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Family Christmas photos….can they be cool?

So this subject is really divisive, no?  To family portrait or to not family portrait, and then if YES, then HOW to make it interesting and not generic and cheesy.

 And then the other part of me is like, why does everything have to be hipster? And not everybody has access to photography that is interesting and artsy, so why the hell would you judge?  And will hipster photographs be out soon, or will they still be a relic of this time, so therefore they are at least interesting in that respect?

Like this family, for instance.  If i got their christmas card in the mail i would be pleasantly surprised and more excited to hear whats happening in their life.  Which is INCREDIBLY snobby, i realize, but i’m a visual artist and i respond to this stuff…shame on me.

So this is my attempt to figure out what makes for a good family portrait and how to avoid the cheesy ones.  Unfortunately I can’t show the ‘what not to do’ because the chances that  i might feature a family’s really cheezy card as a ‘what not to do’ and they might read it would make me want to die. But you know what i’m talking about:  the really generic, all posed, smiling to camera, in a contrived setting, possibly matching clothes…..NOTHING IS WRONG WITH THAT, please don’t be upset if this is you, honestly. But i’m just not so attracted to that.  

While i was googling ‘worst family portraits ever’ however i did get these, which are ironically AMAZING.  


 YES.  in every way.  So here’s how it went down:  

Steve, the dad,  was all, “Honey love face?  i have a great idea for a christmas card this year”

Jodie:  “What is it butter nuts?”

Steve: “I thought that me, you, Cody, Ralph, Beyonce and even baby Orlando could get naked, lay on top of eachother and create a ‘Nude family pyramid’.  Wouldn’t that be a treat?”

Jodie: “Oh, sugar balls that does sound like a wildy wonderful idea, but can we create the studio where they’ve built a huge fake boulder for us to lay on?”

The McNakedsons are actually totally awesome. I don’t know if they were being ironic or not, but either way i appreciate it.  

And check out this one:


“HONEY, Its just me, you, my gun and your bird”  I’m almost positive there is no irony in photo, but it makes me want to book a sears portrait room right now with Brian, Bearcat, General Meow and perhaps we could be in our halloween costumes (I was Dolly and Brian was Black Swan).  Talk about making memories.  

Alright if you aren’t going to go the ironic route, which is ALWAYS funny.  Then here are some keys to what I, Emily Von Henderson, thinks is a tasteful family portrait.

1. Loosen up.  Unless your family is super stiff and formal then why would your portraits be? Pictures aren’t just for documenting looks, they are for documenting feelings, emotions, how your family interacts, the chemistry of the family.  You can still have everyone in the photo looking happy, like this one:

There is nothing amazing about the photo, the camera, the location, the wardrobe or anything, but they do look like they are having fun – they are a wacky family with with their wacky arms in the air and then one of them is crawling, which is super wacky.  Why are you crawling, grown man?  answer:  “because i’m WACKY”.

 Way more interesting than this:

Sorry, chick from 21 jump street, but this does nothing for me.  (yes, i chose a celebrity to use as the wrong example instead of the MILLIONS of bad photos online out of fear that one of them would see it, whereas i’m sure that she doesn’t read my blog.)

Ask the photographer to capture your kids actually being kids -nothing strips youth out of kids then making them sit quietly and force a fake smile.  

Photos from: hipsters with kids

2. If you insist on coordinating outfits, either ALL MATCH PERFECTLY in an ironic way, so its funny so everyone is in the same bowtie – includin chicks, or use a color palette of 3-5 colors, not just a white top with jeans, its neither funny or interesting – just super forced. 

I don’t know.  I think the matching will be funny in 20 years but its won’t be funny this year, right now for your family.  We had matching outfits growing up and its funny now, but i’m SURE it wasn’t funny then.

I would have each family member wear what most represents ‘them’.  You are tryiing to authentically capture your family so why not authentically capture style and personality, too? Maybe even let your kids pick out what they want to wear – at least there is a good story behind it.

3. Grab a good location that represents you.  If you and your family NEVER go to the beach, then why are you being recorded as ‘beach people’ in 2011?  For photo shoots what we do is go ‘location scouting’ for the location with the best setting that we want to portray.  

Cute, right?

Or if this family was walking towards us or playing it would be a great shot. 

In fact, walking is always a good one, as opposed to sitting.  


Like this one above (why is it so stretched out??? argh!!) – still more traditional and conservative than hipster, but they look happy and natural, not forced and stiff.   photo credit here  And that location is beautiful without being perfect.  

I know people are sensitive about this stuff, but i just hate a wasted opportunity to really capture your family at a fleeting time.  

Or you could do this:


Well, YOU might not be able to right now, but if you practice and put your heart and soul into it you might be able to by next holiday.  Goals, people.

If you live in LA and want an awesome portrait photographer check out Bonnie Tsang She is AWESOME and i can absolutely vouch for her. 

Check back tomorrow for Non-portrait custom family holiday card options.  I’m searching etsy and the web right now so if there are any good options out there that i might not know about, send them my way.  


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