DIY Christmas Card Portraits :: How-To & Other Photography Tips


Back stateside, we had great photographer friends. When the holiday season came last year, it was only a matter of setting up a date and getting some fun photos taken.  But, now that we're here in Finland, I wasn't really sure what we were going to do about those Christmas cards. I was eager to try to find a photographer, so I began the online search a few months ago. Let me tell you, it's been tricky. To find a photographer that has a website we can understand, a style we love AND a price that we feel good about, well, we were struggling. 

When I was showing Ben all our options, he asked about an option I already ruled out: "Why don't we try to take them ourselves?"

We've never taken family pictures by ourselves. It's always seemed like too daunting of task. Toddler smiles? All of us looking at the camera? Good lighting? Hello, overwhelmed. However, Ben and I kind of have a running tradition of taking our own pictures. We took our own engagement pictures, maternity photos, and have done some fun anniversary shoots as well. While the results haven't always been pinterest worthy, (of course, back when we started, there wasn't pinterest.) it has always been a good opportunity to grow together, laugh at ourselves and become better photographers. Even now, some of the photos from the early days are my favorites of us together.

So, when Ben asked me ‘why not take a stab at our own pictures this season,' I figured, why not?!

Over the last few years, we've taken a few photos we're really proud of. Some of the photos Ben captures, I can't help but get giddy over. We've really figured out our style and have pretty good luck at getting a few shots that are frame-worthy. Once I embraced the idea, I was eager to see how our years of taking photos with the two of us would translate to photos of the 3.5 of us. :)

Well, we did it and I got to say I'm a forever fan. Here are a few of our favorites:

It's been over 5 years since we first tried to take our own portraits. Over these past several years, we've learned quite a bit about DIY photo-taking. Now that we've finally taken the plunge into taking photos with a TODDLER, I feel a bit eager to share what we've learned. Hopefully these few tips will save you the headache of the years of practice we've stumbled through. Most importantly, I hope you have a good experience if you decide to be brave and venture out to capture your own family photos this season!

Here are a few things we've learned:

1. Equipment is something but it isn't everything.

I'll be the first to say that equipment matters...but only so much.  I've seen some amazing pictures taken from point-and-shoot cameras and even iPhones. Yet, I've also seen so-so pictures taken with fancy DSLRs. We had a DSLR for over a year before I really learned to use it. All this to say, user skill matters. If you have a nice camera that allows you to adjust the settings, it's worth taking time to learn the manual settings and figure out the style of photos you love. Pinterest has tons of easy to use infographs on photography. These sorts of visual aids helped me a lot in the early days. Even basic understanding will radically change the outcome of your photos. 

There are two pieces of equipment I would recommend, especially if children are involved: A tripod, and a wireless shutter remote. A tripod is kind of a must when trying to take your own pictures (a tree branch/stroller hood only gets you so far.)  We have a pretty tall tripod which helps with getting good angles. With Ben being so tall, it's nice that our tripod can grow as tall as I am! I would also recommend that wireless shutter remote. This eliminates you running back and forth to your camera to set off your ten-second timer. These remotes can run really cheap (I got my last one for about 5 bucks) online and allow you to take a lot more pictures in a short amount of time. The race against toddler boredom is REAL. Both are worthwhile investments. 

2.  Attitude will make or break the experience. 

In our early days, I would drag Ben out into some forest and make him pose until I took shots that I kind of liked. He was gracious, but I was often frustrated that I didn't get *the* picture I wanted. Plus I would make us stay out so long we'd have mosquito bites or came home sweaty. Fake smiles aren't really that fun to edit either.  

