24 Tricks For Taking a Picture-Perfect Christmas Card Photo

·11 min read

With the holidays inching closer, it’s time to start making your to-do list, checking it twice, and prioritizing your holiday tasks. That means putting “take Christmas card photos” at the top of the list. Because even if you decide to skip the professional photographer and take your own photos in an effort to save money, you still have to take into account all the work that goes beyond the click of a camera. To help ease the stress of your picture day prep, consider some (or, really, all) of these photo ideas and tips to guarantee a display-worthy Christmas card.

Of course, taking a family photo isn't always the easiest task. From selecting what to wear to getting all the kids to cooperate, the process can be a bit of a headache. But it doesn’t have to be a stressful occasion. So whether you're taking a snapshot yourself, heading to a professional studio, or having a photographer come to your home, these tips from the pros will ensure that you prepare your crew and capture that frame-worthy photo.

1. Coordinate outfits, but don't match.

You've seen it a million times: The entire family — from Grandma to the family dog — is wearing the exact same Christmas-themed outfit. It's coordinated, sure, and can even be cute if you're all in matching pajamas in front of your Christmas tree. But if you're headed to the studio, it doesn't come across as all that sophisticated, says New York City–based photographer Meg Miller.

As an alternative, Miller suggests dressing in a color scheme. "I tell clients to approach the family's wardrobe as if they were decorating a room," she says. "First pick a color scheme, then add different shades, textures and patterns. Neutrals, which include denim, can and should be mixed in." The only exception to that rule: Be sure to match your styles so everyone is at the same level of formality. "You don't want Dad in a suit and your son in shorts," says Christopher Frackiewicz, a photographer at Lunel Photography in Chicago.

2. Avoid big logos or patterns.

The last thing you want your clothing to do is take attention away from the people posing for the photo. That's why Frackiewicz says it's crucial that you avoid large logos or letters. "All colors are OK; just make sure you don't mix too many busy patterns," he explains. "If you have a striped shirt, wear solid-colored pants."

3. Don't be holiday "extra."

Taking photos for a holiday card doesn’t mean you have to wear red and green. “Wear outfits you wouldn't mind looking at all year long,” says Carley Storm, a photographer and brand expert based in Bloomfield, NJ. “Most families take portraits once a year. Make them not too holiday-looking, so you can use them for other purposes.”

4. Get more for your money.

While you have a photographer on hand and have everyone in the family looking clean and happy, make sure to take a variety of photos that you can use for multi-purposes. Heck, you can (and should) even take a few solo shots!

"You can squeeze in an updated LinkedIn profile pic," Strom says "You got dressed up, did your hair. . . Make it worth it!”

5. Show your personality.

In an interview with Good Housekeeping, the photo editors at DreamsTime.com say you shouldn't keep things super formal if that isn't your family's personality. If your family is on the quirkier side, consider some fun Christmas sweaters or even silly reindeer antlers to showcase that personality in the photo.

Photo credit: Anna Bizon / EyeEm
Photo credit: Anna Bizon / EyeEm

Your loved ones are used to you just how you are, so there's no need to cover that up with a cookie cutter photo.

6. Mind the time.

“Keep it short and sweet,” Rachyel Puleo Magaña, a portrait and fine art photographer for Social Print Studio, tells Woman’s Day. “A lot of photographers set up holiday mini sessions. I think this is a smart way to go for most families.” Magaña explains that booking a short session is great so the kids (and the grownups) don't get bored or antsy. Being in front of a camera can be exhausting and at some point, everyone’s just going to be over it.

7. Don't wear too much makeup.

One of the biggest misconceptions about photos is that you have to layer on loads and loads of makeup, Miller says. Sure, celebrities may need to do that to get "camera ready" because they're going to be under bright, hot lights for a long time — but a family portrait session isn't usually the same situation.

Instead, go for a a daytime makeup look with a touch more drama, Miller suggests. "For instance, [you could] wear eyeliner with your day eyeshadow color, or [opt for] a brighter lip color [than normal]," she says. "Makeup should add some focus, not steal the show."

8. Let the kids be kids.

Corralling the kids for your Christmas card photo doesn't have to be an unpleasant experience, and the best way to make it more enjoyable is to allow them to get in on the action, Miller says. "Letting them pick out something to wear is a good way to make sure their personality is present in the image," she says. You could also let them brainstorm fun poses that show how you all interact as a family, instead of posing like statues in front of a tree.

Photo credit: tatyana_tomsickova - Getty Images
Photo credit: tatyana_tomsickova - Getty Images

Another fun idea? Planning a fun holiday activity for after the photoshoot, like ice skating or decorating a gingerbread house. It'll give the crew something to look forward to, which will also help keep them smiling and cooperative for that perfect shot.

9. Find the right photographer.

Each one has a different style, so it's important to shop around, Frackiewicz says. "Some photographers offer perfect studio lighting but regular, common poses, while others capture those journalistic moments," he explains. Once you've talked to a bunch, go with the one that best aligns with your goals, and ask them to collaborate. "Call and tell them your ideas and thoughts," Miller suggests. "It's totally normal to have clients inquire about location and wardrobe options." And if you find something you love on Pinterest or Instagram, email it to them or print it out and bring it to your session.

