I have been taking my own Christmas family photos from the moment I bought my frist cheapie camera and roll of film. The holiday season is my absolute favorite time of year and I love documenting it with loads of family portraits. In the beginning I stuck with more candid shots but over time I have branched out to more traditional family portraits and even do some editing now to really make the photos pop. In this post, I’m sharing my quick and dirty tips for creating beautiful family photos for the holiday season.


The very first step to taking your own family photos is to find some inspiration. The family photos that we are all used to seeing are often of models whose job it is to look good in photos. Or they are taken by professional photographers who have invested countless hours into learning about color, composition, and lighting. The great news is that because they have done all of the work for you, all you have to do is copy exactly what they are doing! It’s totally fine. I promise that no one will notice that your family pic looks exactly like the one in the Target ads.

My favorite source of inspo for all things visual has to be Pinterest without a doubt. It is really easy to find exactly what you are looking for using their search funtions. Just pop on over to Pinterest and search for “family christmas photos” and you will get hundreds of pretty pics. You can also search for “coliday photo outfit ideas” and “christmas photo poses” for more ideas (substituting for holiday works too). The next step is to start honing in on the ones that you really like.

When you see a photo that stands out to you, save it by pinning it to a new board. You can create one board for all your family portrait research (because let’s be real, once you learn all of this, the family portrait fun won’t stop at Christmas) or you can create separate boards for each season. As you are saving the photos, pay close attention to these points:

-The location of the photo–is outdoors or indoors?
-The poses–are the subjects sitting or standing. Are they focused on each other or on the camera? Are they in motion or are they standing still?
-The outfits–what kind of color palette are they wearing?


There’s no getting around it–you are going to need some kind of camera to take your family photos, especially if you want to take something other than candied family pics. The good news is that most all of us own at least one camera: our cell phones. Even a budget cell phone can take pretty good pictures if the lighting is good. But if you really want to start taking photographs that look quasi-pro, you are going to want to invest in a higher end point and shoot or a DSLR.

We have a point and shoot that takes amazing pictures, the Canon G7X, but when it comes to our family photos, I always use my DSLR. It is just a lot easier to take creative semi-pro photos with a DSLR and the price point is just not that different. If you already have a DSLR and lenses, great! Feel free to drop down a few paragraphs to find out what other equipment you will neeed.

When I take our pictures I use my entry level Canon t5i that’s about four years old now. You can still find new t5i’s for sale, but if you want to dip your toes in for the first time, I’d just go ahead and get the latest model, the T7i.

The ability to switch out your lenses is what makes DSLRs so awesome. They usually come with one or two lenses called kit lenses. Or you can buy the body without lenses and use the cash you saved to buy specific lenses. I started out with the kit lens at first and only later moved on to buying separate lenses after I got to know my camera better. Here’s one of the earlier pictures Joseph took of me with the lens that came with my camera.

Now I almost never use my kit lenses. They are just sitting on my shelf collecting dust. I have two primary lenses that I use to take all of my photos. The first is known as “the nifty 50.” The price is incredibly reasonable and it takes amazing photos, especially if blurry backgrounds are your jam. The only downside is that because it doesn’t zoom, you will have to zoom with your feet (aka walk back and forth to zoom in and out). The second lens that I use and love is a Sigma 17-50mm. It’s slightly pricier but it is so versatile that it has quickly become my go-to.

Alright, so you have your camera and lens. You will also need a tripod to hold your camera so you can actually be in the photos. Lastly, I recommend that you buy a remote for your camera so that you don’t have to walk back and forth to set the timer. It’s also really helpful when it comes to taking photos that are a bit more candid, because you can repeatedly press the shutter button without having to disrupt the action by leaving the shot.

Equipment List

  • DSLR or point and shoot
  • Canon 50mm (optional)
  • Sigma 17-50mm
  • Tripod
  • Remote (optional but highly recommended)


Alright, now we are ready to get into the creative side of things where we hash out the creative details of our family photos. The best time of day to take your photos is during the golden hour. This is the first our after sunrise and the hour before sunset. The sunlight at these times is all golden and diffused, making it easy to take pretty photos. Full disclosure: I have never taken pictures during the golden hour and have still had great success. The next best thing is an overcast day.

There are tons of options when it comes to where you should take your Christmas portraits. It can be as simple as taking a quick photo in your house with your holiday decor as a backdrop. We did exactly that for Christmas 2015 when I was heavily pregnant and in no mood to head out somewhere special for our holiday photos. You could also climb into bed in some holiday-themed pajamas for a cute and cozy family photo.

Another option is to throw up a quck background on a blank wall using Christmas lights and a white sheet. I haven’t tried that yet but it’s on my to-do list. Or use darkness and lights from your Christmas tree to create special photos like this one I took of Alexis in 2014.

Another popular option is to head outdoors for your holiday family pictures. Forested areas are an ever-popular option. Bonus points if it’s a Christmas tree farm like the one that we visted last year for our family photos. This is a great option if your family usually purchases a fresh tree anyway. I love it when outings can do double or triple duty. In this case, we went to the Christmas tree farm, took pictures, enjoyed farm fresh donuts and hot cider, plus picked up a tree.


If you followed step one then you’ve already found plenty of inspiration and tips on Pinterest. You will want to choose a color scheme that makes sense for the holiday and for your chosen location. So you probably don’t want to wear shorts and flip flops if you are going to take your pictures in the snow. Or if you are taking your pictures on a tree farm surrounded by evergreens, you may not want to wear all green.

We tend to lean towards outfits that have complementary colors but don’t match exactly. And we make sure to have a mix of patterns and solids. Too many patters increases the risk of the photo looking too busy. But too little pattern or texture and the photo can get boring. In our Christmas photos last year, we went with a mix of red, white, and gray. We have always managed to piece coordinating outfits together without having to go shopping so try that first before heading out to the store if you are looking to save a few dollars.


The actual process of taking the photos is fairly simple, especially if you keep your camera on auto. First, have your family get into position with your chosen backdrop behind them. Set up your tripod and take a few test shots to make sure that you like how it all looks. Also check to make sure that there is enough space for you in the photo. If you are unsure, leave a bit of extra room in the shot. You can always crop it down later.

Set your camera to remote shooting then head on over and take a couple of pictures using the remote. After that, you just rinse and repeat. Particularly with younger kids, it can be hard to get them to look at the camera and smile at the right moment. So you might have to take a number of photos before you get it right. For younger kids, candid shots involving tickling, walking, or tossing them in the air can work really well.


Editing your Christmas family photos can take them from nice to pro. Most computers come with some type of photo editing software. You can do a few easy tweaks on there. But if you want to take it up a notch, plus also have an easy way to catalog all of your family photos, I highly recommend Lightroom, even if you have a Mac. It’s incredibly easy to use and can do amazing things to your photos.

For most of my photos, I do four things. First, I bump up the exposure a little bit. Brighter photos just look better. Second, I bump up the contrast. Third, I bump up the saturation. This brightens all of the colors in the photos. You want to be careful with this because it can quickly turn your skin tone over-tanned orange or beet red. Less is more. Finally, I increase the sharpness of the photo. This makes the lines in your photo sharper.


There are so many things that you can do with your shiny new Christmas family photos. The most obvious is to use them as the background for your holiday cards. You can print them out, throw them into frames, and use them around the house as Christmas decor. They also make a great present for grand parents. Then come next Halloween, you can recycle them into zombie portraits using PicMonkey’s Zombieland tools!

Do you take your own family portraits? Share your tips and tricks in the comments!