Holiday Photoshoot Tips from a Professional Photographer

kids in holiday pajamas

It's the most wonderful time of the year! As we head into the holiday season, you're probably starting to think about your holiday cards and photoshoots to capture those special memories. But as every parent knows, that can be easier said than done! 

To help you think through the ins and outs of holiday photography, we interviewed professional family and lifestyle photographer Emily Young. As a mom of three, she has lots of practice capturing the little details in everyday life, and we were grateful to get her advice.

Should I hire a professional for my holiday photo shoot?

As a professional photographer, this is hard for me to give an unbiased answer! I will say, I believe there is great value in setting aside time for your family to have photos taken together. Whether you're hiring a photographer or asking a friend to take the photos, the end result is a gallery of images that you will be so grateful to have one day. 

If you don't set aside time in your schedule to focus on getting photos, you could go months (or more!) without a photo of everyone together! Any parent can attest that our kids are changing right before our eyes every day, and those photos become even more meaningful as time goes on.

How should I go about finding a photographer for my holiday photo shoot?

Most photographers have their work on Instagram or a website, and it's important to find a photographer that aligns with the style of photos you are drawn to. Some families prefer a cleaner studio look, while others are looking for a more candid capture-this-moment-in-time feeling. While photography trends change just like anything else, look for what feels right for you and your family at that time. 

Check-in with photographers in your area and ask about their rates. While rates might seem expensive at first glance, remember that there is a lot of prep time before a shoot and edit time built into their pricing. You can also look for photographers with "mini-sessions," often shorter shoots at a set location at a more affordable rate. Mini sessions are an excellent option for younger kids who often lose interest after 10-15 minutes anyway! 

How should I decide on a location? What should I think about?

After the craziness of last year, I'm drawn to photos at home or places that feel like home. Maybe that's your favorite bike path or hiking trail. Perhaps it's just your backyard or your building's courtyard. I think we are in a time where we feel really grateful for our homes and the time that we've spent together this past year. Of course, I will always support a gorgeous beach or open field as a location as well! As long as it feels meaningful to your family.

What should my family wear?

Along those same lines, we have really learned the value of wearing clothes that make us feel comfortable and cozy this past year. Especially with kids! I love when they can feel like themselves and ready to jump into a cuddle pile or wrap their arms around their sibling without a puffy dress or buttoned shirt getting in the way. Little Sleepies pajamas are so easy, and there are plenty of cute matching holiday prints that would be perfect for a holiday card family photo!

What time should I schedule a shoot?

A lot of people talk about that magical "golden hour!" Which yes, if you are at the beach or in the mountains it is really lovely! However, if your babies, toddlers, kids (or spouses) get a little tired and irritated by the end of the day, then this might not be the golden hour for you! I always tell parents to do what works best for their kids' schedules, particularly if naps are involved. We can always look for shaded areas or work with the brighter sunlight if it means their family will have more fun. 

Should we use props in our photoshoot?

I love when families bring meaningful items with them, a favorite toy or stuffie. Or set up an activity that they love doing together. This year, we made hot cocoa (with extra marshmallows!), started a popcorn and cranberry garland, and had fun with gift bows and holiday lights. You will feel much more connected to your images if they remind you of this specific moment in time and the things you loved.

How can I get my kids to smile and/or sit still?

I rarely focus on getting the entire family to smile at the camera. While many families want one photo to frame for the grandparents, we usually try to do that first and get it out of the way. Photographers are pretty well practiced in getting kids excited enough to look at the camera for a few shots. Then I encourage the family to play and laugh with each other. 

How often do you just get to sit and play and BE together? Kids often appreciate this time with their family and end up having fun. Also, I am not above a little bribe. Kids probably don't care about taking photos, so reasoning with them or asking nicely for help might not work in this situation! I always support a trip for ice cream or a special treat at the end of the shoot! Again, the whole experience should be about being together.

Any tips for taking our own photos at home?

Holiday photos can absolutely be done with a self-timer on your phone or camera (bonus points for a tripod)! In fact, some of my favorite holiday card photos have been taken this way. 

If you are using a phone, the most important thing you can do is wait for the best natural light. Phone photos often look great on your screen, but they can become blurry or pixelated when printed. The best way to avoid this is to have the lighting be as perfect as possible when you take the photo. If you are using a camera with a self-timer, just make sure your gear and background are set up and ready before bringing the kids in. Take a few test shots before they get there, so they aren't sitting around for too long getting impatient with you. Then, when you are ready, it will be a more fun, painless process! 

Any advice for including pets?

Bribes and treats — it's your only hope!

If I'm taking my own photos, how can I edit them?

I like to edit my photos in Lightroom, on my desktop, or phone. The Lightroom phone app is free, and you can easily play with exposure, color saturation, and contrast. Or you can search for presets online to give you the vibe you are going for. 

We are so grateful for Emily's advice and expertise! If you're looking for a photographer in Los Angeles, be sure to check her out on Instagram. We can't wait to see your family photos (in your matching holiday jams) this year and hope these tips were helpful! 


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