Oh, the holidays. You wrangle a hungry, tired kid into the outfit you picked out ages ago, and pray that they’ll sit still for just one nice photo in front of the tree. Just sit. Please? Don’t eat that. We’re gonna be late, just forget it. Maybe next year.

I can’t make your kids, or your dogs, or especially your cats suddenly become cooperative angels. But I do have a few tips that can help to give you the best shot of success.

Ease them into it.

When you boil a frog, you don’t just throw them into already boiling water. Don’t actually boil frogs, though, you know what this is a bad metaphor. I’m saying don’t throw the whole mess at them in a ten minute flurry of activity. We were running late for something, and my poor little toddler went from happily lounging on the couch and watching cartoons to being fully dressed and in the car in a five minute tornado. He was miserable, and had I been aiming to take a photo then, it would have been a photo of his tiny toddler misery. Don’t do that.

This is especially true if you have little ones, but honestly tweens and teens need one million years to get ready, so don’t spring a photo shoot on them. If they’re old enough that they’re dressing themselves, give them a heads up that family photo time is coming. For little ones, I like to dress mine in stages, because he hates getting dressed more than nearly anything. Put on a onesie, take a break. Here’s some pants, another break. It takes forever, but it lowers our odds of having a meltdown. If you’ve decided to dress your animals, I have no tips for you, and may God have mercy on your soul.

Find a clean background

There’s a tendency to not notice clutter when you’re taking the photo, but later on, it’s all you can look at. Sure, we’d love to use this one precious photo we managed to get of everyone smiling, but why is the garbage can behind them? Decide on a good spot as a background, and clear out anything that doesn’t need to be there. Now, this tip is coming from a woman who has hidden dirty pans in her oven because company was coming over, so I’m not suggesting you deep clean your whole room or anything. Just move all the clutter out of frame, you’ll be really glad you did later. If you want to get some lovely photos of your people opening presents on Christmas morning, or whatever cool tradition you have, just clear the clutter from one side of the room, and always shoot toward that side. I do it all the time.

Get lit

I’m not saying you should get drunk first (although I’m not judging, you do you.) I’m saying lights are your friend. The camera sensor needs more light than your eyes do – especially if you’re using your phone camera, and can’t set your shutter speed. If it’s dark, the shutter will be slower, and any sudden movements by your kids and/or furbabies will create blur. Going outside is great, but if it’s too cold, posing everyone opposite a big window can give you a similar effect. Also, for kids and pets, try getting down to their eye level when you take their photo. You’re used to seeing them from your eye level all the time, so changing your perspective makes for a more interesting shot.

Bribe ’em

If all else fails, bribe them with snacks. Fruit snacks work great, because they don’t crumble or smear. At the end of the day, you want a photo of your family looking happy, so do what you can to facilitate a little joy. I don’t know about you, but snacks make me happy.

Can’t you just do it for us?

Yes! If you want some beautiful portraits of your family (furry ones included), I’d love to work with you. Book a session for yourself, or pick up a gift card for a friend. Gift cards can be made for custom amounts, or for a particular collection (listed in the drop down menu, to make it a little easier for you.)

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