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It’s that time of year: taking the best family photo for holiday cards and e-greetings. Ugh! Fear not, dear reader. Our correspondent Julie Chang Murphy, mother of three and experienced planner of holiday magic, breaks it all down for us. Here are her 10 expert tips on how to take a great family holiday photo this year. These tips should help you achieve the best Christmas and winter holiday family card photos ever.

why is getting a great family photo for the holidays so hard?

Fall is a comforting time, isn’t it? Bundling up for sweater weather, taking in the crisp air and fall foliage and enjoying all the pumpkin spice treats. There are so many things that make us feel cozy and toasty with that inner autumnal glow.

But nothing extinguishes that inner warmth faster than the thought of producing those impending holiday cards for all your friends, relations and business associates. Meaning: it’s time to figure out to how to take a great family holiday photo this year.

Tips for the best Christmas card family photos

Tips for the best Christmas card family photos: start as early as you can.

True, some people have it down to a science. You know what we mean: joyfully gathering their family for those perfect, coordinating photos. Opening their pristine, updated address books.

Of course, others send them out more haphazardly. Perhaps never procuring enough stamps. Or deleting their excel spreadsheet of addresses by accident. These are things that may or may not have happened to someone I know. Ok, fine. That someone is me.

how to take a great family holiday photo this year in 10 simple steps

If you’re reading this now, congrats! You are one step closer to ensuring a stress-free holiday for yourself. Get the biggest piece of the puzzle out of the way in the coming weeks- the family photo!

We’re sharing our best tips for how to find a photographer and of course, what to wear to present your crew in the best light. And if you feel torn, take it from us here at Dandelion Chandelier: the years go by fast, and it’s worth all the effort (and candy bribes) to capture your family – with as many generations as possible – at a precious moment of togetherness and joy.

1. Agree on who’s in charge of this project

Like many creative endeavors, a great family holiday photo needs one person to make the final call on the vision for the project, the execution of it, and the ultimate outcome. Committees are good for certain things – but a family photo is not one of them. So, first and foremost, who is in charge of this photo operation? Is it you? Your partner?

Tips for the best Christmas card family photos

Tips for the best Christmas card family photos: be sure that one person is responsible for planning.

The person playing point on the family photo has lots of work to do (and possibly money that they’ll be spending). In return, they get the final decision-making authority. And all the glory when it comes out perfectly!

2. Choose your photo style

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of securing a photographer, you can narrow down the field by choosing the photography style that is aligned with the look you’re going for. Here are several popular styles to be aware of – from classic posed photos to documentary-style approaches.


This formal style, like the example below from Paulina Duczman Photography, usually takes place in a photography studio with a backdrop, lights, poses and in some cases, props.  Or in your home. While for some families this mode has fallen out of favor in place of more naturalistic approaches, when done well, it can have a timeless, fine art quality. Especially in black and white. These are particularly well-suited for milestones and for classic portraits meant to be framed on a wall.

how to take family holiday photo

How to take a family holiday photo: Traditional style photography. Photo Credit: Paulina Duczman Photography.


You’re probably familiar with this brand of photography on Instagram. Think of those “un-posed” and “in the moment” photos of your favorite influencer looking spectacular doing some everyday, normal thing. Like drinking a cup of coffee on all-white linens with sun steaming through a perfectly kept room.

With a skilled lifestyle photographer who stages, styles and offers direction in the comfort of your own home and neighborhood, that person could be you! Think of it as your ideal family. No one will guess that you spent 30 minutes trying to get your son out of his Ninja Turtle costume. Or that you spent two hours getting a blow out and makeup done.

How to take a family Christmas or winter holidaycard photo: Lifestyle photography.


This style of photography leans towards a more organic narrative of your family doing a particular activity or in a specific setting. There will be little direction from the photographer – no forced poses or smiles. It might be the way to go if you have very young kids or teenagers who don’t just smile when told. The vibe of this kind of photo shoot is relaxed and spontaneous. It captures a family “doing their thing,”as in this image from Carin Thakar Photography.

How to take a family holiday photo: Storytelling style photography. Photo Credit: Carin Thakrar Photography.


Similar to storytelling, but even more based in reality. There is little manipulation of the setting and the photographer will typically spend at least 4 hours or up to a full day with you and your family, capturing the mundane, the messy, and everything in between. It is meant to be an honest record. A gritter and more authentic story behind the image, as in this work from Kirsten Lewis Photography.

How to take a family holiday photo: Documentary style photography. Photo Credit: Kirsten Lewis Photography.

It’s important to remember that there isn’t one style that is better than the other. Consider the stage your family is at. Little kids might do better with a style that requires little direction from a photographer. Families with older kids who can smile on cue might prefer something more classic. Choose what moves you.

