Written by: Natalie Fieleke
I’m sorry, I don’t take school pictures very seriously. If you’re a mom getting your child ready for picture day, you and I both know that the fact your child was clean and well-groomed before they got on the school bus means absolutely nothing. Zip. Zero. Nada.
By the time pictures roll around they may or may not look like their hair was combed that morning. They may or may not have yogurt on their shirt. They may or may not have untucked their too-long shirt from their shorts and look like they are pants-less in the front row of the group photo. (Not that this has ever happened to us.)
I want something more than sending them out into the world and hoping for the best. I want greater control of the outcome.
Which is why I DO take family photos kind of seriously. Please tell me I’m not the only one who assembles my family’s clothing and lays it all out on the floor in different combinations and texts photos to my friends for their opinion?! I know I’m not because my ladies also send me pictures for feedback. We’re not all crazy if we’re doing it together, right?
So when it came time to prepare for capturing Christmas-card-perfect images this year, I decided to seek some expert advice. I sat down and chatted with natural light family photographer Stephanie Ferris of Ferris Wheel Photography. Our conversation definitely helped shape the way I will approach picture day this year. I hope her tips help you too!
When you think about bad pictures, what springs to mind?
When I think of bad family photos it doesn’t necessarily have to do with the outfits or the setting, although the studio pictures of the late 80’s and early 90’s with stiff and awkward posing do come to mind.
Really what makes the pictures is how the family comes to the session. If you are stressed and uncomfortable, no photographer can make you look comfortable. Even the ride to the location sets the tone. Especially with children. Let them listen to their music. Pump them up, get them happy and excited. Make it like it’s a fun special thing. There’s so much room to not take yourself so seriously. Play tag, have tickle parties, tell each other jokes. I like to make kids feel like a fun experience not like mom and dad are making me do this. If it’s fun for them, it will be fun for everyone. And it will make your pictures so much better!
Gotcha. Don’t worry, be happy. What are some other DON’TS?
Don’t match. Don’t do that. No all jeans and white tops. We did that all the time growing up. Now it’s so funny to look back on it, and it dates the photos a lot. There is so much room for creativity and fun in outfits.
With little kid’s outfits, avoid putting non-walkers in stiff, uncomfortable attire or things that bunch around their faces. Puffy vests are the cutest thing ever but really awkward on kids who can’t stand.
Also, with the little ones, avoid having three people trying to make your child smile. It’s really overwhelming. Let the photographer try to get them to focus on her and smile. If you have people to the right and to the left, they won’t be looking at the photographer.
Okay, conversely, what are some DOs?
Just have fun. Let this be a fun family bonding experience. I like to keep something at the end of the photo shoot that will be fun for kids. Like a blanket ride or throwing rocks in the creek. Make it fun for everyone involved.
Laughing pictures are the most natural and beautiful. So have a staring contest with your five year old. Whoever laughs first loses. Feel comfortable to be goofy and get a natural smile. Sometimes the best pictures are the ones where people are just playing around.
Okay now let’s talk outfits.
Start with a color you love and then pick complementing colors based on that. It’s pleasing to the eye and not super matchy-matchy. Go with your skin tone. While blue may be a beautiful color to contrast with the fall foliage, it may not look great with your skin tone, so know what works for you and your family members.
If you’re really stuck, visit your local hardware store and play with mixing and matching color swatches to get you started. Or look on Pinterest for color combos.
For moms, I really like statement jewelry like bangle bracelets or earrings. A big necklace is good because it gives the outfit character and is close to your face.
I really love when little boys wear colored pants or denim to a photo shoot. It’s just fun and the color pop is good. It’s unexpected because so much of the time we put colors on the top.
I know this goes against everything you’ve been told about photo outfits, but don’t be afraid to do contrasting prints and textures. Like a plaid shirt on a little boy and a striped shirt on mom or dad. It almost makes your family ensemble look effortless. Like you didn’t spend three months picking outfits and that’s how you normally dress as a family.
What about holiday photos, should we be doing something different or special for the Christmas card?
If you’re going to blow up a picture and put it on your wall, you’re going to want a fairly classic look and probably not holiday-themed. But you still want that fun holiday feel for the Christmas cards!
I think the best way to achieve almost two shoots in one is by bringing in holiday items and colors with easily-removable accessories. In a recent photo shoot I did, they had regular outfits but then added a red plaid hat with ear flaps, mittens and little accent pieces they could take off and have a neutral outfit choice. Incorporate fun props like a wreath or a sled that you can bring in and out of the photos easily.
Natalie Fieleke is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Lee’s Summit with her husband and two kids. She appreciates cooking and eating food of all kinds from kale salad to KC barbecue burnt end nachos. Thus she also loves fitness classes.