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Expert Tips for a Fabulous Family Holiday Photo Shoot

Getting ready to take photos for your holiday cards? We turned to the experts for some advice.

Military wife and professional photographer Nadia Hurtt weighs in with the dos and and don'ts for a successful (and patriotic!) military holiday photo shoot - even when your servicemember is deployed.

how to have a great military holiday photo shoot with advice from a great milso photographer!

When should people start planning for their holiday photo shoot?

As a photographer, I always start booking my holiday card sessions in October.

It may seem way ahead of schedule, but it's actually a great time to start. There are a few things you need to keep in mind when deciding on a session date. First, you have to take into account how long it will take your photographer to get your images edited and available for you to see. My clients, on average, don't have their images back to them for about 15 days. Second, you need to factor in enough time in case life gets in the way and you need to reschedule your session.

Unexpected weather changes, Joey's pink eye, and getting called into work at the last minute are all things out of your control, but they do happen and you need to have enough time to still get the session done. Once you have your images back to you, you then need to create the card, order the final design, and again wait to receive them so you can mail them out to your friends and family. In short, it's never too early to start planning your holiday session.

tips for a perfect military family photo shoot

What kind of place is best to take that holiday photo? Outdoors? Indoors at home? 

I really believe that the best location for any family photo shoot is a place that highlights the family and fits their personality.

Gone are the days of holiday card with stiff, posed family portraits in front of cheesy generic holiday backdrop cloths. Having lived in Hawaii for the past 3 years, I have done all of my holiday shoots outdoors. People love being able to take Christmas pictures in shorts and t-shirts on the beach. Even without the perfect Hawaiian weather, outdoor images in the snow or in a beautiful field wearing warm winter colors can be amazing!

Many photographers hold sessions at local tree farms or have great prop sets that make for original cards. Another great idea is doing the session in your own home. One thing about home sessions is the ability to make the images super personal. You can have images of the family baking cookies, decorating the tree, or even everyone in Christmas pajamas sitting in one bed. The possibilities are endless. Most importantly, have fun wherever your shoot is! Make your holiday card the one people won't want to put away even after the season is over!

What should people keep in mind when they pick out their family's outfits?

This is the number one question I get from my clients when setting up a session. The most important thing to keep in mind is that the outfits should reflect the family, their style, and their personalities.

There's no reason or need for the family to be all matching in their holiday cards anymore... It's about coordinating. First start by choosing a color palette that you would like to work with. Choose one or two leading colors and then a few accent colors that all work well together. Remember that colors come in shades- one person can wear dark blue, another royal blue, and maybe even another wearing a dark purple. Use accessories and layers to add depth and pops of color. Also remember that everything matters right down to your shoes, watch, and hair clips!

Stay timeless. While fashion trends are great, you may regret your fad choices 10 years down the road. When in doubt about what to wear, talk to you photographer and get their input as to what would look great with your session ideas. Send him or her pictures of outfits or build and share a Pinterest board with them. This helps build the client-photographer relationship. I actually love helping my client choose their outfits. I've even gone shopping with them to help create their look!

milso photographer: christmas and holiday photo card how-to and diy

I always go gaga for the Christmas cards I see other people show online, but mine never really measure up. Do you have any expert tips for making the photos more Pinterest-perfect?

If you really want your cards to be special and unique, you really have to plan it out ahead of time. Plan out what you would like your cards to be like by making an inspiration board on Pinterest (can you tell I love using this site to help clients) and then discuss your ideas with your photographer.

A good photographer will want to work with you to achieve the outcome that YOU are looking for.

One of my favorite client ideas for a holiday card was having her kids at a hot cocoa stand and attaching a "do it yourself" hot cocoa kit with the cards. What a perfect (and inexpensive) card and gift idea! I've also had clients work baby and engagement announcements into their holiday cards to make them very special.

If someone wants to make their photo really military and patriotic, what would you suggest?

I love adding the flag into a session somehow while maintaining flag etiquette and respect. It's very important to maintain the respect that the flag deserves even when it's used in photographs.

If a service member wants to wear their uniform for their holiday session, I always recommend they wear their dress uniform instead of their ACU's. I think this is the perfect opportunity to show off and look super sharp in the photos. Combat uniforms are ok for regular family sessions, but for holiday cards the dress uniform makes it so much more special and gives friends and family members the chance to see that service member in their dress uniform when they may not have ever seen them in that uniform before.

If the service member is deployed at the time of the session, I always ask the family to bring a picture of them so they can be included in the family photo too. What tips do you have for anyone looking for a photographer for their photos? It's very important to find a photographer that fits you, your personalities and what you want out of your session. Not all photographers are the same. So ask around, check websites, and talk to various photographers and get a feel for their personality and make sure they can accommodate what you're looking for out of the session. Price is obviously a factor, but don't let it be the deciding factor. You get what you pay for. Also, don't wait until a few weeks before Christmas to try and book holiday card sessions. It's the busiest time of year in our industry and time slots for sessions fill up fast. Most importantly, have fun! Incorporate things your family enjoys by bringing props or choosing a location that has a special meaning to the family.

Thank you, Nadia! You can find Nadia's professional site here.

Tell us: Who are your favorite military photographers?

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