5 steps to get the best holiday family photo: Wisdom from the pros

5 tips from professional photographers: How to get the best holiday family photo for this year's Christmas cards. Ten Thousand Hour Mama

Last year, when I scheduled a holiday family photo shoot, I did close to zero prep—I was busy enough wrangling a photo-adverse husband and two headstrong kids to consider how to make the photos actually look good. The best family photographers do the bulk of that for you, but a little preparation doesn’t hurt to get the best holiday family photo to put on your Christmas or New Year card this year.

(Looking back at 2016’s images, I laugh so hard at all the drama Kiwi caused! Poor bug was really ready for her nap.)

If you have holiday family photos on the horizon and want to capture your family at its best, look no further. I asked five of the best Portland family photographers to offer their wisdom with these 5 tips to get the holiday family portrait you’ve dreamed of.

5 tips from professional photographers: How to get the best holiday family photo for this year's Christmas cards. Ten Thousand Hour Mama

5 steps to get the best holiday family photo

1. Find the right photographer

Here's how to get the best holiday family photo for this year's Christmas card. Family photography tips! Ten Thousand Hour Mama
Holiday family portrait from Portland’s Capturing Grace Photography

Before you book your holiday family photo session, figure out what style photography most resonates with you. “If you know in your heart that you love the look of a classic studio with simple backgrounds, find that photographer. If you love candid photos and want to see you kids rolling in the leaves laughing, find that photographer,” advises Portland family photographer Aubrie LeGault of Capturing Grace Photography. (Aubrie has done maternity, newborn and family photos for us, and I’m constantly getting compliments on the images she took.)

How do you figure that out? Hit up Pinterest and save images you love. After you’ve collected a bunch, you’ll see a theme—like more formal, posed photos or informal lifestyle images.

Getting the best holiday family photo from a professional photographer isn't hard—just follow these steps! Ten Thousand Hour Mama
Family portrait by Portland, Oregon’s Capturing Grace Photography

“Think about your family’s personality, too,” LeGault says. “If you know that your family will not stand in one spot for more than two seconds and they will do better running free in a park, then think about a lifestyle photographer vs. a studio.”

Then take to Facebook or your group of friends to get recommendations (and quotes, including what is included in the package). Don’t forget to mention who referred you—you or your pal could get a referral kickback, like a percentage off your photography package or a bonus like a photo book.

2. Trust your photographer

Easy steps to getting the perfect holiday family photo - for this year's Christmas cards! Ten Thousand Hour Mama
Holiday family photo by Weeno Photography

Once you’ve done the research and picked a photographer whose style and work you love, go ahead and let go. “It’s our job to make your kids smile, to look at us, to make crazy faces, to feel comfortable,” says Portland family photographer Ashley LaMattino-Perlberg of Weeno Photography. (She’s the one who did the jaw-dropping Mama Truth photography!)

After all, she says, when you’re trying to get your kid to look at the photographer or smile, you’re not looking or smiling. And when your kids do smile, you’re pointing or doing something awkward. So just relax and be in the moment, LaMattino-Perlberg says—you family will look beautiful and authentic because that’s your photographer’s job.

3. Prep your kids right

The best tips to get a beautiful holiday family photo from professional family photographers. Ten Thousand Hour Mama
Family photo by Photography Hill

Telling your kids that you’ve dropped a ton of money on a professional photographer so they’d better be on their best behavior is the fastest way to get stressed out kids, says Portland photographer Lydia Johnston of Photography Hill—and not surprisingly, stressed out kids don’t make for great photos.

Instead of loading on the pressure, “tell your kids that you are all meeting up with a friend to take photos—that makes it more casual,” she says. Also let your kids know that this friend has some activities planned (which will include whatever you have in mind—from taking a walk in the woods to posing and smiling together). Knowing what to expect will relieve your kids’ anxiety. “Everyone will be more willing to cooperate if they are comfortable and at ease,” Johnston says.

4. Expect an “imperfect” photo

Getting a great holiday family photo doesn't have to be stressful! Here, the steps to take with a professional family photographer to capture you and your kids at your best (for that Christmas card!). Ten Thousand Hour Mama
Family photos by Traveling Julie Photography

That Pinterest ideal, in which the entire family—including the dog—is smiling at the camera, is really hard to get (and probably involves a lot of bribery—no judgment). Instead of trying to get your squirmy toddler and camera-shy preschooler to say “cheese” while looking at the stranger you’ve paid to take their portrait, go for spontaneous moments that show your family’s loving interactions, says Portland photographer Julie Court Jacobs of Traveling Julie Photography.

