Holiday-card photo tips

Consumer Reports News: December 03, 2008 11:08 AM

To take adorable digital holiday photos of your kids—ones that get rave reviews from family and friends—try these pro-photographer tactics.

Keep outfits simple. With babies, less is more. “Newborns look best naked,” says Diana Berrent, a professional portrait photographer in New York City. A logo- or character-free diaper (Seventh Generation makes one), is OK, too, but anything else can look like a sack. A “onesie” is the perfect pick for older infants.

For toddlers and bigger kids, think basics and solids; no appliqués, metallic fabric, writing, logos, characters, stripes, prints, or polka dots. They’re distracting and date the photo. Trust us. When you look at the photo 10 years from now, you definitely won’t want to see cartoon characters. (These tips hold true for picture day at daycare and school, too.)

Similarly, have your kids dress for their age in clothes they like. Don’t put a toddler girl in a stiff frilly dress or a toddler boy in a suit or a buttoned-down collared shirt. Besides being uncomfortable, grown-up garb will camouflage your child’s personality, which should shine through in the photo.

Coordinate the clan. If you’re taking a family photo, have everyone wear different shades of the same color, such as light blue to navy, or pale pink to burgundy, and coordinate everyone’s clothes around that palate, suggests Farrah Braniff, a professional photographer in Houston. And avoid white if you’re shooting outside; it can be too reflective. Matching outfits are another no-no because they’ll seem contrived.

Don’t worry about the backdrop. If you’ll be taking your own holiday photo, don’t fret about finding a perfect pastoral scene in your neighborhood. People receiving your photo will concentrate on your family, not the scenery.

But focus on the children’s faces and do make sure the surroundings aren’t too busy. An adorable expression gets lost when it has to compete with with a jumble of toys, furniture, traffic, and other people in the background, says Braniff.

Don’t tell your kids you’re taking holiday-card photos. It’ll make them self-conscious, which will come through in the photo. The less kids are preoccupied by the camera, the better off you are. In lieu of a posed shot, pack your camera on family outings and watch for impromptu card-worthy photo opportunities, or tell your kids to go play while you casually click away.

Take holiday photos when your kids are happiest. That could be right after a meal rather than before or immediately post-naptime.

Go ahead--use that vacation photo. If you got a great summer vacation shot, it’s fair game for your holiday photo card, even though it may be six months old by the time it’s sent. One caveat: Nix that advice if you have a baby or a toddler. They can change so much within a few months, so a fresher photo is key, if possible.

Choose the photo first. It’s the main attraction, so let it set the tone for the card style you select and the card copy.

Don’t skimp on printing. To create holiday photo cards from a photo you’ve taken, you have options beyond the ever-popular and For stylish, high-quality cards, Berrent recommends and These online services are pricier, but offer superb quality, she says. (We haven’t tested them, however.) Mpix also offers options for specialty items that can double as gifts, such as personalized photo calendars of your kids, buttons, puzzles, and trader cards.

See holiday photo hints for working with a photographer for related information.

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