Eight tips for photographing your family around the holidays

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According to the Amex Trendex, a trend report by American Express released in October, 76% of consumers report that they’re most looking forward to spending time with friends and family this season, followed by giving and receiving gifts (53%). 71% say they will celebrate the holidays with more loved ones in person this year than last, with 56% indicating that they will be prioritizing their mental health by reconnecting with friends and family.

Whether they’re destined for greeting cards, scrapbooks, or framed prints, taking pictures has become, for many families, as much a part of the holiday season as baking cookies or lighting candles. For family photographers, perhaps this year means more than ever, as we reunite with loved ones after a long time apart. In anticipation of the holiday season, we put together this quick guide to photographing those closest to you and preserving those memories for years to come.


*** by Valeria Kryazheva on 500px.com

impatient by Sam Brockway on 500px.com

Make a plan

Family photo sessions go more smoothly when everyone’s prepared, so feel free to set aside a time and date for the shots you care about the most. If you have a shot list, share it with your family members so they know what to expect. If you’re photographing outdoors, schedule it for a day with the right weather and lighting conditions, whether you’re aiming for snow or warmer temperatures, to keep everyone comfortable.


Winter by Elika Hunt on 500px.com

Oversee wardrobe choices

Before the shoot, give your family some help with choosing wardrobe and props; you want everything to go together and tell a cohesive story, but you also want to let everyone’s individuality shine through. When it comes to clothing, pay special attention to colors and textures (scarves, sweaters, blankets), which can instantly create that winter mood. Keep it simple and classic, so the photos remain timeless. Solid colors and plaid work well.


The innocence of awe and wonder... by Lilia Alvarado Photography on 500px.com

Take-Off by Niklas Jumlin on 500px.com

Scout your location

Speaking of planning, location is key. Choose a spot with beautiful light, and plan around the golden hour. The location could be your house with the Christmas tree decorated, or it could be an ice skating rink or sledding hill where you go every year. Select a place where your family feels comfortable and where you know they’ll enjoy themselves.

Remember to scout your location on a day with similar conditions and take some test shots, so you know what to expect. Shady spots tend to be easier to work with than direct sunlight, so find open patches of shade. If you’re shooting in a public place, time your session to avoid crowds. If your location is your house or apartment, do some tidying and styling in advance. Remove any clutter, and add some pretty accents or holiday decor to breathe life into the scene. Turn off those overhead lights, and open up the window shades (or use pretty holiday lights).

Hint: If you’re shooting with holiday lights in the background, open up your aperture for that magical bokeh effect.


winter sunshine by Derek Zhang on 500px.com

Involve everyone

Approach your family members as collaborators rather than subjects. You’ll guide and oversee the session, but let them know that they can offer ideas too. Make sure everyone is fed, happy, and warm throughout the session. If you’re working with kids, schedule your shoot so that they’re well-rested. If you plan to bring your dog, give her some playtime before the session so she’s relaxed.

From there, you can give different roles to different members of the family; for example, one can be in charge of wrangling the group, while another can gather classic holiday-themed props, and a third could be your assistant and help you set up. If the kids are old enough, you can even let them take a few photos during breaks—they might create some keepers. If you’re working with younger kids, you can still involve them in the process by having them help you choose an outfit or even “paying” them for their time in lollipops or toys.


Wintermärchen by Reto Imhof on 500px.com

Happiness by Filsa  Ahmed on 500px.com

Go with the flow

Even the best-laid plans can go awry, so once the day of the shoot arrives, try not to micromanage your family members—especially if you’re working with children. It’s okay to offer direction, but keep your attitude positive and stress-free. Get the most difficult photos out of the way from the start, when everyone’s still focused and energetic, and then take a step back.

Trying to get the “perfect” shot can keep you from getting an even better one. You’ve already planned for this day, so let go and see where it takes you. Give yourself more time than you think you need at your location—if only to give everyone a chance to explore and have fun. If the kids want to make a snowman or have a snowball fight, let them do it.


Hanukkah Candles by Guy Bashan on 500px.com

Document your family traditions

Outside of your formal session, opportunities for holiday pictures abound. From playing dreidel to decorating the tree to lighting the kinara, the winter holidays have a rich history of traditions, passed down between the generations. Your family traditions might look different from everyone else’s, so stay true to that rather than trying to emulate what you think your holiday photos “should” look like. Perhaps you make ornaments out of clay, or maybe you prepare homemade gelt. These intimate moments are perfect for photographing your family in their element, celebrating what matters most, without worrying about “posing” for the camera.


Gingerbread house by Gabriela Tulian on 500px.com

Keep your camera close

This might be the most important tip of all: make sure your camera is within reach during family gatherings, dinners, outings, lazy mornings, and so on, even if you didn’t plan the event specifically to take photos. Some of the moments you’ll want to capture most, like opening presents first thing in the morning, will happen when everyone has rumpled hair and pajamas, so have your camera handy and your settings in place. These “imperfect” scenes are often the most meaningful, and they arrive unexpectedly, so stay ready.


The best friends by Valeria Kryazheva on 500px.com

Morning Sled Ride by Adrian C. Murray on 500px.com

Print and frame your favorites

We might live in a digital world, but prints are timeless, and they last a lifetime (if they’re well-made!). Last year, a UK study commissioned by Fujifilm instax revealed that during lockdowns, many of us returned to physical prints. Of the 56% of people who said they believe that people are turning to “real” photos over digital ones, 49% think that printed photos have “more value” than digital ones. Six in ten looked back on old photos when stressed or unhappy, and 43% experienced a mood boost from looking at physical prints.

This year, choose a handful of pictures from the season, and then work with a local lab (or print them yourself) to create gifts for your immediate family and relatives. You can even use instant film to deliver prints in real-time and have your family curate their favorites for display. Similarly, you can put together a book of everyone’s top images to create a family album.

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