How to capture professional-quality family photos for the holidays when you can’t go to a studio

How to capture professional-quality family photos for the holidays when you can’t go to a studio

11/18/2020

family christmas photo thumb

Skye Gould

  • Insider asked two professional photographers for tips on taking holiday photos at home so families can keep the tradition alive this year.
  • They suggested finding a simple background and making sure there's enough space to comfortably fit everyone in the frame. 
  • According to professionals, you should avoid bright sunlight or open flames as they can interfere with the quality of the picture. 
  • If you're using a smartphone, make sure to opt for self-timer mode instead of the front-facing camera. 
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

The holiday season is going to look pretty different this year, and some family traditions — like getting professional pictures taken in photography studios — may not be able to happen.

But that doesn't mean you can't still capture special moments. Insider asked professional photographers for their best tips and tricks for taking expert-level holiday photos at home.

Choose a simple, uncluttered backdrop

A light-colored wall can be the perfect photo backdrop.
Westend61/Getty Images

Debi Cramer, founder and principal photographer at Thirty-Eighth Avenue Photography, told Insider that a clean and simple background is one of the most important elements of a professional-quality holiday photo.

"Simplicity is key when it comes to backdrops," Cramer said. "Limit what's behind you. If you're indoors, keep the shot close to the subjects to avoid showing the entire room."

She also suggested posing outside in front of wooden siding or evergreen trees. If all else fails, you can also hang a sheet or blanket to create a makeshift backdrop. 

Use a tripod to keep your shot stable

Portrait photographer Oksana Pali told Insider that using a tripod for your camera or phone can greatly improve the quality of your photos. 

"I recommend using a tripod to keep your photo stable and level," she said. "There are plenty of inexpensive ones available, and most of them collapse into a portable size. 

Avoid taking photos in bright sunlight or near open flames

Don't be afraid to break free from stiff poses.
LOUISE BEAUMONT/Getty Images

Quality photography depends on good lighting. If you're taking your own holiday photos, there are a few basic pitfalls to watch out for. 

"Don't shoot into the sun as it washes out photos," Cramer told Insider. "Campfire shots are also not recommended, as it's difficult to frame people around a fire, and the smoke and glow affects lighting."

The photographer added that lit candles and bright lamps should also be moved out of frame to prevent unsightly bright spots or shadows.

But if you really want to take pictures in front of the lit-up Christmas tree, just make sure that the subjects don't stand too close to the lights. 

Keep group poses natural, and avoid waving

Rather than arranging your loved ones in a stiff group pose, aim for ones that feel natural. 

"Hugging, holding hands, and otherwise engaging with one another usually appears natural," Cramer told Insider. "Make sure everyone is looking at the camera and mind all arm and leg positioning." 

You can try posing groups around festive dining tables or capturing semi-posed pictures of people decorating a tree, walking outside, or carrying presents. But make sure to avoid distracting movements, like waving.

"Raising an arm or waving is not only distracting, but it may block another person's face in the photo," she added. 

Wearing matching colors or patterns can tie the photo together

Coordinating colors and patterns can help to bring a photo together.
Shutterstock

One way to make your photos look cohesive and festive is to coordinate outfits. 

"For example, if one person is wearing red plaid, make sure other family members are also wearing red or a complementary color," Cramer said. "Solid colors such as white, red, green, gold, and black are best."

Additionally, don't be afraid to incorporate textures by wearing a shearling jacket or polar fleece, but avoid metallic or sequined clothing as the shine can be distracting.

Make sure the border of the photo has enough space for framing

If you're planning on having your holiday photos printed and framed, you need to be mindful of the position of your subjects' heads. 

"Remember to leave enough space above people in the photo," Cramer said. "Otherwise, you won't be able to frame the photo without the frame cutting across the tops of their heads."

A good rule of thumb is to allow for at least two to three "heads" of space at the top of the photo.

Remove distracting background items

For a clean, professional-looking photograph, try to keep background items to a minimum. 

"Be aware of any background items that make the photo appear too busy or as if the background item is part of someone's shoulder," Cramer told Insider. 

Shiny or moving objects, such as chrome fixtures or televisions, should be eliminated from photo backgrounds. You should also be mindful of sofa arms and hanging coats, which can sometimes look like additional people.

Feel free to use props, but keep them simple

It's wise to pose in front of a tree or wall instead of in front of a window.
Uwe Krejci/Getty Images

When used well, props can add a fun, playful element to photos.

"The easiest props are clothing, such as scarves, hats, and mittens," Cramer said. "You can also use tasteful props like wooden sleds, ice skates tied together, or ski poles."

She suggested avoiding overly elaborate props or costumes, such as Santa suits.

Opt for self-timer mode instead of your phone's front-facing camera

Although it may be tempting to use your phone's front-facing camera to see what the shot looks like, Pali advised against it. 

"The camera on the back of your phone is far superior and will give you much better quality photos," she said. 

The photographer suggested taking a few test shots with the front-facing camera, and once you're satisfied with the composition, turn the camera around and take the final shot with the better lens.

Most smartphones and cameras also have timer options, and Pali recommended using the longest setting available.

"Using the longer timer will allow you more time to get back into the frame of the shot with your family," she told Insider. "Alternatively, you can purchase a remote control that will trigger your camera to take a photo from a distance so you don't have to run back and forth."

Prior to purchasing a remote, make sure it's compatible with your phone or camera.

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