We've since learned that taking pictures, especially family photos, is about the adventure.   Be flexible with your expectations and realize that the more fun you're having, the more relaxed everyone will be in the photos. With kids, involvement is key.  Letting Eowyn click the remote shutter a few times always results in smiles and looking at the camera (take a look at the photos, you'll even catch a glimpse of her holding the remote!) Also, choosing photos ideas that aren't so posed allows for kids to not get so frustrated as the photographer keeps trying to get that 'picture perfect photo.' We like to tickle our girl, say silly stuff or play around with each other all up until we see the final little light on our camera.  We take a few of the same photos (I try to get 3-5 photos) and I later choose the best one. Then, we move on. Keeping a bit of a faster pace keeps our girl interested and the pictures looking more authentic. Get creative when engaging your toddler and predict where he or she will go next. Focus on that point and wait till they get there. This will help you get sharp photos of that moving target.

3. Choose a location you love and feel comfortable in. Timing is important too.

While Ben is perfectly confident when it comes to us shooting our own photos, I get nervous if there's tons of people around. I feel hurried and in the way. So, I've learned to search for locations that aren't wildly popular. Sure, a local park might have nice cut grass, but a national park a few miles down the road offers some unique scenes, and a lot more to work with!  Think about what kind of setting you love and then search around your town. I've actually used instagram hashtags to check out a location before going. In a world of social media, searching for a great place can actually be really easy.

I've mentioned this before, but the "Golden Hour" (the hour before the sun sets, or after the sun rises) really is one of the best time for photos. It automatically rules out the harsh shadows on your face or the sweaty upper lip from a noonday sun. If you just can't swing an hour before sundown (bedtime, dinner plans etc.) look for places with good shade. Harsh lighting can often give harsh pictures. While shooting in RAW can sometimes fix a lot of overexposure issues, I'm not one to advocate sub-par pictures and then relying on editing later. Editing is better if used to enhance, not fix.  

4. Take time to pick a quality photo publishing service

So you saved some money on doing your photos yourself. Well done! Now it's time to publish those pretties. In a land of free internet, where I can post all of these online for only the cost of my time, it's really easy to convince myself that I can also get great quality prints and other photo products for next to nothing. I've tried this a few times and if I'm honest, I have to say I always end up disappointed. You spend a lot of time and energy taking these pictures, don't let them be ruined by a poor quality picture company. I've always had great success with picture quality with shutterfly. They're pretty affordable and have a pretty great customer service. In fact one time they resent my order because a picture got bent in transit. (Ten points!) I also continue to hear rave reviews about their site tinyprints.The site has tons of cards and home decor options. Needless to say, I'm excited to pick out Christmas cards this season.

Last but not least: Mom tips.
A Few Mini 'Mom' Tips:

  • BRING SNACKS! Toddlers (and husbands) often need a little refreshment from having a camera pointed in their direction. Mama likes a nice snack too. Just be sure to check everyone's teeth before you keep shooting. :) 

  • As you learn tips and tricks with your camera, be sure to share those with your spouse. This makes it so you both can capture sweet candid shots. I often set the shutter speed and aperture, but Ben knows how to play with focus and understands basic photo composition. Working together has produced some of my favorite snapshots.

  • Keep it short. I try to limit my photo taking time to at most 45 minutes. If there's other moments that arise GREAT, but having realistic expectations makes it more enjoyable for everyone AND more likely that your family will oblige you next year when you want to do a photo-shoot again.

  • A fun ball or other game-like-prop can help a lot with getting authentic smiles from kids. Just taking time to have one of you play with the kids can really make for some great photos. Also, flirting with your special man friend is sure to get a few eye-crinkle smiles. (My favorite!) 

  • I remind myself often that it only takes a few great pictures to make a successful photo-shoot. I often will take upwards of 200 pictures. Yet, I often keep only 10-30 of them depending on how they turned out. You only need one to make a great Christmas card. Keep your spirits up when taking those photos and feel free to get rid of any of the photos that you don't absolutely love. If all else fails, plan for another potential photo-shoot date if things just aren't working. 

I hope these tips prove helpful.  If you decide to take your own photos for Christmas or any other reason (and really, why not give it a try!?) be sure to share any tips you learned that you could pass along in the comments (and share a link if you post them online, I'd love to see them!)

As always, thanks for reading.

No comments:

Post a Comment