How to do a family photo shoot for the Holidays (and stay COVID-safe!)

Holiday photo shoot
(Image credit: Shoott)

It's a tradition for many - the Holiday photo shoot with the whole family. And while it's often difficult at the best of times to wrangle the family together for a series of pictures, 2020 has provided added difficulty with things like social distancing, and some professional photographers unwilling to risk work at all. So, we thought it would be a good idea to advise you on how to do a family photo shoot for the Holidays, and keep it as COVID safe as possible. The last thing you want is to endanger members of your family for the sake of a cute Christmas card.

While we do have photo experts on team, we wanted to bring in other experts to give you professional tips on how to do your family photo shoot in 2020. So, we spoke to the CEO and co-founder of Shoott, Jennifer Tsay, who offered her professional tips on how to take the ultimate set of Holiday photos. In fact, the whole team chipped in with advice on how to stay safe in the process. Shoott is a female-run company that operates across the US, with the focus on providing photography for family portraits, social media profiles, and professional images for resumes and portfolios - so they know all about photography for the situations most Americans will need it for.

Good luck tackling your own Holiday photo shoot. If you need it, we have advice on the best cameras for beginners, and the best photo editing software to add that extra level of finish.

1. Make traditional poses stand out

We all want that one traditional pose, with the whole family as a formal group, looking straight at the camera. However, formal can often mean 'awkward' and 'not very dynamic', so here's how to nail that formal pic.

"Grab traditional posed shots with everyone standing or sitting," says Tsay. "But level up your photo by mixing standing members with others who are sitting or kneeling. Work with elements like large rocks, benches, trees and grass." She also advises that different family groups can create unique images, and will really add a whole new dynamic to formal, posed shots. If you mix up the people you're working with it can create unexpectedly fun images.

"Think of all the combinations of family members – just kids, just parents, just pets or all the female or male-identifying members, and so on!" Tsay advises.

Formal pictures are the ones you'll use on photo cards, which will go out to all your friends and family, but they don't have to be everyone in one picture. Sending just the Grandkids to your parents, for example, makes a wonderful gift.

Holiday photo shoot

(Image credit: Shoott)

2. Aim for some dynamic images

Straight-on shots are what you'll often see in most Holiday cards and social media posts. Anyone without any real knowledge of taking pictures will tend to stand straight, frame everyone in shot, and snap a single photo. However, angles are a great way to create something unique, even if you're working in a location you've photographed many times before. They're great for mixing up images, and if you get enough pics, you'll be able to put together a superb photo book as a Holiday gift.

Tsay advises that: "For a more artistic approach, have the photographer work from the side or from behind or above you. A family favorite is having kids, fur babies and parents lying on the grass and having the photographer work from above." This gives you dynamic, and sometimes dramatic, angles that can tell a story as easily as the location and the people in it. Simply bending your knees and taking a picture from kneeling or squatting will produce noticeably different results. Try it!

If you're looking to add a less formal feel to a picture, try experimenting with motion. "Movement helps minimize stiffness or awkwardness. Walk towards or away from camera, run, twirl, jump, or play with clothing – these are all great options," explains Tsay.

Most modern cameras and smartphones will adjust for motion (in automatic mode), but try to avoid moving too fast, as this will create blur. And if you're working with manual settings on a camera, you'll need to keep an eye on the shutter speed to make sure you're all set for moving subjects.

Holiday photo shoot

(Image credit: Shoott)

3. How to work with pets and kids

Anyone who has ever tried to photograph their pets or children will know that these two groups of subjects rarely sit still. What's more, keeping them within a location, when you've found the perfect shot, is difficult as they tend to walk or run away. There are ways to work with both kids and pets, but they work a little differently.

"For pups and young kids in particular, bring their favorite toy or squeaker so the photographer can use it to grab their attention and direct their gaze towards camera," explains Tsay. "Toys and other props could make fun points of interest in candid shots as well."

If you're working with pets, you can get great pictures by having your subject play with them, as this really brings an image to life. Challenge yourself to capture your dog jumping to catch a ball, or jumping up to greet another person. If you're looking to get a cute picture of a pet, the best thing is to wait for them to fall asleep (this is perfect for puppies and cats) and snap away. Pets are quite malleable when they're sleeping, so you can often pose them if you are careful when you move them.

Kids need to be amused and engaged to get the best photos. They will often tire of being a subject, so you need to keep them involved and amused. "Tell the kids a joke; have them tell you a joke. Talking and laughing together creates beautiful family moments which create family photo gold," advises Tsay. She adds: "Play with kids and pets by chasing them, swinging them, lifting them up in the air".

We often find that making your kids say a rude word (keep it clean, though), will often get them to crack a quick smile. Experiment to see what works - you should know what makes your child laugh.

Holiday photo shoot

(Image credit: Shoott)

Stay COVID-safe with your photo shoot

The sad fact is that this Holiday season is marred by the threat of COVID. However, you don't need to cancel your family Holiday photo plans, even if you want to get the pictures taken by a professional, who is outside your quarantine bubble. We asked the team at Shoott to give some general tips on how to stay COVID-safe in this situation.

  • Make sure you only have folks in your session that you’ve been quarantining with
  • Your photographer should keep a distance so make sure to communicate that you want to keep a 6 foot distance as well – no hand shakes (waves are great!), no physical interaction with the photographer. Most photographers work with equipment that allows them to maintain distance but still capture quality.
  • Keep your mask on anytime you’re not actively being photographed and make sure it covers your nose and mouth.
  • If you have inspiration for your session, text photos to your photographer for a contact-less and easy way to share information. You can also text your photographer if you’re having trouble communicating from a distance.
  • Bring antibacterial wipes just in case you want to touch anything for your shoot such as poles/fences, playground sets, etc.
  • Bring extra hand sanitizer just in case!

Of course, if you're in any doubt about whether or not it's safe to visit a location and shoot a Holiday photo, you should always be cautious. Don't plan to take images in crowded spots, and where possible take your pictures outside where there is ventilation and the space to stay away from others.

Andy Hartup

Andy was the previous Editor-in-Chief of Top Ten Reviews. With over 18 years experience in both online and print journalism, Andy has worked for a host of world-leading tech and gaming brands, including PC Gamer and GamesRadar. He specializes in photography, technology and smart home, and has provided expert comment for sites like The Guardian. In his spare time Andy is an amateur photographer, and teaches at the National Film and TV School.