Don't Buy Matching Outfits
One Christmas outfit is bad enough.
"You're already related, you probably look alike—you just need to add that one more element?" says Mike Bender, co-founder of Awkward Family Photos
. He and Doug Chernack started the blog in 2009. Now the site gets 1.5 million visitors a month, and the duo is following up their best-selling book Awkward Family Photos
with Awkward Family Pet Photos
Do Wear Complementary Colors
When award-winning (read: not awkward) family photographer Michael Jurick
discovered the AFP book he found himself laughing out loud in line for tech support. He strives to keep his photos off the site, but he knows how tough it is to get the perfect shot.
As for what to wear to your photo shoot, Jurick recommends looking to your environment. If you're taking photos in the fall leaves, go with earth tones. At the beach, jeans, khakis and lighter colors work well. For holiday card photos, he has one piece of advice: No one will be able to focus on your smiling faces if your glittering holiday sweater is stealing the spotlight.
Don't Pose as a Christmas Tree
Poses tend to fall into two categories: trite to the point of being cliché (huddled around the fireplace! Piled on top of Dad!) and "creative" to the point of being absurd (dressing up as gift boxes?). This one, somehow, is both.
"Doing the first book," Bender says, "we spoke to an Olan Mills [the classic portrait studio] photographer who said they used to force them to push certain poses." So if you've been stuck in an outdated tableau like the "totem pole," the "arm shelf" or the "banana boat," you're not alone.
Do Create a Triangle (Not a Conifer)
Jurick relies on active shots to keep the photos looking fresh: Dad lifting the child in the air, teens laughing, a couple walking hand in hand. But if you're set on a static pose, he says, "get the family in somewhat of a triangular composition." Have Dad sit on the ground and let Mom lean against him. If you have young kids, one can lean on Dad, and one can sit on Mom's lap.
Don't Force the Smiles
"Seeing through the smiles—how pained the kids are—that's where the awkwardness lies," says Bender. Worse yet is when they don't bother smiling at all.
Do Set the Kids Up for Smiles
Jurick recently held a session with a 7-year-old whose giggles turned to shrieks of "no pictures!" the instant Jurick started clicking. To avoid that kind of meltdown, "schedule the appointment at the child's prime happy time," Jurick says. "A day or two before the actual photography session, I ask the parent to talk to their children about the fun photographer they're going to meet." At least then they won't be shocked when the camera comes out.
Don't Use Oversize Props
Somehow people refuse to believe that their happy faces are all they need in a picture. "Any oversized prop is going to be awkward," Bender says.
Do Try Concept Cards
"Concept photos are kind of the rage right now," Jurick says. He's photographed kids outdoors with their tennis rackets and urban families against buildings covered in graffiti. But the coolest concept card he's seen is a deck of cards. The family started with an energetic studio shoot (dancing, jumping and just having a good time), then put the photos on individual cards so that Dad was the king, Mom was the queen and the kids followed suit.
Don't Sit on Bad Santa's Lap
"We've gotten some crazy Santa photos," Bender says. "Santas with black eyes, Santas holding cigarettes. It's kind of a 'bad Santa' series."
Before you wait in line for hours, take a good look at the man in the red suit. If mall Santa isn't as snowy haired and rosy cheeked as the real thing, you might want to shop around.
Do Use a Nontraditional Venue
Jurick says to get outdoors. The one time he did take photos of kids on Santa's lap, he got in close and made the children laugh. When there's a smiling baby in the frame, who's looking at Santa?
Don't Let It All Hang Out
When it comes to holiday cards, there's no excuse for going topless. Or pantless. Or...doing this.
"That would be a photo where I'm not really sure what more I could say," Bender says. (In the family's defense, this was taken in California in the '70s.)
Do Keep It Classy, Folks
Jurick's response: pure shock.
Don't Expect Pets to Be Anything but Pets
You may think Fido makes an adorable Rudolph, but Fido just wants an antler-ectomy.
"We love our pets," Bender says. "They're family to us, and we treat them sort of like they are human."
Photos like these were the inspiration for Mike and Doug's new book, Awkward Family Pet Photos
; they noticed that the furriest family members started getting the most attention on their site.
Do Bring an Animal Wrangler
Jurick knows that pets are part of the family, so he recommends bringing a friend or neighbor to keep the pet calm while the family poses. Some of Jurick's clients learned that lesson the hard way when they had to sit on their Labrador puppy to keep it from bolting out of the shot.
Jurick's advice: Get the human family members settled into the pose first; then bring the pets into the shot and play with them. The instant before the flash, have the photographer call their attention and snap photos rapid-fire.
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