How to Nail a Family Photo

It’s that time of the year again. The leaves are changing, my coffee is lingering somewhere between pumpkin spice and peppermint mocha, the holidays are drawing closer, and all I can think is “we gotta get this damn Christmas card done before the first frost.”
I always fail.
After learning the hard way year one, I got smart and started planning family pictures mid-late summer. I put myself way ahead of the game… but then a false sense of confidence in time sets in. I set my planning on the backburner, and promptly pick it up again mid-November. Every. Time.
When it hits me that I’ve gone from overly eager to a last minute procrastinator yet again my planning goes into overdrive. Some people may not care about family pictures; or, if they do care maybe they don’t care how perfect they are. I am not one of those people.
2015 Winner. Attempt #3.
Pinterest is awesome. It gives more ideas and inspirations then you could know what to do with; but if you’re like me it also gives you a bar set way too high. Taking family pictures is hard. If you say any different you’re lying. Or weird. Or magic. Taking Pinterest inspired family pictures is even harder.
So, once I dreadfully realize ‘winter is coming,’ flash backs of freezing photo sessions fill my head. If you were at St Pats Park sometime late November 2015 and are still confused by the sounds of shouting “adults” and crying children echoing across that beautifully snowy, albeit freezing, morning, no worries that was just my family attempting pictures for the second time that year.
Cold + pictures = certain disaster. Thus, the scrambling begins with the following steps.
That time I almost gave my whole family frostbite. 1st and last picture of that day.
5 Steps to Nailing a Family Photo:
1. Theme
First task at hand, decide on a theme. You need a theme without being too theme-y. The picture has to have a vibe without being too obvious. Woodsy, winter wonderlandy, beachy, etc. This year I was set on a dressed up frolicking in the mountains vibe. I live in Indiana. It probably won’t shock you to hear with this thinking that on top of being a last minute pictures taker, our yearly photo retake number is also averaging 3xs. I have a tendency to convince myself something will look like something its not if I want it to bad enough. At least my husband has almost accepted this. Marriage eh. Pick your battles.
Nailing the woodsy theme in 2014’s second attempt. With self timer I must boast.
2. Outfits
Next, find the outfits. Outfits are tricky. They need to perfectly match but you can’t be obvious about it. Long gone are the days of white shirts and jeans for the whole family. The 90s were so easy. Now it’s 2016, we need layers, and patterns, and colors that match because they contrast but not because they literally match. Everyone seems to nail this effortlessly except me and I’m not sure why. Overthinking might be the culprit. Also every year there is a staple item. One year it was super sparkly skirts, the next puffer vests. This year, it’s the long sleeve floral maxi dress. Try not to notice this on every fancy Instagram account now. I searched, failed, and settled for a floral blouse. My Husband assured me it looked like a hospital gown. 2016 photo was off to a great start.
“The blouse” aka Hospital Nightgown 2016. Outfits always match way less than I imagined in attempt #1. Someone coach me.
3. Set a date
Most people would hire a photographer and have that on the calendar by now. Not me. I’m obsessed with photography. Like seriously I considered writing anonymous attaboy notes to all my favorite photographers because I think they’re so talented. But they’re also expensive (the ones I like). And our schedules are always changing. And I’m picky. And I have self timer, and a few family members I can yell orders to at my disposal, so I’ve skipped the hired experts so far. Will save that for when I’m certain everyone will look at the camera and smile. Once I find a date that works for everyone I remind my husband of it three times. He doesn’t hear me until the day of when he insists I never told him. He could argue this fact if he read this blog but he doesn’t. That’ll teach him!
Husbands can be bribed too. In 2013 I bribed him with a photoshopped beard to stand in a snow pile outside a Jimmy Johns.
4. Pick a location
I usually have a location in mind that inspired my theme. I’m a photographer by passion so I’m always oohing over pretty picture spots. The spots aren’t always promising though. This year I did my best to get my mountainy look by going to a field with lots of piles of brush and broke in half trees. When we arrived, with 5 minute to sunset, my husband pointed out that the trees were “all cool and broken in half” because they were dead… because it was a swamp. Hello. That only to top sitting in the middle of a field that builds 50+mph winds or standing in snowbanks previous years.
Word of Advice – If you have to shovel a path to get to your picture location it’s probably not going to go well.
5. Execute
Lights, camera, action. The day of I stay super positive. Not rocking anyone’s boat. No one really wants to take the pictures so some serious manipulation and reverse psychology is required on everyone. I don’t let them see me panic; but, because my outfit is always the least put together I always am a bit inside. Typical. Then we just try. And fail. And repeat the above steps until a winning image is found. This year we may just stick with attempt number one because… It’s us. And black and white can hide our mismatched (in all the wrong ways) outfits.
Best shot from attempt #1 2016. It wasn’t even cold. They must have been having flashbacks.
At the end of the day, just take the pictures. Don’t be discouraged if no one is cooperating, things are last minute, or thrown together. Just because Pinterest and Instagram are splattered with the final perfect cuts, don’t forget most peoples editing floors look similar to the above. Looking back the memories of taking the pictures and the photo fails are just as sweet bittersweet of memories as the successes. I love this crazy bunch I call my family and I’m so happy I have the photos each year of everyone growing and changing (all too fast).
As for 2016, will we settle on attempt number one this year? TBD, Christmas Card coming soon!
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