Prevent cheery from becoming cheesey in holiday family photos

San Francisco-based photographer Nancy Alcott is a rookie mom who is on a mission to save you from yourself when it comes to producing a photo appropriate for a holiday card. Her aesthetic is clean and modern. No holiday sweaters allowed.


Here are Nancy’s tips:

Dress them like kids, not elves.
The holidays are festive but be careful not to overdo it on the outfits. Avoid busy holiday motifs or bold patterns and stick to simpler, solid colors to ensure their faces are the hero of your photo, not junior’s explosion-at-the-candy-cane-factory jumper.

Lineups are criminal.
For truly distinctive shots, forego the typical family lineup by paying attention to backdrop and poses. I like keeping subjects away from walls and busy backdrops, opting instead for cozier, more natural settings. Also play around capturing your subjects in ways other than dead-on facing the camera. A slightly turned head or angled shoulder turn can be the difference between capturing a cast of characters versus a night at the precinct.

“A” is for Auto. “B” is for stop doing that.
Automatic mode can help ensure a decent photo but to get the best effects for close-ups on faces, choose “portrait” mode, or for the more adventurous types with more advanced cameras, “aperture” mode. Experimenting with these modes can create beautiful artistic effects by blurring out the background and drawing attention to your subject’s face.


Teach your camera colors.
Learning advanced features can be daunting so I always tell amateur photographers to experiment first with white balance (sometimes abbreviated “WB” on cameras) because it will have the biggest impact on creating true colors. Believe it or not, your camera can only guess at precisely what colors it’s looking at. Setting your white balance (sunny, cloudy, fluorescent, etc.) ensures your colors are accurately portrayed.

Testing 1, 2, 3…
99% of the time, my best results are when the subject least expects to be photographed. Candids tend to draw out your subjects personality, before they go rigid readying their pose. One trick I use to get great semi-posed portraits – tell your subjects to pose for some “test” shots to help you prepare your camera. If they think it’s not for real, they’ll tend to be much more expressive and natural.

Get more inspiration from Nancy by browsing the photos at her website.