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Tips for Holiday Card Photos

Local photographers offer suggestions for taking great family photos.

Amber Scruggs of Little Moon Photography says photo subjects should wear clothing that coordinates without matching. Find a pattern for one family member and then pull colors from that for the rest of the family’s outfits.

Amber Scruggs of Little Moon Photography says photo subjects should wear clothing that coordinates without matching. Find a pattern for one family member and then pull colors from that for the rest of the family’s outfits. Photo courtesy of Amber Scruggs of Little Moon Photography

Amber Wilson has spent the last week scouring her computer files in search of the perfect pictures for her holiday card. One image missing from her collection is a shot of her entire family.

"I’m planning to use one photo of each of my three children and one picture of all of us together," said Wilson, who lives in Lorton. "I am hiring a professional photographer for the family photo because, selfishly, I really want it to be fantastic."

With the holiday season just around the corner, many families are pondering designs for their festive cards. The simplicity of a holiday greeting adorned with an image of Santa and Rudolph has been replaced by designer cards peppered with photos of smiling, well-dressed children. Parents like Wilson compete to have the best holiday card photo among their circle of friends and will shell out hundreds — even thousands — of dollars for professional photographs. Whether you’re hiring a professional or taking your own family photos, however, a few local photographers offer tips for getting a picture-perfect portrait.

Amber Scruggs, of Little Moon Photography in Vienna, photographs families in the Washington-metro region. She said that light, connection and colors are important in good photos. "You can have an amazing location and connection, but if you don’t utilize the light, the photo can be ruined."

Harsh lighting on the faces or bodies ruins images. "This can be avoided by not shooting in the middle of the day," said Scruggs. "The best lighting is in either the early morning around 8 a.m. or late afternoon starting at 3:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. with Daylight Savings Time," she said. "Putting the low sun behind the subjects makes for magical ‘rim’ lighting behind the subjects."

Michael Kress, of Michael Kress Photography in Bethesda, Md., offers a caveat for photographs that will include young children: "Make sure you pick the time of day that is best for them so they aren’t cranky and crying in the shot," said Kress.

Photographer Katherine Cogan, based in Potomac, Md., suggests taking photographs outside whenever possible. "Natural lighting is great so you don’t have to worry about artificial light," she said. "The sun should be behind the photographer and shining on the subject."

Kress, said creating a successful photo means each person in the picture should look his or her best. "Everyone needs to look good in the photo," he said. "Posing should be natural, not contrived. The picture says we’re happy to be together even if it isn’t always felt."

When it comes to choosing clothing for a family or group photo, Scruggs said photo subjects should wear clothing that coordinates without matching. "Find a cute pattern you love for one family member and then pull colors from that for the rest of the family’s outfits."

Kress adds, "If you’re doing groups, avoid mixed patterns of clothing. Nothing is worse than looking at a picture with all different patterns."

Ensure the photo subjects are not distorted. "Cards are usually small, so fill space wisely with tighter cropped images, not a picture of a scene with little people saying ‘we were here,’" said Kress.

For those who decide to use a professional photographer, Kress said, "Be upfront and ask about prints and their cost. If you know you want to order specific sizes, ask the photographer to possibly include them in a package."

When choosing a location for your photo shoot, Cogan said to make sure the clothing colors don’t clash with the colors of the background. "If you’re outside behind a tree that is green consider wearing shades of red," she said. "Reds and greens work well together as do blues and purples."

No matter what location you use, Kress said, "Don't do the picture the same way and same place every year."