“My favorite family photos are the ones where the family looks like they’re having fun, and they’re looking like themselves,” she says. “Often, the best laughs happen when people are looking at each other instead of the camera. So let go of the pressure of looking Pinterest-perfect!”

5. Select the right photo for your holiday card

5 steps to getting a great holiday family photo, perfect for your Christmas card! Ten Thousand Hour Mama
Holiday family photo by D. Selbak Photography

If you’ve done the previous four steps, you’ll be overwhelmed by all the amazing holiday family photos your photographer delivers. That, of course, poses its own challenge: how to pick the right photo for your holiday card.

Portland photographer Deena Selback of D. Selbak Photography recommends a few criteria for choosing the best holiday family photo to send this year:

  • The photo should include all of you. “Parents will often use photos of just the kids, but your family’s holiday card really should include the whole family,” Selbak says.
  • The photo should have a neutral background. This doesn’t necessarily mean a plain backdrop in a studio, though that’s great; a relatively uniform background such as pine trees is perfect, too. “The focus should be on you!” she says.
  • The photo should be tightly cropped. Although a photo of your family taken from far away might be dramatic, the loved ones receiving your holiday family photo want to see you, not a panoramic beach or river shot.
  • If you’re adding text on the photo, make sure there’s neutral space—e.g. on the Christmas tree branches on the photo below—so you’re not putting words over anyone’s face!

Choosing the perfect family holiday photo for your Christmas card isn't impossible. Here's how! Ten Thousand Hour Mama

The bottom line on taking beautiful holiday family photos and sending out a lovely holiday card: Be yourselves! Your family, friends and colleagues will enjoy receiving a card showing your loving, silly, sweet or rambunctious family, just the way you are.

5 tips from professional photographers: How to get the best holiday family photo for this year's Christmas cards. Ten Thousand Hour Mama

Do you have any stories, hilarious or disastrous or otherwise, from taking a holiday family photo?

8 thoughts on “5 steps to get the best holiday family photo: Wisdom from the pros

  • October 23, 2017 at 8:44 pm

    OMG we take the most TERRIBLE family photos! Terrible!!!! But I’ll be the first to admit, we’ve never found a good professional photographer to do our pics. A good friend once took some pics of us (she’s an aspiring photographer) and they came out really nice, despite the nasty portland weather that day. But otherwise, I try to do my best to do them myself. I need to finally own up to the fact that I can take good food and wine photos, but terrible family pics and find a good pro. Speaking of, how do you go about finding someone? Just google? or do you have a resource for recommended photographers? I think that’s my problem, I just need to do the research and find someone good.

    • October 24, 2017 at 11:00 am

      Haha, so true! To find a good photographer, I do two things: I ask my friends for recs (and ask in local Facebook groups that aren’t gigantic – don’t want to be overwhelmed; I also watch my friends’ postings of their pro photos. When I see a batch that looks like what I want, I get the name of the photographer and go from there.

    • October 24, 2017 at 11:00 am

      BTW Mary, all 5 photographers in this post are Portland-based. If you like the look of their images, you can click through to their sites and see if they would be a good fit!

    • October 24, 2017 at 11:01 am

      Mary, it’s a MILLION times better having someone else take photos of your family! You want to relax and have fun and focus on that, instead of worrying about smiling perfectly for the camera and wrangling everyone to sit still. Definitely hire someone who will have fun and take care of all the hard stuff for you! I think you can look on google and also ask any friends for recommendations. There are many different styles and looks of photographers, so look carefully for work that you really like. For example, my work is warm and colorful, and other people have a lot of darker, moodier look with a lot of black and white.

  • October 24, 2017 at 9:05 am

    Nice tips. I like that you say that picking the photographer depending on the type of photos you want is key. I totally agree. If you like a specific type of photos but that is not what the photographer you picked is used to doing, it is not going to work.

    • October 24, 2017 at 10:58 am

      That’s so true! You can get a great photographer for the wrong project and be totally unhappy with the results.

  • October 24, 2017 at 6:35 pm

    Great tips!
    Last year, my sister ordered holiday cards for her family of 4. The printing company made a mistake and printed 100 copies of the card with a photo of only her and her husband! She decided not to send them out, as it would look like they don’t like their kids… it was too funny.

    • October 25, 2017 at 10:10 am

      Ha! That is hilarious! I hope the company didn’t charge her though!


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