If you are like me you spend A LOT of time prepping for holiday pictures. Can I just congratulate you on booking a photographer? Half the battle right there people. I spent a few short years taking photos of families,  including several for their holiday cards.  I have been on both sides of the camera. I know what it looks like. You made it to your location without ketchup on anyone’s clothing or faces and she hasn’t ripped the bow off her head yet… you should feel like a million bucks! Here are a couple of tips you may NOT have considered yet.

1. Consider the Time.  If you are using a natural light photographer the time of day to shoot will be key. Generally the lighting is best an hour or two after the sun comes up and the hour or two before the sun goes down. Are your kids morning people? Are you? Would the afternoon be better or is it during nap time? Consider travel time.

2. Choose an Authentic Location. Think of your family’s favorite places to be. Everyone will be more relaxed in an environment they loved. Are you choosing to shoot at the beach just because it is beautiful,  which is  fine, or does your family really spend a lot of time there?  Think outside the beaches and fields box. Although I love both of these locations and have shot my family there many times, consider something that may be more authentic and reflective of who you are as a family. Your family will know what to expect and be more relaxed and natural in a familiar environment. Two years ago we had our photographer come out to our campground where we were camping. Last year our photographer captured us just getting ready for school, pancakes and all, in our home. Both of these locations worked great because the kids were busy doing what they do in coordinated outfits. Make it real. Make it you. There is nothing wrong with the beach or a field but if you know your family is going to struggle through the pictures taken there think of something they may enjoy more.  I have seen amazing pictures taken at the county fair, the zoo, an ice cream shop or donut store or out riding horses.  The more comfortable they are the better and the better luck you will have getting them to cooperate next year.

3. Embrace Lifestyle Photography. The great thing about the digital photography boom of 2004 was that a new kind of photography emerged from talents like tara whitney. Lifestyle photography. It is a mom’s best friend. we have all killed ourselves trying to get that perfect shot of everyone looking right at the camera and smiling with ease. but why, i say? why? instead of yelling at your kids to look at the camera and smile actually make them smile. have fun. that is when true, sincere moments emerge. moments that will last you much longer then your frozen smiling faces. Remember the more positive you make this photo shoot experience, the better the next one will be, so have fun. be yourselves. relax. To me there is so much more interest and depth to a family photo of the family doing what the family does. Teasing, laughing, balancing on a wall, singing, jumping, playing, walking on tippy toes, reading, drawing, eating, making cookies together, swimming, building legos, wrestling, picnicking… All of these are fun activities that will help everyone stay happy, smiling and engaged.

4. Layer Lightly, but Layer. Layers add a great deal of interest to photos, but layer too bulky and you are going to look bulky. If you layer too many pieces your kids will get frustrated and start stripping off clothes. Oh is that just my family?  I always have two layers on top with my kids. If they decide to start ripping their sweater off there is a collared shirt underneath. It is also a great bargaining tool. ” I hate this sweater mom!”

“Oh okay, do you like the shirt underneath better? Take off the sweater the collared shirt is fine. Its up to you, sweater or collared shirt?”

My husband is in a constant state of overheating and mildly simmering. I want him to wear that wool jacket, I really really do, but if I force him to he will be red, sweating and completely bugged with me. Not going to do it.

A few of my favorite go to layering pieces for pictures are:  henleys, cardigans, scarves, collared shirts with undershirts, thin knits, leggings and vests.

5. Add Texture. Use knit scarves, leather boots, heathered sleeves, leather trim, fur accents, crinkled khakis, nubby beach blankets,  anything that has an interesting but subtle texture.

6. Bring Fruit Snacks. Crackers crumble. Lollipops turn smiles blue. Chocolate melts. Although we are not a big fruit snack family I have some on hand for pictures. They are easy to hide in the mouth, disappear quickly, don’t make a mess when they spill, are easily hid in my pocket  and make my kids happy.

7. Share the Love. Tell your photographer a couple things about each kid in your family. Often times before a shoot I would print up images of the child’s favorite characters. Instead of holding a stuffed animal on my head I would hold the characters picture just under my lens and ask the kids if they could find it. It makes for great close ups and sparkling eyes. Or if your little one is in the middle of a melt down the photographer can distract them with chit chat about some of their favorite things.  Some of our best shots of Ello are of him roaring like a lion and racing like a motorcycle. For the older kids the photographer can make them comfortable by asking them what they are painting in art, what their horses’ name is, what kind of skateboard they have, where their favorite place to surf is or what color their soccer jersey is. When your photographer has a little knowledge they can quickly distract or interact with your children without needing you to chime in all the time.

You know how it goes with a teen or tween. mom, trying to get the teen to look like she is enjoying herself and actually likes their family says “honey, tell our photographer how you made the dance team.”  this is met by rolled eyes and annoyance. Instead, let the photographer take the lead, ” I hear you dance at TBC, who is your instructor?” or ” What song are you working on for your holiday performance?” or “What high school did you play in Friday’s game?”

8. Bring Non Distracting Props: Feeling like you can venture out of the home for this shoot?  Try bringing a couple photo friendly props with you to distract little hands while not distracting from the picture. Think wooden building blocks or  cars, plush animals or  dolls and tents or teepees.

9. If you can, play music. Music fills awkward silences. It loosens people up. It makes people happy.