10. Carefully choose your setting.

If you're planning on snapping the photo yourself, think about everything that's in the room you're shooting in, Frackiewicz says. "I don't care how cute your kid is, if I see a pile of dishes on the countertop in the background, the picture is ruined," he says. "Every element is important."

To avoid that kind of faux-pas, Miller suggests going outside. "Fall and winter are such beautiful times of year in a natural environment," she says. "Look for a simple but picturesque spot — the less distracting, the better."

Photo credit: evgenyatamanenko - Getty Images
Photo credit: evgenyatamanenko - Getty Images

And, given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it's important to keep everyone at your shoot safe.“Try to keep it as safe as possible and make sure that everyone involved is comfortable,” Magaña says. “A few ways to do this is to have hand sanitizer along and sanitize hands before [and after the] shoot.”

11. Do something active.

Rather than going for the traditional staged shoot with everyone smiling right into the camera, get your photos taken while doing something active, like decorating your Christmas tree or baking holiday cookies. You can also take things outside and take some fun snowy pictures of your family building a snowman or going ice skating.

12. Think about levels and overlap.

Christmas card giant Hallmark suggests creating layers in your photos by having family members overlap. Having family members do things like sit on the arms of chairs and hug each other creates a more natural and relaxed feel.

13. Don't forget about lighting.

When taking the photo yourself, the right lighting is key. Natural lighting is definitely best— not direct sunlight, but earlier or later in the day, or with overcast skies, Miller says. "Just make sure light is on the subjects' faces evenly. Direct sunlight will only cause your subjects to squint and have dark shadows under their eyes," she warns.

14. Forget saying "cheese."

When you're ready to start snapping, simply go for it — there's no need for the "Everybody say cheese!" countdown, Frackiewicz says. "Telling kids how they have to smile is not going to help," he explains. "Natural moments are best." Plus, ditching the "cheese" phrase allows for more candid moments to be captured, and those best show off your personalities.

15. Take a lot of photos.

If you're dealing with problem picture-takers — someone who blinks a lot, for example — they key is to take a ton all at once. "Take 10 or more of the same pose," Frackiewicz says. "Nine will go in the recycling bin, but one will turn out perfect." And don't be afraid to mix up your poses. You may envision one as the perfect pick, only to find out it doesn't work quite right for your family. Trying a bunch of options give you a wide variety to choose from.

16. Have some fun.

Once you're in front of the camera, try to enjoy the experience. Miller finds that when posing for portraits, "people are overly critical of themselves and their kids." But card recipients aren't going to be focused on minute details — they're going to be "thinking of how tall Susie got, or what a fun image you captured," she says. "They are not looking to see if you are five pounds heavier or if Bobby is wearing shoes."

Photo credit: CARLEY STORM PHOTO + VIDEO
Photo credit: CARLEY STORM PHOTO + VIDEO

Storm agrees, adding "the more fun you have in a session, the better you will like your photos." She suggests giving everyone something to look forward to after the session, like a trip to get hot chocolate and treats.

17. Design your template like a pro.

Once you have your photos, then what? It’s time to make your card and do so with taste and style. “Choose the style that fits with the images and not the other way around,” Magaña says. “If you have one professional photo that you're really stoked about, look for templates that feature one large image. If you have many images you'd like to share, there are so many fun collage options. Magaña loves the templates Social Print Studio has in their Greetings app for iOS because they're modern and fun.

18. Focus on each other.

Looking directly at the camera can provide some great shots, but experts agree truly capturing the intimacy within the family requires you look at each other. Look into each other's eyes, laugh, and share a smile with together so the spark you have within the family is felt in your Christmas card photo.

19. Treat yourself to something nice.

When you look good, you feel good. And when you feel good, you take better photos. Treat yourself to a new outfit, the best haircut you can afford, and maybe even a pedicure. Preparing for Christmas photos is the perfect excuse to treat yourself like royalty so you'll feel confident throughout the entire photoshoot.

20. Get on the kids' level.

Ever notice how kids are always captivated by things on the ground? Join them down there and bring the camera lens too for a chance to see and experience the magic of Christmas on their eye level.

Photo credit: Deagreez - Getty Images
Photo credit: Deagreez - Getty Images

21. Try an overhead shot.

Christmas photos from a different point of view always add depth and a bit of interest to the shot. Capturing the beauty of smiles or the sparkle in their eyes from overhead can be even more endearing.

22. Pack easy snacks.

Christmas photos shoots can be a lot of fun, but they can also be rather lengthy and start creeping towards your next meal. Pack snacks to deal with potential hunger pains, but make sure they are easy to avoid stains, spills and big messes on your perfectly prepped photo shoot outfits. Think crackers, Goldfish, and pretzels.

23. Be mindful of the time of day.

Everyone loves photos in early evening in anticipation of those breathtaking shots of the sky. However, if it's dangerously close to your kids' bedtime it might be best to pick another time. Taking good Christmas card photos can be challenging when dealing with overly tired and cranky children.

24. Choose simple props.

Rolling the kids in Christmas lights or going wild with wrapping paper can be fun, but it might be complicated to execute. Stick to props that are easy to incorporate and already feel natural to the family, such as reindeer ears or covering up under a family blanket.

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