3. Choose your photographer

Once you’ve narrowed down which style you prefer, you’ll need to spend some time perusing websites, blogs, asking friends for recommendations, and posting queries on local parenting groups on Facebook. Chances are a lot of other families have gone through the process and have some great recommendations. Checking a photographer’s blog, Facebook or Instagram is important because it will give you a sense of how active they are and a sense of their personalities.

Tips for the best Christmas card family photos

Family Time. Photo Credit: Kirsten Lewis Photography.

The next step is to email them. Duh, right? But their response time will be telling. I don’t know about you. But when it comes to getting that photo for the holiday card or framed as a gift, there never seems to be enough lead time. Someone who takes days or weeks to respond to correspondence will probably not get you that gallery of photos in time.

4. Finalize your budget and get logistics ironed out

Of course one of the main considerations in this entire enterprise is budget. Typically, photographers will bundle their services into a package. And there might be wiggle room depending on your needs. For example, you might be able to customize the length of the photo shoot, how many retouched photos are included, and even custom framing or albums.

The key here is to define studio policies, payment and deliverable schedules, and contingency plans. You might also want to check if the photographer will meet with you in person before your session to brainstorm about creative ideas, locations, and clothing. You may also be more comfortable being photographed having already met them.

Tips for the best Christmas and holiday card family photos:

Tips for the best Christmas and holiday card family photos: try to coordinate the color scheme.

5. Choose your own outfit

Our advice is that whoever is ordering the photos should get to pick their outfit first. Because if they aren’t happy with the way they look, no one is ever going to see that photo! Choose your favorite outfit, buy a new one, or rent a few options from services like Rent the Runway or Nuuly to test out different looks.

6. Choose outfits for everyone else

Now, start building around that outfit. You want to coordinate but not be matchy-matchy. Typically what looks best is to blend 3-4 colors for interest.

If you’re taking the photos in your home, consider those color schemes and choose colors that will coordinate. If you’re taking photos outdoors with fall foliage, warmer tones will fit right in. For actual color palettes, Pinterest has numerous pages devoted to the subject. Or look at your favorite paintings, book covers, or posters for color inspiration.

bets Christmas and holiday card family photos

Tips for the best Christmas and holiday card family photos: don’t be too matchy-matchy, but do coordinate colors.

No time to lay out various options? For kids, at least, many brands offer color coordinating collections across gender. When I used to work as a fashion designer at a mass market brand, we were presented with a seasonal color palette to work from so that all the reds matched with the same shade of blues, etc. It’s a no brainer.

7. Don’t forget the accessories!

Finally, don’t forget about accessories! Use them to add some dimension and texture to the photo. Often they can tie family members’ outfits together and give the photo a cohesive feel. For example, if Dad is wearing a navy and white gingham shirt, your daughter can wear a bow in her hair with the same pattern. As a bonus, they can also be fun to use as potential props- necklaces for kids to play with and hats to hold or hide behind.

How to take a great family holiday photo: color coordination is key.

8. Optimize the day and time of your photo shoot

Whether the photographer is coming to you, or your family is going to them, think hard about the right time of day and the right day of the week to schedule your photo. Our gang does best mid-morning. Maybe yours is better in the late afternoon. The goal is to try and catch the majority of the family at their best moment to keep the crabbiness to a minimum. So no super-early mornings!

9. Feed the troops before the photo session

In a similar vein, we’ve learned through the years that snacks are key to a successful family holiday photo shoot. Hangry people never photograph well. Just this once, don’t worry about the sugar high or the carbohydrate-loading. You can go for a family run afterward.

Christmas card family photos

Tips for the best Christmas card family photos: bring snacks!

10. Make it quick

The final tip on Christmas or winter holiday card family photos is about time management. Whether the shoot is happening in your home or at a studio, try to keep the production moving. Have your photographer set up the lighting and any background elements without everyone else hanging around. Take some test shots with some patient adults as the subjects. Once you have what you’re looking for, then bring in the little ones and the fidgety adults.

How to take a great family holiday photo this year.

Let everyone know that more cooperative they are, the sooner they’ll be free to go. And then stick to that promise! The moment you can tell from the photographer’s digital display that you have what you need, declare victory. If you keep going after you have a good shot, the entire enterprise is guaranteed to end in tears.

how to take a great family holiday photo this year

There you have it! How to take a great Christmas or winter holiday card family photo. Now you just have to start updating that address book and set a reminder to get to the post office when those holiday stamps come out!

Don’t be that person who sends out warm and fuzzy holiday cards with leftover stamps that depict some random fish or government building. Ok, that person may or may not have been me.