Pro Hacks for Handling Holiday Photo Sessions

Well, Halloween is over: time to break out the Christmas decorations. Kidding/not kidding.

While most people–including myself–like to complain about the so-called “Christmas creep,” the fact is the holidays are a busy time, where demand often overtakes supply. In my business, for example, lots of customers want holiday pictures–way more than I can reasonably do in the week before Christmas, which is when everyone seems to approach me. Obviously, it’s better for all involved if we start early.

There will, of course, always be procrastinators who wait until the last minute, and the rise of the internet and 2-Day Delivery has only made that worse: customers have come to expect convenience and  speed when shopping online, and expect any purchases to arrive in hours. This leads to its own set of risks–check out this article for tips on safer online shopping–and exacerbates the “I want it now” mindset.

For photographers, time is always a factor–and the holidays are worse: more people wanting to schedule sessions in a shorter span of time, compounded by additional deadlines that range from “We need to get our Christmas letter in the mail TODAY!” to “But Uncle Sid and Aunt Jan will only be in town this weekend!”

One of the ways I have developed for dealing with this is expanding the possibilities beyond the traditional studio settings. For example, more than one client over the years has postponed a holiday photo due to tinsel trouble: “I want the photos in front of our tree, but I’ve been so busy at work, the tree isn’t completely decorated yet!”

My response: turn the problem into an opportunity. Families don’t just come together on Christmas Eve: the decorating itself can provide memorable, fun-filled moments, ripe with photo ops. Trimming the tree itself is part of the magical the atmosphere of Christmas; most families have at least a few cherished of ornaments or traditions that are only experienced at this time of year.

Young children–particularly toddlers who might not remember Christmas from the year before–are especially good subjects, but really, the possibilities are endless. There’s bound to be chaos, obviously, so think tight shots: try to get people’s faces as they open boxes of decorations, or shoot through the tree as a special ornament is hung. And here’s the best part: once everything is on the tree and the lights are plugged in, you’re ready for that family shot in front of the tree.

Another trick I have used–sparingly–is suggesting that group shots aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Holidays are a time to stress the importance of relationships, but it’s hard to focus on catching personalities when you have 20 people trying to say “Cheese!” through frozen smiles and clenched teeth.

Snapping people in groups of two or three as they are available can be a logistical nightmare, as you can imagine. But it does help accommodate a variety of schedules, and in almost every case where I’ve done this, the family has later told me it resulted in their favorite Christmas family pictures ever… and frankly, those were some of my favorites, as well.

The joy of the “giving season” comes through much clearer when your subjects are relaxed and comfortable, which also means they tend to be more expressive. Shoot fathers with daughters, mothers with grandbabies, brothers or sisters with younger siblings, nieces or nephews–work with the people who can make each session. Suggestions on how and where to stand or interact are also easier with smaller groups, expanding your ability to capture the bonds between your subjects.

When you’ve got pics of everyone (and don’t be afraid to overlap subjects), create a collage. If that shot of Grandpa and Joey didn’t work, well, you don’t have to call everyone back. And trust me: having one of two people blink is a lot easier to laugh off than having one set of closed eyes in an otherwise perfect setup of the entire extended family. (And don’t EVEN get me started on adding pets to the mix…)

So am I ready to start singing Christmas carols? Not really, no. But the holidays are prime time for photographs, so I am already telling my customers to start thinking about booking their seasonal sessions.

Of course, having said that, I HAVE already started on my Christmas list. A new Canon EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L super-zoom lens would be nice … you listening, Santa?

The Man

The creative arts involved in photography and film are astounding. Do you have what it takes to live up to these works of art? Well, with the information I can provide - you most certainly can! Check out my articles and start Workin' For The Man!

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