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8 Tips for Timeless Family Portraits

The leaves are starting to change color, the local drug store is already pushing Halloween candy to the side to make way for Christmas ornaments, and you just bought a new wool sweater. That means it’s time for your annual family portrait! Styling a classic – and classy – family portrait so that it doesn’t land you and your kids on the Awkward Family Photos site can seem like a daunting task. Unlike perpetually closing your eyes when the camera flashes, some photo mishaps are avoidable. Here are eight tips for taking a timeless family photo that won’t make you cringe in twenty years.

8 Tips for Timeless Family Portraits

1. Skip the matching outfits.

Visually, the eye just sees one weird mint candy blob. Each family member is an individual, so don’t try to make everyone look the same. Keep eyes moving across the photo by dressing in coordinating and not matching outfits. I’ll have more suggestions on that topic tomorrow.

2. Keep the style consistent throughout the family.

Bob got the memo about the mustache requirement, but didn’t see the one about wearing a white top and pants. No, Bob, the white writing on your t-shirt doesn’t count.

If you and your spouse are wearing casual outfits, don’t put your little girl in a taffeta dress, or your boy in a suit and tie.

3. Wear classic clothes and accessories.

One could argue that turtlenecks are classic, but the sunglasses are decidedly 80’s. I must confess to being a reformed turtleneck wearer. My neck was well covered in the 80’s and 90’s, which in addition to my affinity for J. Crew men’s sweaters contributed to why I never had a boyfriend in high school. :)

4. Lose the back-drops.

Sometimes an indoor photo shoot is unavoidable due to weather, but there’s no need for backdrops that make it look like you’re on safari, in front of the Eiffel Tower, or at the beach. Ask your photographer in advance about the backdrops they have available to ensure that your ensemble doesn’t clash. Take the opportunity to be photographed outside if possible. The light will be more, well, natural and people will really believe that you were there.

5. Keep your holiday card in mind.

Yes, the photographer was clearly a total perv who just wanted to see the mom shirtless (cuz really, that dad’s bod is nothing to get excited about), but he did capture a look that could go quite well with a blue/silver/snowflake holiday card. See those hanging star/snowflake thingies on the left?

Just kidding. This is beyond awful. The point is, consider what kind of holiday card you plan to send. If you love traditional Christmas colors, keep that in mind. If you’re more the Hanukkah blue & white kind of family, take that into account. Please do not use a family portrait in which you’re in shorts and t-shirts and put it on a card with a snowman. It will look silly. Better yet, choose your card before you choose your portrait outfits.

6. Smile for goodness sake!

So many sins in this photo: matching shirts, too much black, floating heads and armless hands… But the worst offense is that they look absolutely miserable. Who wants to get that photo in a Christmas card? Bah humbug!

7. Leave the props at home.

I don’t care how much you love your Blackberry, it has no place in your family portrait. Nor does your samurai sword, pompom, soccer trophy, or other physical evidence of a hobby that you may lose interest in within the next five years. Keep the pictures focus on your family, not on your stuff. Exception: your toddler’s teddy bear, which is the only thing keeping him from having a tantrum during the shoot.

8. Don’t try to be the Jones’s.

There was an episode of “Raising Hope” last season in which Virginia (the mom) was obsessed with the “perfect” family portrait. She dressed up her family in ridiculous costumes (mimes, skiers, and here – librarians) all in an effort to give the perception that their family was something it is not. At the end of the day, it’s important to be yourselves. If you spend a lot of time at the beach, have your portrait taken there. If you love to read, be photographed on the front steps of your local library. There are plenty of ways to incorporate your family’s personality in the photos without looking awkward and weird to the people on your holiday card list.

In conclusion…

My mom never liked family portraits (reason unknown), so we never had any. This actually makes me a bit sad, because as stressful as it can be to put together a classy family portrait, it should also be a fun way to remember yourselves as the years go by. Now that we have Junior, I plan to make family portraits an annual occurrence.

Do you have any goofy or fabulous (or fabulously goofy) family portraits? I’ve posted some of the photos that my little family took this year – both the good and the so-so. Feel free to add your own or share your thoughts on what makes a great photo.

All photos from awkwardfamilyphotos.com except for the “Raising Hope” photo, which is from tv.com.


  1. I am laughing so hard at all of these! Seriously!

  2. haha oh how I love these photos! I can’t quite decide which one is my favorite either! they are all pretty funny.

    I think family portraits are super cute and I definitely want to do one this year…I just have to find the right photographer!!
    ana {bluebirdkisses} recently posted..Fall/Winter 2011 Fashion for Boys!

  3. Dying over the ‘staches!
    Kristin recently posted..When Bloggers Design

  4. A topless Christmas, now that’s a concept. This is so funny, I’m going to share it on Facebook.

    I’m kind of with your mom, I’m not a big fan. I didn’t even really want posed pictures at my wedding. I like candid pictures or ones taken in casual settings so much more. My mother-in-law arranged for a few family photo shoots but they were taken in a park or their backyard, I didn’t mind those so much.
    karen@strictlysimplestyle recently posted..Hosting a Wine Tasting Party

    • Thanks Karen! It’s such a personal decision and clearly (after laughing my a$$ off looking at all those awkward photos) people have drastically different opinions about what makes a good photo!

    • I’m with Laura’s mom too, HOWEVER, one of my favorite things about December is getting the pictures of my friends’ kids in the mail in the form of a cute postcard, LOVE IT, look forward to it when I open the mail, and I’m even making a scrapbook with the ones I’ve saved over the years :).

  5. Lol! I absolutely loved those, I am sure the pictures and memories would remain forever to be cherished. :)
    Jazz recently posted..Medical Assistant


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