I'm the editor of Smart, a magazine for women in southcentral Pennsylvania. I said "I do" to my wonderful husband in 2002. We have two adorable children who have taught me much about life and love. With the birth of my second child, I bid farewell to my dreams of having a clean house, folded laundry and family dinners on weeknights.

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Snap into the holidays with family-themed photos


These days, it’s hard enough to get the whole family together for an evening meal between basketball practice, music lessons and work functions.

A family portrait?

Well, that might challenge even the most expert event planner.

Not only do you have to get everyone at the same place at the same time, but you have to coordinate clothing, negotiate accessories and poses and make sure the little ones are well-fed and rested.

Still, there’s something about this time of year that pushes families large and small to pull their gang together and head to a local portrait studio.

“A lot of (our customers) are coming in because they haven’t gotten a photo together in a very long time,” said Joan Wilt, owner of Byron Wilt Photography in Paradise Township. “People have so many things going on in their lives these days that if they can get together as a family, they treasure that. It’s very sacred.”

While some families have fun dressing up in Santa hats and Christmas sweaters and heading to chain studios, others seek something more unique.

Carol Schintz said customers at Schintz Studio tend to go for a simpler, more timeless look for their holiday photos. “They’re thinking more long term because they are investing in the pictures.”

The studio is in an old house in downtown York. A fireplace and sled in the backyard are popular backdrops for -photos. The Schintzs have boxes wrapped as gifts that can be used as props, but Carol Schintz said fewer people are using such things. “We don’t throw in a lot of props unless they ask for it.”

Wilt said outdoor photos are -popular at their studio because of the nearby Conewago Creek — especially when snow begins to fall.

Some families will sit on a dune of white sand that simulates snow, Wilt said. Or they gather in front of an old barn hung with a holiday wreath or wagon wheel. “Our clients like the old-time -natural scenery look,” she said.

Wilt said despite the classic look of black-and-white photos, most families opt for color when they order holiday prints: “Color is vibrant, and when you see it, it makes you feel great.”

Ideas for themes:

Sleepover: Have everyone wear pajamas, and bring along blankets and pillows. Cuddle on the floor.

Ugly sweaters: Head to a thrift shop and pick up less-than-trendy attire for everyone. It could be a fun outing and cost less than pricey dress clothes for your family.

Act out: Have Mom and Dad don a “kerchief and cap.” Someone could dress up like Kris Kringle. Doll up the kids as elves. Put a bow on the baby.

Get sporty: Show your team love by having everyone dress in their favorite game-day attire. Warning: This might not be a good idea for families divided in their team loyalties.

Things to consider:


Indoor portrait or outdoor shot?

Natural and authentic scenery or backdrop?

Holiday scene or something more timeless?


Are there any personal items you want included in the shot?

Will they work with the overall feel you want for your photos?


What will show your personality best?

Should everyone in the photo wear jeans or khakis? Do you want everyone in the same color shirts?


Look at portraits you like and think about whether you want a formal shot or something more casual.

Consider poses that will show your family dynamic and personality.

Try on all clothing before the day of your photo shoot.

For large families, consider asking each immediate family to wear a different color shirt to create subgroups.

Think about the number, size and type of prints you want to get before you go to your appointment.

Source: www.searsportrait.com

A Q/A with a photo expert

Jason Plotkin, photographer for the York Daily Record/Sunday News and Smart, works with families each year to get adorable holiday photos.

He shares some of his tips for capturing moments that will last a lifetime:

What should you do when a child refuses to smile for the camera?

There are a few things you can do to help a child smile. First, don’t force it. If they don’t want to smile, they won’t. They’ll feel your stress, and if you get angry, it won’t work out.

Maybe schedule some extra time to get the child used to the situation. I like to have a photographer who my kids know to take our picture. Sometimes that familiarity can help relax a child.

Also, don’t be so strict about the kind of photo you want. Be flexible. If putting your child’s favorite stuffed octopus doesn’t fit in your idea of a holiday photo, don’t worry about it. If they are relaxed and happy, it will work out.

How to you handle reining in unruly family members?

Have multiple plans for family photos. Have some in your mind that you would like to take, but realize that others have their ideas, too. If there are a limited amount of poses you are allowed with the photographer, you could split the difference. If other family members are still being unruly, remind them this is about the family, not just them.

What’s your favorite part of shooting holiday photos?

I love the unpredictability of children. Some will smile, some won’t. I like the process. If a child seems uncomfortable at the beginning but eventually relaxes and has fun, it makes the end result that much better.

What elements make up a great holiday picture?

I think showing your personality makes up a fun holiday photo. I’ve photographed families who have come in with themes, and it stands out much more than a traditional “We will dress nicely and wear nice smiles.” Wear goofy hats. Have everyone dress in their favorite sports jerseys. Have the adults sit in a wagon and have the kids try to pull them. The real struggle and expression of a child trying to pull their mom or dad will be much more memorable.

What’s your favorite part about the holidays?

My wife, Melissa, is my favorite part of my holidays. Her enthusiasm is infectious. From decorating the tree to wrapping the presents, it’s the time of the year that really lights her up.

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