Caring For Our Kids

Picture-perfect holiday photos

The Dunn family trying to capture the perfect family photo

It’s December and that means the holiday rush is upon us. One of my favorite parts of the holiday season is the tradition, and the one I look forward to every year is receiving holiday cards from all over the world. It’s the one time of the year I’m actually excited to get mail. Even though families of my generation shy away from a traditional Christmas letter and with all the pictures on social media sites, there is still something special about receiving a card with a picture on it around the holidays.

We take many pictures in our family, so I know the labor of love that goes into taking and picking just the right picture. I am not an expert, but between our immediate family and trying to capture 12 nieces and nephews under the age of 7, I hope I can shed a little light on what it takes to get a great family picture.

Whether you are planning to hire a professional or just have a friend take your photo, one of the best first steps is to make a game plan. First, find a date that works for everyone, and avoid squeezing it in between soccer games or after work. Second, choose the setting and everyone’s clothing. The best advice I have received on this is to color coordinate without looking too “matchy matchy.” Get it all laid out and organized down to the socks and hair bows so you can avoid last-minute meltdowns. Third, depending on the ages of your children, it may be helpful to arrange for an extra set of helping hands. This person can be another set of eyes, help with hair bows and collars, keep the children’s attention, and maybe even make the baby smile.

This can be a critical piece of advice, especially if you have small children. We have all been there struggling to get our children to smile when they are overtired or hungry — it’s no fun for anyone. Time of day is important, and photographers will often suggest taking photos in the morning after breakfast and before naps when children usually are at their best. Keeping them well fed and well hydrated is important. We usually pack a few non-messy snacks and lots of water. It also never hurts to throw in a few bibs or napkins to avoid spills. One of the best ways we have found to keep kids motivated for pictures is good old-fashioned bribery. Decide on something beforehand that you can use during the photo shoot to keep them interested and paying attention, like a lollipop or small toy.

Choose a setting that means something to your family, maybe a park or special picnic spot. This will help everyone feel more comfortable. When posing for the pictures, do things that you would do naturally, such as walking together, reading a story, or sharing a joke. This will allow the photographer to snap at just the right moment when you are all relaxed and enjoying the moment. And don’t be afraid to laugh at yourselves. Sending a silly picture will most likely be the most remembered.

Remember, when taking pictures especially with small children, there is no such thing as the perfect picture. Embrace the ages and stages of your children and go with a “majority rules” approach — the picture where the most people look their best wins. Be open to the photo that was taken without a lot of planning but turned out great (on the family vacation, for example). Sometimes the best pictures are those we don’t plan for.

I hope these tips will take away some of the stress and make the experience more enjoyable for everyone, which will reflect in your pictures.

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Liz Farrell is the mother of three young children. She was formerly a television producer in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. E-mail: [email protected]