Less Stress, More Fun Holiday Picture Tips

Sometimes the stress of getting card-worthy family pictures is enough to make us want to draw stick figures in Paint, I know. But before you make such a desperate (genius?) move, check out these tips on how to get holiday pictures without crying and sweating (too much).


1. Take the focus off your family. Literally put the focus of your camera on something else in the foreground of the picture, and have your family in the background.


You’d never know that my son was whining in this shot, and that my toddler was not cooperating, either. I didn’t have to stress about smiles, hair, or other small details. I simply focused my camera on the jingle bell ornaments in front.

I shot this with my DSLR, so I could control the settings more. I think this was shot around a 2.0 aperture, with my focal point directed at the jingle bells.

But if you don’t have a “fancy” camera, you could still try to achieve the same look, though it might not be as pronounced. Try using the “macro” setting on your point and shoot (usually an icon of a flower), and be sure your family is really far back from the object you’re focusing on.

2. Put on your PJs and jump into bed.


No need to stress about what to wear. Bust out those holiday PJs now, jump into a well-lit bed, and promise the kids you’ll let them jump around after they sit still for a few shots.

I posted this picture in a post I did recently on good holiday PJ deals. A few people wanted to know my settings and how I lit this. Nothing fancy. This was in my son’s room, and the window was to our right. The light was streaming directly into the room and onto the bed in front of us. I took his white duvet out of the cover, and it acted as a natural reflector.

Technically, part of the duvet and my hand are blown out, but our faces are well lit, and that’s all I was hoping for.

Here’s the shot straight out of the camera.


Settings: f/4.0, 160ss, 1600 ISO, shot with my 50 1.4 lens on a Canon MK II.

I cropped it, and adjusted brightness and white balance in Lightroom.

3. Embrace real life.


Courtney from Click It Up A Notch has a great tutorial on how to make your Christmas photos look like more than snapshots.

Embrace the mess and activities this time of year. Let friends and family see a little slice of real life instead of making everyone smile in front of the fireplace.

Don’t stress about not getting everyone in the picture. Utilize cards that offer collage layouts. I love Minted.com’s photo holiday cards, and they have a ton of designs that work for more than one picture, and their platform makes it super easy to customize everything.

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 12.50.05 AM

Love this Signed & Sealed design. It would work great with lifestyle shots.

So snap one of the kids doing something together, but also don’t forget to get mom and dad in there, too! Pass off the camera if you’re the family photographer. Get in the action!

4. Don’t tell them to smile at the camera!


That’s half the battle with kids, right? They never want to smile and look at the camera. And if they do, they smile those creepy, forced smiles and give each other bunny ears. Don’t out yourself. Don’t even let them know you’re taking pictures. Just do so quietly. Be a documentarian. Capture them in their natural habitat.

If you’re attempting a remote shot with the whole family, just interact naturally and fire off some shots from your remote without telling them. See what comes of it.

5. Turn off your flash. Yup, even at night.


I love this tutorial from Click It Up A Notch on how to take this picture, and can’t wait to try it out this year with my kids. Courtney does a great job explaining how to use the light that’s already coming from your tree to light up your subjects.

Morning, noon, or night, you do not need that flash on your camera. During the day, let as much light in as possible. Open all the windows and blinds. Be aware of where the light is coming from in your house. At night, let the tree and holiday lights in your home help dramatically light your subjects. The result is sure to make your photo card stand out in the stack of mail.

I presented all of these tips this week on The Broadcast. You can check out the segment below.

50 Things to Do Before You Deliver: The First Time Moms Pregnancy Guide
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  2. Great tips! However… I don’t have a fancy pants camera. ::sad face:: Can these tips transfer to a point and shoot? Or, do you have any tips for getting Christmas card quality photos with a corduroy pants camera? (see what I did there?!? fancy pants… corduroy pants…)

    • Definitely! I think all of these can work for a point and shoot. I think the biggest thing that will help you is to turn your flash off and do your best to use natural light.

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  5. RJlg78 Love the post you offered.. Wonderful thoughts you possess here.. Excellent thought processes you might have here.. Enjoy the admission you given..

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