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How to Take Great Family Photos

How to take the perfect family portrait for the holidays

Formal portraits by Joanne Posse

Ready to upgrade the quality of your family photos? To help you take your holiday picture-taking from ho-hum to ho-ho-ho, MetroKids’ go-to portrait specialist — Gladywyne, PA-based photographer Joanne Posse — has pro tips to help you capture the best possible shots for your annual album and holiday card.

What to wear in a family photo

Matchy-matchy dressing does little to showcase each family member’s unique personality. “Always mix it up; wear something you feel great in,” says Posse.

Subdue the urge to all don Eagles jerseys or wear white shirts over khakis, which “makes everyone’s face look like a floating hat.” Instead, coordinate. Work a single bright tone into each person’s outfit — a red tie for dad, a red scarf for mom, red headbands or stripes for the kids.

Photo color choices

Neutral-colored clothing draws attention to the faces in your pics — unless, Posse says, you’re shooting against a neutral backdrop, like a sandy beach. In that case it’s better to choose something livelier: Go for “a Lilly Pulitzer dress with all those fun colors,” she suggests. To appear slimmer, don’t wear white; it reflects upward and emphasizes the appearance of a double chin. And unless you’ve got arms like Michelle Obama’s, darker-toned tops with sleeves are the most universally flattering.

Accessories in pictures

Bold accessories add sharp details: a focal-point necklace for mom, a large wristwatch for dad. Let style-conscious kids select a hip accent to ease the eye-rolling that can accompany a formal portrait sitting. Girls can pick a bright barrette or rainbow-loomed bracelet; boys, a funky shark-tooth or guitar-pick necklace. Avoid hats, says Posse; they “cast strange shadows” down on the face.

Props in family photos

Props — fairy lights entwined around kids’ feet, small chalkboards emblazoned with festive tidings — are a prominent  trend in family photography. Unless the prop is a beloved pet whose presence relaxes a stiff poser, however, Posse is loath to include something too “distracting” in the shot. “You want the focus to be on the person, not the prop,” she explains. “You also want the picture to look timeless; if you stick Elmo in, it won’t be.”

Family photo lighting

Lighting determines your photo’s quality and mood. “Open shade” — a patch of shade surrounded by light, say, under a tree — is ideal, says Posse. “If it’s freezing outside, shoot indoors close to a window so that natural light wraps around people’s faces.” Always shoot on an angle with the sun behind your shoulder, which casts a “flat, full light” on your subjects. Avoid midday sun or harsh overhead lights that cause dark under-eye shadows, and beware the flash bulb. “Natural light is always the key,” says Posse. “If you can find it, use it.”

Family camera angles

Surprising angles make for interesting photos. Get on the floor to photograph kids at their level. For adults, step on a low chair or stepladder and shoot from above to steer clear of the dreaded double chin. On level ground, “Don’t shoot into a parallel position, where you’re always making sure that the mantelpiece is perfectly straight across,” says Posse. “Instead, shoot into a corner.”

Portrait prime time

Remember, young children are difficult to photograph under ideal circumstances, and you’re unlikely to get a usable shot if they’re tired or hungry. Schedule the picture shoot immediately post-breakfast or as soon as afternoon nap is over.

Divide and conquer

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

See inspirational holiday cards on our dedicated Pinterest board.

Malia Jacobson is a nationally published freelance writer specializing in parenting.

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