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How to take the perfect holiday photo (I’m still learning...)

Erin Zammett Ruddy

It’s that time of year again. The annual Christmas card photo shoot/stress-inducing nightmare. Does anyone else struggle with this? Every December it haunts me from my to-do list until I finally attempt some super-cheesy posed pictures that never work out and I wind up repurposing a candid, non-seasonal pic from my iphoto folder. My card last year featured a series of shots of Alex playing golf in a short-sleeve shirt, which, thankfully, happened to be red. And, honestly, I loved it (my friend, Chris, designs all my cards and invites—she’s fantastic, check her out on etsy). And I love candid shots. Which is a good thing since this year I have not one rambunctious kid who won’t sit still, but two. Nora is full-blown walking and on the move 24/7. Alex smiles like he ate a lemon and pretty much doesn’t listen at all.

I need professional help and yet I am someone who insists on taking her own photos. My sister goes to Target every year and gets portraits and cards made in one fell swoop. But that’s not how I like to roll. Just add it to the ever-expanding list of ways I like to make my life harder. Because as much as I would cherish some cute, professional, angelic shots—and maybe even put them up on one of my bare walls—they just never seem necessary. I have an awesome camera. I have cute kids. I know how to compose a photo (i.e., I took basic photo in high school). And I can say, “say cheese!” How hard could it be? Well, those of you who’ve tried to wrangle your kids into a photo you’d actually want to show friends and family know how hard it can be….And yet, here I am again, giving it a whirl. Although this time I’m not totally unprepared.

I have a piece in the December issue of Parenting called “How to Take Your Toddler Anywhere.” One of the places is for a photo shoot so I interviewed Kim Cousins of Cousins Photography (they shoot weddings and family portraits here on Long Island—gorgeous stuff). She had a ton of good advice, but my favorite tip is to always have Smarties candies on hand, rather than offering kids crumbly cookies or lip-staining lollipops as bribes (which, she said, a lot of parents do). “Smarties are perfect because they don’t stain lips or tongues, can be given one at a time (one per shot, if need be), are quick to eat, and make no mess,” she explains. (There’s lots more photo-taking tips and other toddler-in-public advice in the article.)

Of course being the genius that I am, I thought I could take the kids out in our backyard this weekend—sans help, sans Smarties—and snap away. I tried several times and, well, I think the photos speak for themselves. Have a look:

Adding to the stress of the shoot was the fact that I stuck my kids near splintering pieces of wood. Mother of the year!

Nora wanted no part of this at all, which she made abundantly clear.

And…she’s out!

Don’t ask me what’s up with the lumberjack motif. And the messy, untucked shirt. Clearly, I failed.

I changed the location but the subjects were still impossible (and, no, I would never have used a shot like this for my Christmas card…giant waste of time!)

Nora the squirmy, pissed-off worm

Another issue: Nora’s fly-away hair. I may have to get it cut soon. Or start using gel.

And then there was one. One who wouldn’t sit still or look at the camera or smile. She just laughed a devilish laugh knowing she had prevailed.

So, have you taken your holiday card shots yet? Did you have more success than I did? Or did you hire a pro? I’m thinking that’s what I’ll do for next year’s card—actually that would make a great Christmas gift if any of my family members are reading….

PS, I’ll post the shots we wind up taking—and using—closer to Christmas. If I get any!