How to Get the Perfect Family Holiday Card Photo — Without Losing Your Mind

One of my favorite traditions of the season is giving and receiving holiday photo cards and seeing how family’s and friends’ kids have grown over the year. When my kids were small, I considered making these cards a relatively simple task — but as they got older, it became seemingly impossible to get a family photo that everyone liked and wanted to use.

Sound familiar? Child psychologist Eileen Kennedy-Moore tells SheKnows, “Parents want to share a delightful image of their children with people who care about them. Unfortunately, those children can suddenly turn irritable and uncooperative when it’s time for holiday photos. The more children you have, the harder it is to get a photo with everyone looking good.”

The pressure for a good family photo can increase because the annual photos may be the only contact with faraway family and friends. Parents may also have a self-imposed fear of being judged if they send out a bad picture or no photo. Kennedy-Moore says, “Parents are trying to live up to expectations and get exasperated thinking, ‘Why can’t I get a decent photo of my kids when everyone else can?’”

Decrease holiday photo stress

During the holiday season, everyone is busier than usual, and this can make parents stressed. Kennedy-Moore says, "Kids pick up on parents’ tension about holiday photos. The pressure of ‘We have to get a good one!’ transmits to children and transforms into orneriness. Add in uncomfortable formal outfits, awkward poses with children placed close together, plus numerous attempts, and it’s a recipe for meltdowns."

Rethinking the holiday photo is one solution. Family photos don’t have to be formal or taken in fancy clothes or even taken during the holidays at all. Pictures from a summer vacation or another happy occasion when the family was together are ideal for holiday cards. Candid photos or even selfies can be used for fun and festive cards. And if getting a picture of everyone together is just too hard, consider a card format that incorporates individual photos of each family member rather than a group shot.

If you have your heart set on a traditional holiday photo, decrease the stress by taking them before the hectic holiday season. No one will know but you that the “holiday” photo was taken in September and not December. Or consider hiring a professional photographer to make the task easier. Erica Moffitt, a professional photographer and owner of Naki Studios in New Jersey, tells SheKnows, "Oftentimes, with a professional, children will behave better than they would if their mom or dad were taking the photos.” A professional can usually take the pictures more quickly because of their knowledge and experience. Plus, when you a hire a photographer, Mom and Dad can be in the photo too.

Make it a family project

Whether you take the pictures yourself or hire someone, incorporate some fun into your photo session. Moffitt says, “The biggest mistake people make taking family photos is when they get stressed and frustrated and resort to bribery or threats. It is best to keep it light and just enjoy your family.

Include kids in some of the decisions for the photo, such as picking the pose, location or clothing. Heather Maddan-Dowdell, chief storyteller for Shutterfly, tells SheKnows, “Encourage authentic smiles by telling jokes and allowing the kids to wiggle around while the photographer snaps away.” 

Moffitt adds, “It is not always easy, but try to be silly and focus on how much you love each other.”

Simple photography tips

There are few ways to improve the quality of the photos you use on a holiday card, including:

  • Make sure the image is clean and focused. The higher the resolution, the better.
  • If photographing indoors, it is best to turn off the lights and have everyone face a large window that is receiving indirect light.
  • If photographing outdoors, photograph in the early morning or late afternoon.
  • Keep the background simple.
  • Eliminate negative space between family members. Moffitt says, “Photos where people are making contact such as holding hands, locking arms, hands on shoulders, etc., are more interesting.”
  • Don’t worry about having a professional-grade camera. Today’s smartphones can take high-quality photos.

Let go of perfection

A “perfect” photo may just be a matter of changing your perspective. Moffitt explains, “For example, to some people, if a bow is not completely straight in their child’s hair, then they cannot enjoy the photo. But for others, imperfection adds to the charm.”

Maddan-Dowdell says, “There’s no such thing as a perfect family or a perfect photo, so let go of that goal. Instead, aim to take a photo that showcases your unique family bond." She suggests thinking of your holiday card as a time capsule and advises parents, “Let the photo tell the story of that period of your life. When you look back, what do you want to remember? Make sure to capture that!”

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