Sending Christmas cards is one of my favourite traditions, especially since I became a mom. Every year, I send out a photo of my kids, hoping to elicit a reaction along the lines of “gasp, look how much they’ve grown! And they’re so adorable in an effortlessly whimsical and festive way!”
I have never taken my kids to a photo studio—I’m all about doing it myself with my trusty digital camera. Although some years turned out better than others, I treasure my collection of photo cards.
Disclaimer: what you see here is is simply the result of one mom fumbling her way along. For tips from a professional photographer (for traditional cameras as well as smartphones), please click here.
My first-born was almost a year old for his first Christmas, so an Anne Geddes-style sleeping-infant pose wasn’t in the cards. For reasons obvious to any rookie mom, there wasn’t a corner of our house presentable enough for our at-home photo shoot. I decided to use a white bedsheet as a simple, non-distracting backdrop. I told myself the creases would add artful texture and visual interest.
A kid-sized artificial Christmas tree happened to be on top of the pile of boxes in the basement, so we set it next to our little model. We did plug in the mini-lights, and my husband supervised intently as I set the camera on its rapid-fire “burst” setting and snapped repeatedly.
The only person to voice a concern about the possible safety risk was my brother, a single guy who once used power tools to carve a Halloween pumpkin. Even so, I made a mental note to avoid electrical props next year.
I draped the same white sheet, hauled out some super-safe stuffed snowmen, and plunked my toddler down. My plan was to capture a sense of his innocence and wonder as he examined the decorations for the first time. He was intrigued. So intrigued, in fact, that I could hardly get him to look at me. Backfire.
Things also went off the rails when he started casting the snowmen aside and going to fetch his own props (which, presumably, he felt were more his style).
I was inwardly panicking that our second ever annual holiday greeting would end up reading, “We Wish You a Merry Soccer Ball and a Dump Truck New Year.” Thankfully, when I downloaded the 219 images, there was a winning shot amid them.
Thinking I was on a roll, I used the same setup and an even bigger snowman. But even I had to admit, it was starting to get old. Posing with inanimate objects was making my son look lonely.
Cue the baby brother! Our second son was born in mid-November, leaving me very little time before Christmas-card season, but I was determined to send out a photo of our newly expanded family.
Our half-decorated tree served as our backdrop this time. While I buttoned the baby into his Santa-patterned sleeper and begged him to look happy for the one-fifteenth of a second it would take to snap the picture, I asked my husband to dress our almost-4-year-old in his red turtleneck and comb his hair.
Apparently my husband felt that my son’s hair was out of control and decided to wet it—with what I can only assume was a bucket of water.
There was no chance for a re-shoot. I was tempted to sign the cards “From Captain Slick and his new brother, Baby Furrowed-Brow.”
I went for a low-stress, outdoor approach, snapping this in front of our neighbours’ cedar hedge while we were out for a walk. (You’re welcome, Graco, for the prime product placement.)
My new brilliant strategy: make any photo seem Christmas-y by adding a caption borrowed from a well-known holiday song. Our kids are really into football, so it seemed fitting to use this shot with the tag line “’Tis the Season.” (I wanted to go with “Off-Season’s Greetings,” but my husband vetoed it.)
The only pitfall here is that your friends and relatives might get annoyed if you persist with other sporty, pun-filled variations on this theme, such as baseball (“I’ll be HOME for Christmas”), hockey (“Have an ICE holiday”) or golf (“Jingle Balls”).
This one was pure luck. On the day of the first snowfall, I brought my camera along to school drop-off and posed the kids in front of a giant evergreen in the nearby park. It’s actually one of my favourites.
And, in case Uncle Health-and-Safety is reading this, I’d like to clarify that the kids were properly dressed with winter hats (which were removed for no more than 59 seconds to take the photo).
What image, you might ask, will I send out this year? I truly don’t know yet. While my boys now gripe and groan about being photographed, I’ve enjoyed snapping endless shots of my nephew, who is six months old and approaching his first Christmas.
He’s also at that perfect baby stage where he can sit, but not crawl, and he smiles about everything. Now that’s effortless and adorable.
Kristi York is a freelance writer and a complete amateur when it comes to photography. Please click here for holiday tips from a professional photographer.