Changing focus With professional holiday portraits off the table, Winnipeg photographers have tips to make taking your own seasonal shots a snap

Family photos, like absolutely everything else, are going to look a lot different this holiday season.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/12/2020 (794 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Family photos, like absolutely everything else, are going to look a lot different this holiday season.

Professional photographers have been barred from working during code red and even though their services have been deemed non-essential, the memories they capture can be priceless.

Have an appy holiday: bringing Santa to smartphones

Supplied Sharon Knutsen’s app, Santa Pics, lets users take pics with Santa despite COVID-19.


You’d better not cry or pout if you can’t get a festive seasonal photo at the mall this year — because a tech-savvy Winnipeg mom has come up with a safe way to bring Santa to you amid the global pandemic.

Sharon Knutson, a married Charleswood mother of two, is the creator of the Santa Pics App, which allows users to take holiday photos with a virtual Santa without leaving the comfort and safety of their own homes.

“In July, I was reflecting on how COVID-19 was affecting my kids,” Knutson says of daughter, Grace, 13, and son Chris, 10. “I thought about my annual tradition of taking taking the kids to the mall for a photo with Santa.

“I’ve done that every year since they were babies, never missed a year. We display the photos in our house every year and it’s fun to see how the kids have grown over the years.

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Winnipeg photographer Gabrielle Touchette had to cancel all of her winter mini-sessions — short holiday-themed studio photoshoots — when the provincial restrictions came into effect.

“That was kind of devastating,” she says. “I know a lot of my clients were looking forward to that because it represents a tradition they do with their kids once a year.”

Professional photoshoots and pictures with Santas are cancelled for 2020, but the tradition doesn’t have to be. The Free Press spoke with three local photographers for tips on taking a nice family picture at home with minimal equipment — and yes, it is possible to get a Christmas-card-worthy image on a smartphone.

Touchette has been a full-time photographer since 2008 and specializes in portraits, wedding, commercial and family photography. While it’s often said that kids are among the hardest subjects to photograph, they’re Touchette’s favourite.

“Kids are so unpredictable,” she says. “That’s what makes it fun.”

During shoots, she likes to take a mix of posed and candid images. Real smiles and relationships are easier to capture when clients are engaged in an activity, such as tickling each other or going for a piggyback ride.

“When I get some of my best shots is when they don’t know that they’re posing for the camera,” she says.

The same tactic can be used at home. In addition to the obligatory photo in front of the tree, Touchette recommends pulling out the camera during holiday activities, such as cookie-making, card-writing or gift-wrapping.

JESSE BOILY / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Due to code red restrictions, Gabrielle Touchette has had to cancel all her winter family photography sessions.

The pandemic and this surreal moment in history can also serve as a source of inspiration. Touchette and her kids are dropping off presents for family members this weekend and she’s planning to document the affair.

“It’s something we’re not going to be doing every year, but it’s still memorable,” she says. “We’re still finding moments of joy, even in these strange times… and I think photos can (pay tribute to) that.”

Regardless of the kind of camera you own, proper lighting is key for a nice photo.

Kymberli Wright started her career shooting landscapes three years ago and has since moved into portraiture.

Holiday Photo How-tos

Here’s a quick round-up of tips from our photography experts Gabrielle Touchette, Kymberli Wright and Curtis Moore:
● Document holiday activities and capture candid moments
● Find enough light — sun or store-bought will do
● Scour the internet for pose and prop inspiration
● Change your perspective
● Have fun!

“I do a lot of engagement shoots with couples or family shoots,” she says. “I just love seeing people who are in love or happy with each other.”

Wright suggests scheduling photos when sunlight is still available, either in the morning or at dusk — which, in December, occurs before 4:30 p.m.

“Try taking pictures outdoors… or near a window with bright light,” she says.

To avoid harsh shadows and backlighting, arrange the scene so the window is behind the photographer and the light is falling on the subject’s face at an angle. If the sun is elusive, Wright says an inexpensive ring light can help brighten up a dark room.

Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press Local photographer Kymberli Wright says proper lighting is key to getting a nice photograph.

“And using a tripod is important,” she says of self-timed photos. “You can also just make a makeshift tripod with things you can find at home.”

Keep things fun by playing music in the background and planning poses and outfits in advance. For those wanting a more polished look, Wright recommends scrolling through Pinterest for homemade backdrop and prop ideas. If you’re shooting on a phone, consider downloading a photo-editing app to give your shots a subtle “pop.”

“A lot of people, when they’re editing they have a certain look in their head that they’re going for, but they end up going a bit too far and the picture turns out either oversaturated or it’s too dark in certain places,” Wright says. “Natural is always the best way to go.”

Curtis Moore has been a wedding and family photographer for 14 years. Pre-code red, he had noticed an uptick in requests for family portraits during the spring and summer.

Amanda Moore Photo Photographer Curtis Moore

“Especially after a lockdown, people were super happy to get out, get their haircuts and get photographed,” Moore says.

Having to cancel all his bookings in mid-November was “the worst timing.”

“The four weeks we’ve been shut down is like the decathlon of family Christmas photography,” he says.

To stay connected with clients, Moore is drafting a newsletter about taking holiday photos at home. Topping the list is perspective.

“I always start with perspective, and that’s where the camera is,” he says, adding that most adults tend to take photos from their eye level. “It’s so limited… get down low at a child’s level or get up high or get far back to show the environment.”

Moore is also a fan of storytelling through photos.

“Try not to prompt your children, try not to distract them… and try to be discreet about it, and capture things as they happen.”

Twitter: @evawasney

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Eva Wasney

Eva Wasney
Arts Reporter

Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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