11 Tips for Creating Your Best Family Holiday Card

carolyn ann ryan photography

Every year we get them -- those gorgeous family holiday photo cards with an entire family of smiling, harmonious children. HOW DO YOU PEOPLE PULL THAT OFF?!? It's a mystery to many of us, especially when we find out no professional photographer was involved. Believe it or not, creating those cool holiday photo cards is NOT magic. You just need a few tips from the pros!


1. Harmonize outfits, don't match. "You don't have to have everyone in completely matching clothes anymore," says New Jersey portrait photographer Carolyn Ann Ryan. In fact, you don't even have to have everyone in classic holiday colors. "Basic khakis, browns, and off-whites work well with the holiday colors in those custom card templates," Ryan says. "Just try to avoid having anyone outright clashing with each other."

2. Accessorize your kids. "I love accessories on children," Ryan says. She recommends bow ties with a vest for little boys, bracelets and fun hairdos for little girls, special holiday shoes for both.

family portrait tips

3. Wear layers. Ryan cautions that the weather can change on you on photo day, so be ready for warmer or colder weather. "Think about layers," she says, "things you could remove or that you could add to everyone's outfits so everyone is comfortable."

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4. Use props. Liven your photo -- and give the kids something to hold or do -- by including props. Ryan suggests wrapped-up presents, block letters or a chalkboard spelling something out, or Christmas lights. A warning about those lights, though: DON'T wrap them around your babies or toddler, and DON'T let them chew the cords, Ryan cautions. The cords often contain lead. Put the lights behind you in the background instead.

5. Take some warm-up shots. "Family portraits are always awkward for the first few shots," says Victoria Burgamy of Victoria Dawn Photography in Salt Lake City. "I always tell my clients that we are going to take a few warm-up shots and this is when I see how they smile when I simply say 'Smile.' After those shots, I see if I need to throw in a bit of humor, monkey dance, or jump through rings of fire so to speak." 

6. Let the kids be kids. Ryan doesn't allow yelling at the kids in her sessions. "If you want kids to smile," she says, "you can't be disciplining them!" Instead, she tries to keep the session fun and engaging -- and she doesn't worry about perfect poses with everyone standing up straight. "Snacks and bribery are your friends," says Burgamy, who says kids run the show in her sessions.

7. Use your phone and tripod to hold the kids' attention. Burgamy has a fun trick for grabbing those eyes. Sometimes she'll attach her phone to her tripod and put on a cat video for the kids before taking her shot. "Who doesn't smile at cats? Or find something else you just know will make your kids laugh."

8. Watch your backgrounds. Before you snap that photo, make sure there aren't any garbage dumpsters or cars lurking in the background. If there are, you don't have to pick everyone up and move, though. "You may just need to stand up, move to the right or left, or shift your angle," Ryan says.

9. Grab the beautiful lighting. There's nothing as flattering as natural sunlight, but you need to get it at the right time. Ryan says the best hours for photographing in the fall are an hour or two before sunset. "Avoid having your subjects look right into the light," she cautions, "because they'll be squinting." 

10. Use a wireless remote. "You can hold it in your hand, press the button, and watch the blinking light count down to when your photo gets taken," Burgamy says. She suggests using the option to take multiple snaps at once while everyone is laughing and giggling to nab that perfect shot.

11. Make it fast. "It's best to be quick and not make it a long, drawn-out process," Burgamy says. As we all know, kids and pets (if you're including them) have notoriously short attention spans. Don't spend all day shooting for perfection.

Have you ever created your own family holiday photo cards? Do you have any other suggestions?


Image via Carolyn Ann Ryan Photography

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