Christmas is fast approaching and with it a time when many of us will relax with family and friends, look back on the year past and look forward to the year ahead. It’s a time of reflection and celebration, and it’s also a fantastic time to take family photographs.
Helen Bartlett has been working as a professional family photographer for thirteen years and here she shares her top tips for photographing the family this Christmas.
- Head outside
There is something magical about being curled up in front of the fire at Christmas time, but for some of the best photographs it can be good to head outside. The low winter sun creates stunning light, which makes for very dramatic portraits and there are so many opportunities for beautiful family portraits – everyone snuggled in warm coats and the kids looking so cute in little hats and gloves, kicking through the remaining leaves. For a shot of lots of kids together, find something to sit them all on – like the fallen trees in any of the London parks. By sitting the children down (particularly if working with toddlers who tend to disappear!) you have a great opportunity to take a few different pictures before and then choose the best. If you have another adult with you get them to leap around behind you to make the children laugh, and there you have it – a perfect shot for a Christmas card.
- Dreaming of a white Christmas
If we are lucky enough to have snow this year then heading outdoors is a must. Your camera, or phone, may get confused by the bright background so do adjust your exposure to avoid underexposed skin tones. Take pictures of the children enjoying all the outdoor activities, sledging, snowball fights, snow angels, all these make brilliant pictures. Just remember to have hot chocolate waiting when you get back indoors, brrrr!
- Family traditions
Christmas is a time for traditions – it’s lovely to capture some of these in pictures, whether it is making Christmas gingerbread, decorating the tree, or stockings in bed on Christmas morning. These are things your children will remember when they get older and it’s lovely to have photographs to look back on. Stir up Sunday was a great occasion in my house growing up, stirring the pudding and making a wish was always the indicator that Christmas was just around the corner. What will your children remember?
- Keep a camera close to hand
Over the Christmas period, I advise keeping your camera (or phone) within arm’s reach. Lots of the best moments will happen spontaneously, and being able to grab the camera in seconds is critical to make sure you capture the moment. Many of us like to have our phones switched off over Christmas, but perhaps try turning on airplane mode or do not disturb so you can’t get distracted by work emails but can still take photographs of your family.
- Let the children take pictures too
If you are happy with your child using your phone or camera then let the children take pictures too – children often have an instinctive visual eye and love to be creative – as we all know from the huge numbers of pictures that adorn the fridge. Their view of things will be totally different to yours and it can be wonderful to see what they have picked up on whether it is grandpa asleep on the sofa or the dog taking a sneaky bite from the turkey when nobody is looking. You might even discover the next Henri Cartier-Bresson! If you prefer to keep precious photographic equipment away from toddlers then Fisher Price make a wonderful Kid-Tough camera which will survive the roughest treatment from tiny tots.
- All about family
Christmas is all about family and I love to take photographs to record this – whether it’s the children playing with their favourite uncle (complete with matching paper hats) or perhaps the children playing with their grandparents, quietly reading books together and sharing the excitement of the festive season. While it’s lovely to have a formal shot of everyone together it’s often these little moments which are the most special – the shots that warm our hearts when we look back on them.
- Don’t forget to include yourself
Remember it’s not just about everyone else – don’t forget to be in some pictures yourself. Most families tend to have a dedicated photographer – the person who is always behind the camera (I bet you can guess who it is in my family!). Perhaps consider using the self-timer on the camera or even a selfie stick to make sure everyone is in at least one shot. If you don’t have a tripod then balance your camera on a table to make sure you feature in at least some of the pictures.
- Look for the light
This is particularly important if you are using your phone as indoor shots, particularly on a dark day, sometimes don’t give great results. Try facing everyone towards a window to get the best light – or head outdoors. Opening presents by the window can create lovely light for a portrait and there is something so wistful about a little one looking out the window on a winter’s day – it’s a lovely format for a portrait. Remember that lots of light isn’t always best, quality wins over quantity every time.
- Enjoy it
The most important element for successful family photographs is everyone having a good time. For anything where you want the children to cooperate – matching clothes and Santa hats for the Christmas card perhaps – these are best done first thing in the morning when everyone is full of energy. Pile the children on a bed, facing a window for the best light and take a number of pictures, you can choose the best one later. Dance around, sing songs, remember the very best jokes to get the children to laugh, if they are having a good time then you will get brilliant expressions. Remember it’s very rare for a family photograph to be perfect and it’s the imperfections that often give images their soul and show the personalities of all the children. Let them express themselves and you may be rewarded with a photograph that is brilliant.
10 . Make prints
When Christmas is over and the last mince pie has been eaten, make sure that you order prints of your pictures. These physical copies will be the pictures that will be kept, that will be looked back on in years to come. Perhaps make it a January project with your children, where you look at them together and make a book. Digital technology makes this so easy now, and online printing services like Photobox produce great quality products that your children can keep and look back on as they get older.
- Hire a pro
And if this all sounds like hard work at a time of year when you will be incredibly busy with cooking, wrapping gifts, and the myriad of Christmas activities then perhaps hire a professional who can visit and captures these memories for you. A family portrait session makes a great Christmas present, too!