8 Tips for Taking Amazing Holiday Card Photos
Experts weigh in on everything from the best outfit choices to seasonal no-nos.
Remember your last holiday photo? A screaming toddler, rigid Fido morphed into a hellhound with vermilion eyes, and what looked like a tree growing out of Grandpa’s head. Even if it wasn’t quite that bad, chances are you could improve a little bit from last year. These tips for taking family holiday card photos from professional photographers should help.
Keep Your Outfits Simple
You may be tempted to break out the flannel and holiday prints, but the most beautiful holiday card pictures lean on neutrals to create a sense of timeless sophistication.
“I typically advise my clients to avoid heavy patterns. Also, too matchy-matchy is definitely a thing. I mean we have all seen those memes of an entire family dressed in tartan or denim. Don't let that be you,” says Ilene Squires, a portrait photographer based in Los Angeles. “Instead, simply try to stay in the same color family. If you want to wear earth tones, then deep greens, creams, and browns are the way to go. If you're more of a color lover, then I think white, black, and gray are ideal neutrals to be paired with colors that pop a bit more.”
Make Sure Your Clothes Are Comfortable
Whether it’s just you and your partner or you’ve got a fleet of kids, comfort is king when it comes to taking great holiday card photos. Discomfort is very readable in pictures. Victoria McFall, a family photographer based in Asheville, N.C., says that sitting in your clothes is a good measuring stick for comfort. “If you can’t comfortably sit in the outfit, then it’s probably too tight to be something you love seeing in photos once the photographer has you moving around and snuggling up,” she says.
Forget the Flash
If you can swing it, natural light is the best option for beautifully lit photographs. Going sans flash also means you circumvent the red eye fiasco altogether. “I always try to use (or imitate) natural light since it’s the most flattering,” says Squires. “If you must use flash, it's smart to bounce it off a white ceiling versus directly on the subject. Again, natural light is always superior to artificial, so look for windows, doorways, or even shaded areas if you are outdoors.” Don’t be afraid to shoot outdoors, either. Just make sure to avoid harsh, direct sunlight by shooting early morning or around dusk, or by taking advantage of an overcast day.
Pack a Photo Shoot “Emergency” Kit
Chances are your photographer has you covered for most things, but nobody can predict your personal session-day needs better than you. “Pack things like baby wipes for sticky faces or runny noses, hairbrushes, extra hair ties, and snacks or water for kids who can’t wait,” McFall says. If your child is super attached to a toy or blanket, today is not the day to leave it home. If it needs to be in the photo, so be it.
Have a Pre-Photo Game Plan
Before stepping in front of the camera, come up with a game plan for how and where everyone will stand and sit. (If you’re using a professional photographer, they’ll assist you with this, but if you’re shooting the image yourself with a timer then this becomes extra important.) Arrange the shot beforehand, using stuffed animals as stand-ins if you need to.
“I just want to see a good, clear view of the people I care about. Get in close and don’t have too much going on,” says Chuck DeLaney, dean of the New York Institute of Photography. He also says to think about levels. “For example, have one person standing, one in a chair, one on the arm, one kneeling in front.”
Don’t Worry About Props
A roaring fireplace or wheelbarrow stuffed with presents may seem like appropriate holiday photo props, but the truth is that they can very easily become (cheesy) distractions. “If you insist on bringing a prop then keep it simple,” McFall says. “The focus should be on your family. Try to match your holiday photos to your family so that they are as ‘you’ as possible.” Chances are, “you” isn’t a giant snowman lurking in the corner.
Pay Attention to the Little Details
Instead of dwelling on props, focus more on the little details that can really impact your photographs. For instance, McFall says that ironing shirts is a must, and opting for wrinkle-resistant clothing for all—or waiting to change into clothes until the last minute—is also wise. Also, if it’s in your budget, it’s worth having someone else do your hair or makeup, she adds.
Time It Right So Cards Arrive on Time
The best time to shoot holiday photos is right around Thanksgiving, which allows plenty of time for processing and ordering. Once you have your digital photos in hand, use a reliable service to print and ship your holiday cards.
Pro tip: Squires says if you’re running behind, make it a New Year’s card, instead!