Ana Brandt Photography
It’s the season filled with holiday lights, gift giving and Christmas traditions with loved ones — and there’s no better way to celebrate but to capture the beauty of it all. A great holiday family photograph is something you’ll cherish forever, plus there’s the fond memories that come along with having a photoshoot. To find the best Christmas card photo ideas, we spoke with professional photographers who shared their best advice for making the most of your family photoshoot.
Keep scrolling to learn how to settle on colors and themes for your shoot, genius techniques for keeping children (even toddlers!) engaged and the best poses to beautifully capture every family member. There’s also tips for selecting an ideal location, choosing the right Christmas outfits and what props work best for different ages. This might be the most important photo you take all year, so take it seriously but not too seriously — these photographers remind us that having fun is an important part of any photo.
Find a creative idea that fits your family, whether you’re photographing a large family, posing with only one child or celebrating your first year as a married couple. Once you’ve taken the perfect portrait, all you have to do is settle on a message for inside your Christmas card, get your cards printed or DIY your Christmas card and mail your creations out to friends and family.
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Look at the camera. Then don’t look at the camera.
You want those formal, looking-straight-ahead shots. But you also want to capture what you’re like together as a family when no one is looking. “Quite often, you can get candids just by constantly clicking the shutter,” says Ana Brandt Photography of Ana Brandt Photography. “Someone is always looking at someone else.”
There’s no need for a Christmas tree.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to include seasonal decor in your Christmas card photos. “Wrangling your family together for photos is no easy task and doing it for a photo that you can only show off once a year is not worth it for me,” says Nicole Mondestin of Nicole Mondestin Photography. “We need photos that can pull double duty: you can display them on your Christmas cards and hang them in your house all year round.”
Honor your baby’s first Christmas.
If you’re welcoming a new baby into the family, you can make your newborn the focus by creating a sweet space for them to sleep. Then, have your other children gather around and look on lovingly at their baby sibling.
Remember to have fun (for real).
Decorate the Christmas tree.
Capture the beautiful tradition that is decorating the Christmas tree and turn it into this year’s holiday card. If you’re one to decorate the Christmas tree in early November, you should have plenty of time to get cards printed before the holiday season is in full swing.
Do formal poses first (and offer rewards).
Photography shoots can feel overwhelming for children, so it’s best to start with the harder shots. Brandt suggests finding out if your photographer has treats for after the session. “We have our clients fill out a questionnaire for on-location sessions to know if it’s OK to offer treats,” she says.
Show off your personality with every pose.
In addition to playing kid-friendly songs or shows, Mondestin encourages kids to stay happy on set by allowing them to get creative with poses. “I explain to the kids that end of the shoot, we can take photos to show their personalities and ask them what poses they would like to do,” says Mondestin. “I love this part because some kids really go for it.”
Mind everybody’s heights.
Whether it’s parents with children or kids of various ages, you want to be sure no one appears significantly tall or short. “We keep chairs and stools handy, and I always carry apple boxes in my car,” says Brandt. “You can sit and stagger people so the height difference is not so obvious.”
Don’t go overboard with color.
“I always tell my families to pick one or two colors that will be their color story for their Christmas card photo shoot,” says Mondestin. “The kids can be dressed in one color and the parents can wear the other color to provide contrast.”
Think beyond red and green.
“When picking the wardrobe, I mostly recommend neutrals, so the focus is more on the beauty of the family, their smiles and the nature surrounding them,” says Veronica Grimm, a New Jersey-based photographer who works with Mimeo Photos. She also recommends keeping things loose: “Keep the pressure low on kids during these shoots. Children sense their parents’ tension, making them tense in turn. Let them be kids! I absolutely love capturing families as organically as possible — but kids are unpredictable so keep lollipops handy.”
“Keep low expectations and have fun with the ages,” suggests Brandt. “Two year olds often cry with Santa, and they’re unpredictable — just let them be two.”
Face away from the camera.
Encourage children to naturally move, whether spinning, walking, running or skipping. Snap a few candids of your children interacting with their surroundings and you might be pleasantly surprised by the outcome.
Make time for couple shots.
Just as you would get solo shots of the kids, don’t forget to strike a few poses with your partner. “Make sure to get a few couples shots and epic Dad shots,” suggests Mondestin. “The couple’s photos can go on the reverse side of the card or mom can post them as footage that didn’t make the card.”
Not only is there the benefit of natural light, but shooting amongst nature can be a cheaper and simpler option — no set or props required.
Dress to show off your personality.
