‘Tis the season for family, for remembrance and for sharing. But when you can't be together with family and friends during the holidays, a personalized greeting card is a delightful way to update loved ones.

"There is something about sending cards. It really is a gift for each person, and something in the mail that is handmade can be fun," says Martha Stanwood, owner of Christina Creations in Ocean City.

The centerpiece, and most crucial aspect, of a personalized greeting card is the family portrait. Stanwood says many new brides like to use their wedding photos on a holiday card. For those who want a formal portrait to adorn this gift, local professional photographers provide a variety of options, as well as plenty of advice to make your gift picture perfect.

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It all starts with the outfits, says Thomas Angello, owner of Olympic Studio in Northfield. Stay away from bright colors, he says. Stay away from stripes and prints. Don't dress too formally so that you don't restrict the options for posing.

"A really nice portrait happens when the subjects are wearing light or dark clothes," Angello says. "Everyone should be wearing clothes that are similar in lightness and darkness, the same hues."

While families don't have to dress identically, he says members should pick a color scheme and match. For instance, if the family picks blue, wear different shades of blue, and possibly mix in some gray. Angello also says different shades of green and brown go well together.

The clothes also need to match the background of the photo, he says. If wearing darker outfits, select a darker background. For lighter clothing, choose a light background.

While a studio location allows the photographer to control the background, Angello says many families like to have their portrait taken outdoors. If this is the case, he says later afternoon provides a softer light, and a family should pose in open shade rather than direct sunlight. Also, avoid a location where there are buildings or power lines in the background.

Locally, Angello says Kennedy Park in Somers Point provides a nice backdrop for a family photo, as does Batsto Village and Birch Grove Park in Northfield.

And of course, a local beach with a jetty allows for a great variety of poses. The southernmost point of Ocean Beach near 59th Street is a particularly popular spot for outdoor photos, he says.

If taking an outdoor portrait, Angello urges folks to scout out the location ahead of time. If taking a photo on the beach, make sure not to pick a spot with sand erosion, and definitely don't schedule the shoot during high tide, he says.

Shaun Reilly, a photographer with Foschi Studio in Linwood, says that while their studio provides the opportunity for a variety of backdrops, including a garden area and a Victorian home, a photo shoot on location can really personalize a photo.

"People enjoy having us come to their home. A lot of times, we want the family in the area where they spend the most time. Or what works aesthetically, such as a formal living room," says Reilly.

If a family wants an outdoor photo, he says to pick a place that is important to the family. Some families have had their portrait taken on their boat, while others want their picture taken on the boardwalk or at a favorite restaurant.

Reilly says the picture should tell a story, and the pose can indicate the relationship between the subjects. For instance, Reilly says you can pose the family on a bed, with mom and dad reading to their children.

"Our goal is to create a family heirloom you can hang on the wall for 25 years," he says. "We want people to look their absolute best."

Reilly says one of the biggest mistakes families make is too much preparation with small children. He says some parents make their children practice their smile before coming in for a photo shoot, or they tell them they better be on their best behavior.

"That is a lot of pressure for a small kid," Reilly says. "Just make sure the kid has a good night's sleep, or that they take a nap before coming over. Make sure they are fed or that you bring a snack. And just tell them they are going to go play with the Foschis. They don't need to get all worked up."

Both Reilly and Angello say that including a family pet in the photo is a great option and that pets are always welcome to a shoot. Reilly says preparing a dog for a photo shoot works the opposite of little children. While they like to get kids in and out as soon as possible, a dog can take longer to get comfortable in its surroundings, so they recommend bringing a dog in early before a shoot.

Says Angello, "If the pet is part of the family, it sometimes has a lot more meaning. If someone asks me if they can bring a pet, I always say definitely. It makes for a more interesting photo."

Once the photo is taken, personalize your card even more by designing it yourself, says Zoi Zervoudis, manager of The Butterfly Boutique in Ocean City.

Either e-mail your photo to the store or take a portrait in the boutique's in-house studio, she says. The Butterfly Boutique's studio even has a holiday backdrop with a lifelike Christmas tree and fireplace.

With the photo in hand, Zervoudis says customers can sit at the table and design the card with paper scraps and other fun textiles. The final image can be scanned into the computer and The Butterfly Boutique will produce enough personalized greeting cards to be sent to the entire family.

In the end, you receive a family portrait that shares a memorable moment with your loved ones. After all, that is the purpose of a holiday card, says Stanwood.

"The purpose of a card is sharing information and wishing them well for the season," she says. "One of the things about greeting cards is it is a lot about the person you are giving it to. For each person, there is a different thing they are looking for and there is something out there for everybody."


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