goal. Forego and revisit later.
Keep the setup super simple
Wherever you decide to photograph family, there is no need to bring in extra props or try a complicated posing setup. At most, bring a blanket to sit on if you are outside and the ground is damp. Otherwise, simply group yourselves together either sitting or standing, with tall folks in the back and short folks in the front.
Use a higher f/stop than you think you need
When capturing multiple family members in a grouping, some people will be a little bit further away from the camera than others. To guarantee that you get a picture with everyone in focus, set your f/stop to 3.5 or 4.2 at a minimum. There is no reason to shoot at a low f-stop like 1.8. Don’t be afraid to go even higher to 5.6 or 8 if you’d like. Go ahead and set your camera to Aperture Priority Mode and let the camera calculate the rest of the exposure.
Keep your camera stable
Use a tripod or set your camera on something stable. If you are venturing away from your home to take the picture, say to a local park, you may want to bring a sturdy cardboard box to set your camera on if you do not have a tripod. It is not recommended that you set your camera on the ground. The angle of the shot when shooting on the ground is likely to be unflattering.
Use the timer and multiple exposure functions
Yes, you can! This is the most “technical” part of the whole undertaking. All DSLRS have a timer function. It is usually on the main dial. Get everyone set up in a pose and figure out how you, as the photographer, can get into the picture smoothly after pressing the timer button. As the photographer, you will be doing a little jogging back and forth between the camera and your family so make it easy on yourself and try to slide in on the side of your grouping. Additionally, your camera may have a multiple exposure function. This instructs the camera to take a burst of shots, not just one. Using this function you are likely to capture more people with their eyes open and looking happy.
For the gadget nerds
If you want to make it even easier, invest in a remote trigger. This little doodad lets you trigger the shutter on your camera without using a self-timer function. So you can sit there with your family and simply click the button in your hand without having to run back and forth to the camera!
And finally… Remember the reason you are doing this
The purpose of a family photo on a Christmas card is to share warm wishes with friends and family. These are people you love, and they love you. It’s not a competition. No one is judging you. Having a picture full of happy smiles showing your family as it is at this moment in time is worth more than perfectly coordinated outfits, an epic landscape or a flawless set up!