It's the season for Long Island families to scramble plans and execute the perfect family snapshot for holiday greeting cards. But it's not only the beach at sunset that offers a perfect backdrop for this year's greeting card-worthy shot: The South Shore of Suffolk is rife with bucolic settings and photo-ready scenery. Jennifer Mercurio from Lasting Impressions Photography in Bay Shore specializes in family photography and believes her best results come from keeping sessions light and fun, letting children engage and play in a natural setting. If she's snapping family pics at the beach, she will encourage the kids to play games in the sand, so she can get them to smile and laugh for the camera without making it too formal. Every portrait setting offers its own benefits so we mined her twenty years of experience to bring you our top five locale picks for family photo success.
When it comes to wardrobe choice for family portraits, it's all about where you plan to display the photo. Matching the color palette of clothes to both the setting and the decor of your home ties everything together. And family members don't need to necessarily wear the exact same color, but Mercurio recommends a shared palette or theme. Yellows and whites at the beach, reds and oranges in a foliage shot would work, or bring funky props—ugly Christmas sweaters anyone?—for a light-hearted take. Playing with clothes or facial expressions along with the background is a way to express your family's personality. After all, the holiday family portrait is our favorite way to drop a note in the mail saying here's our family and here's what we are all about...and here's where we live.
Captree State Park
3500 E. Ocean Parkway, Babylon
Everyone loves the classic family photo on the beach, with matching white shirts and diffuse and flattering evening light. Mercurio recommends Captree State Park for the best seaside scene because it's one of the only local beaches with green vegetation, helping to make the photos colorful and vibrant. The Robert Moses Bridge is visible to the west, offering an ideal sunset view and because it’s only a short walk from the car, it's a toddler and stroller-friendly spot. Mercurio advises that when taking pictures with young kids, the best approach is to let them have fun and get them to laugh, while gently coaxing them into position for the camera. Have them do a scavenger hunt and look for shells and then snap away when they are in the right light. She keeps sessions short with lots of breaks for less stress and more smiling.
677 Montauk Highway, Bay Shore
Built in 1697, Sagtikos Manor is a picturesque property with a variety of outdoor settings, from an expansive lawn with views of the Colonial Era property with its pretty wraparound porches, to hidden nooks with fountains and landscaped gardens. Mercurio likes the range of backdrops so she can capture a range of diverse photo ops. The fences and brick walls around the sprawling property are perfect to pose in front of, and the location is typically empty or sparsely traveled. Nothing ruins a perfect family portrait like an inadvertent photo bomb. Backgrounds have to be clear of any extraneous people. "The tall trees make it a great morning or late afternoon location," says Mercurio, because the desired light for outdoor photos is "wide shade," or large swaths of shaded areas. The best times of day are also the shadiest, early morning and late afternoon. Avoid the middle of the day.
Belmont State Park
Southern State Parkway Exit 38, North Babylon
Located just off the Southern State Parkway, Belmont is full of deciduous trees and water views, making it an ideal fall setting for a holiday card photo. Mercurio likes how the picturesque fall foliage reflects in the lake, creating a unique combination of color and water views. "Tall trees provide the open shade that is critical in the late afternoon. The historic house on the property with its wide brick steps make it a good location for large family groups." When arranging large groups into a portrait, the rule of thumb is to create small groupings, say three people, in a triangular formation and then combine all the small groupings into one harmonious whole. Pay attention to everyone's size, shape and age to achieve balance throughout the setup.
Long Island Maritime Museum
86 West Avenue, West Sayville
This West Sayville museum is a good spot for families with older children. The 14-acre property has several historic structures along with an open grassy area and rustic-looking docks that lend a nautical charm to the scene. "It's a protected marina, so the water is usually flat which makes for beautiful reflective images," Mercurio points out. Posing next to the still water allows for a visual reflection of the subjects (you and your family) which adds to a photo's appeal. For the best photo shoot possible, look for overcast days with little wind, so sun is less of a factor.
Robert Moses State Park, Field 5
600 Robert Moses State Parkway, Babylon
Mercurio recommends this second beach locale because of the wide boardwalk. She poses families and people on the boardwalk to take advantage of the visual detail and long lines of the boardwalk, which along with the wide horizon line of the water creates visual interest. "The beach goes on forever and in the fall it's pretty empty which gives a very dramatic perspective."
Photo: Jennifer Mercurio