I don’t know about you, but I LOVE holiday cards! I love getting them, and I love sending them out every year. There’s something about getting old-fashioned mail and filling up my holiday card holder that makes me feel all happy and warm inside. One of my favorite parts is looking at everyone’s family pictures and seeing how much they’ve grown and changed over the past year.
But there’s one thing I dread…
Getting my own family pictures taken.
I’ll just be honest. My kids are just not fantastic picture-takers. Don’t get me wrong, I adore their rambunctious get-up-and-go personalities, but those don’t translate well when the shutter starts clicking.
Luckily, over the years I’ve learned a few tricks that help make the dreaded family picture day a little easier. And believe me, we use every one of these every year! Hopefully if you experience any of the struggles that we do with family pictures, these will help you too!
1. Be prepared.
Be ready for anything. If you’ve got kids in diapers, make sure to bring extra diapers and wipes with you, even if you think you’ll only be gone for a short time. Bring tissues, brushes, hairspray, makeup to touch up yours, and anything else you think you might possibly need! Things are so much easier if you have everything you need with you. Make a list beforehand so that you don’t forget anything!
2. Have a helper there (if possible).
If you have a friend or a family member who can help, have them come! This is particularly helpful if it is someone your kids know and like. Usually one of my sisters comes with us, and their help is invaluable. They help tote around the stuff we brought (everything we needed to be prepared), and try to help get the kids to laugh and smile. Even when you’re not going to be in the pictures yourself, having an extra adult comes in handy. There’s something about a person who isn’t the authority figure that can help your kids loosen up. Sometimes they listen better to and smile for a non-parent as well.
3. Embrace the goofy
If you’re a kid with a big personality, being still and smiling just doesn’t seem like much fun! But often you’ll find that the cutest pictures are the ones in which kids are just doing their own thing. Even if you don’t capture the “picture perfect” moment you were hoping for, if you relax and let the kids enjoy themselves, you’ll often find that you’ll end up with something even better.
As much as I don’t like to admit it, I’m not above bribery when it comes to pictures. This year it was easy—we were taking pictures at a park and all my kids wanted was to play on the equipment, so I promised them they could if they behaved well during the pictures. But I’ve used ice cream, candy, trips to the Dollar Store, you name it. Sometimes a good bribe is just what it takes!
5. Allow “props” if you need to
Sure, your child’s beloved blanket totally clashes with your color scheme, but what if he refuses to part with it, even temporarily? Just go with it! Believe it or not, those little lovies can actually add character to your pictures and will probably bring up fond memories when you’re looking at your photos in the future.
This was supposed to be a tender picture with my mom and her four grandchildren. But my son positively refused to do anything without the iPod. After we relented, he started listening to and dancing along with If You’re Happy and You Know It (here, he’s pointing to his face during the part that goes, “Then your face will surely show it!”). I wasn’t thrilled with having the iPod in our pictures, but it was certainly a better alternative than him crying and running away. The dancing wasn’t in my picture-plans, either, but this has turned into one of our favorite pictures with my son and sits framed in my mom’s house!
6. Avoid saying, “CHEESE!”
The problem with saying, “Cheese!” is that you tend to get shots like what you see above. It looks like my kids are cringing, not smiling. If they are old enough to understand, try saying something like, “Look at the camera and smile!” This is also where a helper comes in handy. It is good to bring a little toy or something for the helper to hold by the photographer so you can say, “Look at the elephant and smile!” Better yet, have your helper do something funny to get your kids to laugh–this is why I like bringing one of the aunts along. They have the knack for getting my kids to laugh.
7. Roll with the punches
Let’s face it: sometimes things don’t turn out the way you want them to. Maybe your kids won’t behave, maybe your hair doesn’t look the way you wanted it to, maybe it’s windy that day. Maybe you had a super-cute, Pinterest-worthy idea and your kids won’t cooperate with it. You might be disappointed, and that’s understandable. But ask yourself, “Is this worth getting worked up over?” I’m embarrassed to admit that there have been some picture sessions when I’ve gotten upset with my kids over this or that, and reflecting on it now, I regret it. It’s just not worth it. To be honest, when I look back at pictures from some of our worst picture sessions (like the photo you see above), I just laugh. I’m actually glad we have those pictures because they are so funny. It’s hard when you don’t get the picture you want, but you’ll be much happier (and not damage any relationships) if you can just shrug your shoulders and remind yourself to laugh it off.
8. Keep it short and come with ideas in mind
If you know there are certain pictures you want, come prepared and let your photographer know. Do you just want some with your whole family? What about just the kids? The kids individually? Do you have certain poses or set-ups in mind? Have these planned out in advance. Kids can be temperamental and you don’t want to waste precious time trying to figure out what you want. It will definitely be easier if you are ready to go as soon as you arrive! If you are paying someone to take your pictures, it’s great if they have their own ideas, but make sure you get what YOU want.
If you come prepared and have ideas in mind, hopefully you can keep your session short. Your kids will most definitely do better if you don’t drag things out excessively. It gets to a point when all the bribery, coaxing, and pleading doesn’t do any good. When kids are done, they’re done. It’s better to keep things as brief as possible and keep everyone happy.
9. Get creative and be open-minded
For this session, I really wanted a picture with all three of my kiddos without us parents. But the littlest man was SUPER cranky and absolutely would not cooperate. Not only that, he cried and flung himself down every time we put him next to his siblings. But we had the idea to have my other two give him kisses on the cheek, which at least kept him from flinging himself on the ground. It wasn’t my ideal—I would have preferred to have all the kids looking at the camera, but it worked and it actually turned out really cute! The point is, even when you’re struggling with some obstacles, sometimes you can still make things work if you just come up with new ways of doing things. Things don’t have to be perfect to be cute.
10. Don’t take yourself too seriously
Who says everyone has to stand up straight and smile? This is another one of my favorite family pictures. My son was being so goofy that day, and my daughter wore her typical confused scowl. Sure, it may not have been the ideal family picture, but who cares? This is my family, and I love us for who we are, not because we are picture-perfect! If you can walk away from a photo session with that in your mind and heart, then I’d say your session was a success—no matter what your pictures look like!