How to trick your family into loving Christmas portraits

Dec 21, 2021

Let me guess. Every Christmas you have to harass your family into agreeing to pose for family portraits and there’s always someone who complains and someone who won’t smile and overall it’s just not an enjoyable experience. If that’s the case then your family is nothing like mine! We LOVE Christmas portraits and I’ll let you in on the secret of how I tricked my family into falling in love with having their photos taken.

Keep in mind I live in Australia where Christmas day is so hot you’ll have conveniently sweated off half your body weight before Christmas lunch rolls around, and yet my family is still willing to resist their food comas and haul themselves up from the lunch table to stand in a hot garage and have their photos taken. That’s quite a feat! And it all started with one small box.

Now I’m not sure how the prop box started. I think my mother bought a kit of cardboard photobooth props and every year more and more props and hats were magically added, so that when it came time for family photos there was always something to wear and something to hold which alone made the whole thing less awkward.

Then I started putting up backdrops. Bed sheets on clothes stands at first, and then roller blinds on backdrop stands.

They're never wide enough!

The addition of a couple of lights really took our photoshoots to another level.

Next came the directed posing. Now I’ll tell you the story of my grumpy themed family adventures some other time because it is beloved by all who hear of it.

But basically I recruit an extroverted family member to help direct the shoot. My neighbour does a fantastic job of this. She’ll yell out grumpy pose! Or silly pose, happy, gangster, excited, surprised and we’ll assume the position in fits of giggles, guaranteed to make even the staunchest family member lighten up. 

Oh and don’t forget to include pets too!

And lastly came the themes. The first one was awkward family photos where we posed as ridiculously as possible and with a little creative Photoshopping replicated the awkward family photo trend that was all the rage some years back.

Then came COVID which gave us ample material for creating unique poses.

I’m still deciding on an appropriate theme for this year’s photoshoot but I suspect it will have something to do with vaccines.


So how does this work in theory?

Every Christmas day, sometime before lunch, I’ll set up everything in the garage. I’ll assemble the backdrop, set up the lights and bring in the props, with my camera mounted on a tripod. Using either myself or a family member as a model, I’ll pre-focus on them using a fairly narrow aperture (to keep everyone in focus) and then test my lights and tweak to taste. I usually use two lights at 45 degree angles either side. One stand has a Godox light and the other, a Canon Speedlite with a Godox receiver, all triggered from a Godox device on my camera. These are in large overhead softboxes to ensure everyone is evenly lit. It's around this time that I like to shoot a couple of sneaky cover photos for next year's Christmas socials.

Then I’ll just switch everything off and head to lunch. When it's family photo time, with everything set up nobody has to wait around.

I have a little handheld remote so we can all be in the photos together as I trigger the camera.

Spot the camera remote

Sometimes this requires a little Photoshop work as the rollerblinds I use aren’t always wide enough to fit everyone in. But it’s usually as simple as painting in the background with a black or white brush, depending on the backdrop colour I’ve chosen that year (black is easier). And honestly, no one really cares. If you do have a wide enough backdrop you can hang Christmas decorations and lights in the background. You can, of course, also create a nice Christmas setting to pose in, provided it's not too distracting (we don't have the space). We also take photos in small family groups, rotating people in and out of shot. Those on the sidelines will often monitor the photos on the back of the camera, watching the framing and directing poses. On Christmas night or Boxing Day I usually pack everything down, then take an hour or two to sort through the photos, choose the best, clean them up and get them on socials.


If you don’t have the gear, here’s what I suggest:  Photograph in a garage or undercover area facing outdoor natural light with the family members positioned as close to the outdoors as possible while still being in shade. Use your camera’s built-timer in place of a remote and use a tall table (or similar) in place of a tripod. If you don’t have photobooth props, use tinsel and decorations.

Now our photoshoots are legendary, not just amongst family members but our friends also eagerly await the results each year on Facebook. We even get neighbours trying to sneak over and others have asked me to photograph their families. It’s such a brilliant way to brighten up everyone’s day. In future years when I look back at these imperfect photos I’ll find so much more delight in our hilarious portraits then I would in boring posed family photos and I guarantee, like me, you’ll have family members begging to know what time the photoshoot starts.

Merry Christmas from Creative Photo Folk and my family, to yours!


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