The secret to taking great family portraits is to have a colorful background, have everyone dress in colors that match or contrast with the background, have plenty of natural light, and take the shots as close as possible.
I just took a Christmas portait of my one-year-old niece. Her dress was red and white, mostly white, so I bought 2 yards of red fabric with roses and two yards of white net-type fabric. I attached the red to the wall with straight pins, draped the net over top, also attached with straight pins. I added a couple of white plastic snowflakes too the wall, attached the same way. Then I handed the baby a snowflake.
While she was looking at it delightedly, I snapped away. Always be sure to have light behind your subject as well as in front of it. The people at Wal-Mart thought we had it down at a studio and wanted the copyright permission, which made Auntie Cindy very proud!
More Tips On Taking Holiday Portraits
A reader asked for some more tips regarding taking your own family portraits.
May I suggest the following:
- Even if you don't have a digital camera, don't be stingy with the number of shots you take. Professional photographers will use a whole roll of 24 or 36 on one subject. It's really not that expensive, and you get the shot you want. Besides, you can send the ones that aren't your favorites to friends and acquaintances in those frame-style Christmas cards that you can get at the dollar store. (Or make your own frames).
- It's a good idea to move your subject around; change the background, whatever, just in case there is something wrong that you aren't noticing, like something stuck on the bottom of the baby's shoe or something!
- With babies and small children, keep snapping, even if they're weeping or pouting or pulling one another's hair! Some of my best shots have been of this spontaneous variety. The perfectly posed ones where everyone is smiling at the camera seem boring after that! (See attached photo of my niece. We had been bribing her with the lollypop she's holding, but we couldn't get it back from her at this point, so I just snapped away. Her mother and my parents--the baby's grandparents--liked this one best of all!) This type of photo gets more precious with the passing years.
- Also in this photo, notice that the oversized green ornament matches the background--grass. The green contrasts with the white outfit. The leopard skin makes you think of a green jungle. You get the idea. People don't think of all these things when they look at the photo, but somehow they know the photo looks RIGHT. Also notice that I got down on the baby's level, which gives the photo more depth. The grass in front of her feet is in the foreground where it should be and the background is dark and somewhat out of focus.
- Always step back and look at the background before you place the baby/dog/whoever in the setting. Sometimes there is an electric cord or plant that will look like it's sticking up out of the person's head or something. You will need to work really fast once you get your subject in place.
- When creating your background, try to create layers so your photo will have depth. For example, in the photo that appeared on this site yesterday, I used a printed fabric, and then gathered the tulle and draped it like a curtain. You don't have to buy new fabric, use what you have on hand, but even for a small baby you'll need at least two yards of each kind. If you don't want anything so fancy, maybe hang a piece of denim and attach a couple of raffia bows. Put the baby in little bib overalls with a bright red shirt and little hiking boots.
- You can make your photos more meaningful if you place the baby's favorite lovey or blankey or binkey (or the dog's "mean kitty" toy) somewhere strategically in the portrait. Try to have your background match it. It will bring its own set of fond memories.
- If you are sending the photo as a Christmas greeting, give your photo a title or caption or write a little rhyme about it. People just love that. For example, I dubbed the photo that was posted here yesterday as the "Snow Princess in the Desert" because she was holding a snowflake and she lives in Nevada.
- Your great photos go to waste if you don't display them prominently and appropriately. Regarding my niece's photo, last year on her first Christmas, I had her sitting on white, star-studded tulle. I bought a large frame (for about $5) which was matted for an 8 x 10. I cut strips of the fabric and covered the mat with them, attaching it with glue stick. Her mother went wild over it!
- Finally, keep the photo shoot in perspective and hang onto your sense of humor. In the years to come, you will be so glad you did.