Coordinate your outfits, but don’t get too matchy-matchy.
It’s far from visually appealing to wear the exact same outfits, but you want to look cohesive. “Have everyone wear the same color in different pops,” says Mondestin. “For example, if Mom is wearing a red dress, then Dad can wear a suit with a red tie.”
Jennifer Hyde of JHyde Photography agrees. “Usually I suggest that the kids wear the pop items — the buffalo plaid and the bolder outfits — and then the moms and dads are complementary to that in a mix of black, gray, navy or cream.”
Do something active together.
The photo editors at Dreamstime.com suggest forgoing the normal, staged, look-at-the-camera shots in favor of doing an activity like baking cookies, picking out a tree, lighting the menorah or decorating the house. For outdoor photos, playing in the snow, throwing snowballs and building snowmen make for a fun, active look.
Everyone feels more comfortable in their own space, so there’s no reason not to shoot at home — especially if you’ve filled it with beautiful Christmas decorations.
Make sure the light is on your face, not behind you.
“If you have a big window, or a big back porch door, that’s usually where the best light will be,” says Mondestin. “If you have your back to the window, though, you’re going to look like you’re coming from heaven. It’s always good to face the window, so your face is covered in light. It fills in all the lines, and it makes everyone look good.”
This also goes for Christmas tree lights. “If you’re doing your shoot against the tree, turn to the tree so you get the glow of the lights on your face,” says Hyde.
If you want props, use them for real.
If you’re pretending, it’ll probably come across in the final image. “If you use a Christmas book, for example, have mom and dad hold it while the kids are looking at it,” says Hyde. “It works if it’s a genuine moment. If you’re really reading it — and you say something like, ‘Can you find the mouse on this page?’ — then the kids will actually enjoy it, and the photo will look more natural.”
Recreate the excitement of Christmas morning by letting your kids dress in festive pajamas. For a guaranteed smile, let them unwrap a small present as you snap a few shots.
Snuggle together, and take close, tight shots. “If you get the whole tree, and the whole couch, then your kids are going to be so small in the frame, and they’re not going to grab your eye,” says Hyde. “But if you get down and get in closer, you’ll be more intimate, and the kids will be the whole focus. They should take up at least 75% of the frame, because you still want to show the Christmas decor and the environment.”
And if you’re taking a photo on your phone, “Don’t tilt the phone too much,” says Mondestin. (We’re looking at you, selfie-takers.) “You want to be just above eye level, so someone is looking a little bit down on you.”
If you shoot outside, time it right.
You want the light to be just right. “Go at 1 or 2 p.m., when the light is nice, or at the Golden Hour — which is about an hour before sunset — when the light is really warm and dewy,” says Mondestin.
Give squirmy kids a job to do.
The kids take their tasks so seriously, so they forget they’re getting their picture taken. “I ask them to hold an ornament, and tell them that it’s really fragile and they have to be really careful with it,” says Hyde. “Or, if they’re old enough, tell them to hold a penny or a quarter and squeeze it tight. They really focus on it, and that settles their hands. Usually then, at the end, I tell them that they earned the penny or quarter, and I let them keep it.”
Don’t be afraid to put a child in a box!
That’s one way to keep them in the frame. “Especially if they’re new crawlers or 1-year-olds,” says Hyde. “They’ll sit for that. Then you can play peek-a-boo and get a laugh.”
Take advantage of a snowy day.
There’s something naturally photogenic about a snowstorm. Next time it’s snowing, break out the camera and ask the kids to pose — whether they’re building a snowman, throwing snowballs or looking outside at the falling snowflakes.
Have both parents give kisses at the same time, and the child is sure to crack a smile. This sweet, loving pose is perfect for only children.
It’s always a good idea to bring an extra pair of hands that can calm a fussy baby or make silly faces at kids. “Trying to wrangle, direct, shoot and keep an eye on everything is challenging even to the experienced photographer,” says Brandt. “Having an assistant makes things a bit easier.”
And, if you have the patience, include the family pet.
Pets help break the ice for camera-shy family members, and lead to more genuine moments in your holiday photo, say the editors at Dreamstime.com. Just remember to bring your pup treats!
How can you get kids to smile in a photo?
1) Sing Christmas songs, but get the lyrics wrong in a silly way.
2) Play peek-a-boo.
3) Play kid-friendly songs during the shoot.
4) Bring out a favorite toy.
5) Whisper a funny secret.
6) Do an exaggerated fake sneeze.
7) When all else fails, bribe with lollipops, cookies or candy.
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