23 Nov 2010

Snap Happy On The Hill – Holiday Pictures!

meredith hanafi photography

Hello again Hill is Home readers and thanks for your great response to the initial Snap Happy article. I am looking forward to lots more of our monthly chats exploring new ways to improve your photography and get the results you are looking for, while documenting the adventures of life on the Hill!

Last month I promised that we would talk about frustration-free Holiday Pictures, so let’s get to it – I promise that it is easier than you think! There are several ways to go about getting a great, natural and happy family portrait and I will discuss the merits of each.

1) Hire a professional. The easiest way to get beautiful, stress-free photos of the whole family.  There are lots of options in the District and you will find local photographers easily in an online search. Consider whether you want an ‘in studio’ setting or an ‘on location’ setting. These sessions can be a lot of fun and can get you a great result with little effort on your part – perfect for the super time-crunched family. Make sure to look at web sites carefully and make sure the photographer has a consistent style and NOT just one or two pictures that you like, ask about what you get, how much time will be spent, and if you can view a complete session online so you can judge the kind of results you can expect to get. Asking your networks on facebook, local listservs, and word of mouth are great ways to get recommendations for a good photographer.

meredith hanafi photography

2) Teamwork! You probably know lots of other families on the Hill who are struggling with this exact problem – so why not set up a date when your family and another family get dressed up in holiday duds and meet at a local park for an hour. Your family gets photographed by the best photographer in their family and vice versa.

Some tips to consider with this option

  • This is not just a ‘quick snap’! everyone needs to be prepared to spend some time carefully considering the location, background, arrangement of family members, and be committed to keep taking pictures until there is one that makes the other family happy.
  • Choose a nice shady spot with CONSISTENT light or shade on everyone’s face – this is an easy thing to overlook and will really affect your outcome. Have the rest of the ‘other family’ stand directly behind the photographer and jump up and down to get everyone’s attention and nice natural smiles. Bring snacks and toys for the kids. (20 minutes per family should do it).
  • Take a ‘straight’ smiling pic followed by a silly one where the kids get to be crazy (and parents too – see picture to the right) then go back to a ‘straight’ smiling pic. Pick up kids who are squirming too much and put them on your shoulders. Have a reward in mind for getting everyone to smile at the camera – a promise of a trip to get ice cream after the shoot always seems to go over well.

3) Doing It Yourself . Okay,  you are determined that this is the year that you will master the art of the ‘self-timed’ family portrait, and you probably will! Just remember that the success of your photograph will be determined by the amount of preparation you put in.  You should have everything ready to go before putting everyone in their positions, because they won’t hold those smiles for long!

meredith hanafi photography

  • Find a good background – something pretty or striking and without distraction (i.e. no garbage cans or old flower pots). The spot should be evenly shaded but not too dark (see the picture to the right), avoid sunny locations especially in the middle of the day. Make sure you check out the spot at the same time of day that you will be taking your family portrait. If you are planning to use a local park or monument instead of your home, visit first and think about these same issues.
  • Tell everyone to wear clothes they feel GREAT in. If people are tugging down shirts or pulling up tights they will look uncomfortable in the pics  – my guess is that you will care less about what they are wearing and more about how happy they look in years to come.
  • Beg, borrow, or buy a tripod. It will make a big difference compared to balancing your camera on a garbage can or the hood of the car. It doesn’t have to be a fancy model – the mini versions work great and are inexpensive.
  • Set your camera to take multiple frames – that way you can discard the first one where you have just jumped into the picture and startled everyone around you. Be sure to tell everyone in advance that there will be multiple frames so they know to keep looking and smiling at the camera.
  • Think outside the box! Not everyone has to be standing in a row – try a ‘pile on’ or a ‘sandwich’ – kids will really get into this! (see picture at the top of the post)

meredith hanafi photography

4) Create a vignette.   A really fun alternative to a group portrait can be a series of related pictures in a grouping. This way everyone is in the pictures but there is a story and a lot of emotion and fun. Take turns with the camera – including giving it to the kids. And don’t forget to include the pets!

Now, what to do with all these great pictures! It’s such a shame to have all these pictures trapped inside your computer forever.  You can get great prints at Penn Camera http://www.penncamera.com/ and Dodge Chrome in Palisades http://www.dodgechrome.com/ has lots of options including albums and canvasses. Online you can try making your own postcards – I love the quality over at moo cards http://us.moo.com. Apple iphoto makes really great albums at http://www.apple.com/ilife/print-products.html . My husband and I make an annual family calendar on iphoto every year using photos from  family events over the past 12 months and send out copies to the whole extended family at Christmas. They have been a big hit and are a very affordable way to give a really personal and useful gift!

Good luck with your family holiday pictures this year! Please write in with any questions or suggestions of your own – I love your feedback.

Happy Shooting!

www.meredith-hanafi.com

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  • Carey

    Fabulous advice Meredith!

  • C

    The first example of the people pile seems to go against your advice about finding a clean background. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel the striped blanket on the ground is really distracting. Also the swingset (?) and tree, although the shallow depth of field helps.

    The comment about clothing is so true– my family took a group photo once where my cousins and sister and I were all forced to wear the same sweaters. They were very itchy, and hot, and unflattering, and you can see our discomfort even though we were smiling compliantly.

    Do cameras normally have an option to take multiple frames with the self timer? I don’t think my Sony DSLR does.

  • Cathy

    I can vouch for the popularity of annual photographic family calendars! A great idea for a family holiday gift.

  • hillmom

    Hiring a professional isn’t always “stress-free,” in fact I would argue it’s more stressful – unless, of course you are a family with unlimited resources. Honestly, there’s nothing worse than an hour with a photographer snapping away taking pictures you know won’t be what you want them to be and knowing you’ve just spent a small fortune for the exercise.

    I’ve taken the best pictures of my children with my own SLR when I wasn’t trying to take the “perfect” picture.

  • http://www.meredith-hanafi.com meredith hanafi

    C – Thanks for your thoughts, I agree that the blanket is a bit distracting, but that has to be weighed against getting a whole family to lie on the ground without it ;)

    Regarding self-timed shots. Most point and shoot cameras have the option to take multiple self-timed shots but (as you mentioned) DSLR’s do not have this option. However, you can purchase a corded OR a remote (wireless) shutter release and use it not only for family portraits but also for long exposure photography. This is actually a really great tool to have in your kit and will make night photography a whole new adventure.

    The corded option is usually not very expensive
    and Craigslist is often a good place to look for stuff like this. Good luck!

  • C

    That’s a good point. I’ve been meaning to get a wireless shutter release– as far as photography equipment goes they’re pretty cheap.