This might be the first year you’ve decided to tackle the daunting task of organizing a family holiday card — complete with a photo of your entire brood.
That’s right. You probably shouldn’t use the one from Thanksgiving where half of your son’s face is out of the shot and your husband can be seen trying to hide a drumstick behind his back. No, you’re going to do it right this year. But how?
To make it a little less scary, PEOPLE tapped Photographer Central pro Hari Simons to share five tips on planning your family holiday card.
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1. Timing is everything.
You know your kids best, so plan for the photo shoot during a time of day when they’re least likely to be cranky, sleepy or hungry. Are they most cooperative in the morning or after lunch? Giving them snacks on the way to the session is another way to make sure everyone is ready when you arrive.
2. Coordinate a theme.
Your photo may already be holiday-themed, but choose ahead of time what you’d like everyone to wear. Outfits don’t have to be identical, but a consistent color palette makes for an image that’s visually balanced.
Props can also be a key part of the theme. Maybe give everyone a silly hat or dress in cowboy boots. Having something they can play with will help keep your kids entertained — if only for a few minutes. But those few minutes can go a long way.
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3. Keep some incentives on hand.
And by incentives, I mean bribes. Maybe it’s a special treat, some stickers or some extra TV time. Whatever it is, keep it in your back pocket in case things get a little unruly. If you’ve hired a professional photographer to help capture the image, let them know ahead of time that it’s available for them to use if needed.
4. Just relax.
If your kids are under the age of 4, they’re probably not going to pose for very long or follow every instruction. Make it fun for them and let them goof off a bit too. You’ll need to be comfortable going with the flow, but know that candid shots can often make for the most memorable images.
5. Find the right photographer.
Whether it’s a friend who can volunteer their time for a quick snapshot or a professional photographer that you hire, find the right one for you and your family.
If you go with a friend or family member, your kids will already know them and will be comfortable with them right from the get-go. If you decide to hire a professional, their years of experience photographing (and corralling) kids will be invaluable. They’ll keep things moving and have plenty of tricks they’ve collected from past clients.