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How to Take DIY Family Christmas Portraits: 6 Tips
December 20, 2022

How to Take DIY Family Christmas Portraits: 6 Tips

Reading Time: 5 minutes

It’s almost Christmas, and we all know what that means—it’s time for the family Christmas portrait. Here are some tips for the best results.

It’s that time of year again; the most ambitious among us have already sent out our family Christmas cards. If the calendar got ahead of you this holiday season, it’s not too late to orchestrate the family photo session of a lifetime.

Custom family portraits are charming, personal, and a lot of fun to create. The best family photos are usually taken at home. Our advice? Skip the professional portrait session. The ultimate family photo studio might actually be your own backyard or huddled around the fireplace.

If you’re ready to take your family Christmas photos, we’re here to give you tips for the perfect DIY family shots.

1. Mix and Match Wardrobe and Props

Themed family photos are adorable at any time of year, Christmas most certainly included. Matching Christmas PJs are one common style of a Christmas family photo. Coordinating your outfits without actually matching is another way to go.

You don’t have to go all out and buy new pajama suits for the whole family—you can find a common color theme from your existing wardrobes. Christmas-themed colors are often a winner, but minimalism looks just as good.

You could, instead, have everybody dress normally for the photo, uniting the group with one matching accessory or pattern—a cool red flannel that everybody puts their own spin on, or a bunch of scarves that tie everyone together.

2. Use Suitable Lighting

While professional portraits require beautiful, crafted lighting, a DIY family portrait session can be more forgiving. If you live in a snowy climate, you practically have a natural bounce board blanketing your backyard which adds plenty of gentle, flattering light to your family Christmas portrait.

If outside is less than inviting, find a large window and cover it with a light or white sheet to create a neutral color for your portraits. With your family facing towards the sheet-covered window, you can create lighting using your Christmas decorative lights or the low ambient light of a cozy living room.

To utilize festive lighting, have your family stand a few feet in front of the lit Christmas tree, put your camera or phone on a tripod, and set a shallow aperture—anywhere from f/1.4 to f/5.6. The shallow aperture will throw your Christmas lights into a blurry, bokeh festive background, while keeping the faces of your loved ones in focus to create the perfect DIY Christmas shot.

String LEDs around your camera lens to add depth and dimension. This adds great layers to your Christmas portraits and makes them look more professional and magical. You can easily create professional-style portraits at home without the price or inconvenience of heading to a photography studio. As well as covering your holiday shots, you can take a passport photo at home with your phone.

3. Location Is Everything

The location that you choose for your custom family portraits is paramount. If you live out in the country or near the woods, there are tons of farmhouse-style outdoor family photo ideas you can try.

Many choose to take family photos in their own backyards, but there are plenty of outdoor family photo ideas that you can take out on the road with you as well. Where are some of your favorite places to go? Are there any holiday displays in the city or landmarks that have a festive twist?

As long as you’re not breaking any rules or disrupting public peace, we encourage you to think long and hard about this. If you live near the beach, it might even be warm enough to do a bit of family portrait photography right on the shoreline. Pick a location that has meaning to your family and one that looks good.

4. Don’t Forget About the Poses

Posing, as with any other type of portrait, is crucial. Once you’ve got everybody scrunched up together, you can start to finesse—the most pressing need will usually be giving everybody something to do with their hands.

Pose them with their arms crossed, with their hands on their hips, or with their arms around each other before hopping in yourself. For the tykes or for anybody in the front row, give them something to hold, it will be an upgrade from their hands hanging limp. See our tips for posing kids in photos.

Once everybody is looking merry and bright, button things up; brush the hair out of her eyes, ask the gentleman in the back to fix his collar, cross the ankles if everybody is sitting, have them all lean in, and presto.

Some of our favorite poses for family photos include:

  • Gather everyone around the tree, kneel at the heart of the fireplace, or sit around your Christmas dining table.
  • A portrait of just the kids; if you have several, take a few snaps starring them exclusively. Make it a yearly tradition.
  • Have fun. Play fight or have a tug of war with a Christmas scarf, but don’t take it too seriously.
  • If it’s just you and your partner, an intimate vignette somewhere you both love is one sweet sentiment for your holiday offering.

You don’t necessarily need to pose everybody so that they look like stiff action figures, either; candid family photos are often lovely and a lot of fun to shoot. Invite your camera into the fold as you and your loved ones decorate the tree, bake Christmas cookies, play in the snow, or partake in any other fun seasonal activities.

5. Take Advantage of an Image Editor

For those in more temperate areas, using Photoshop to add snow to your cute family pictures is one way to up the holiday ante. You don’t need to stop at atmospheric weather effects, however. Editing your family photos can be as simple or as complex as you deem necessary.

Retouching your photos is always an option, but these don’t need to be glamour shots. A little bit of Hollywood magic never hurts—fix some stray hairs or unsightly kids’ toys in the background.

How much you edit is up to you; whether you give everybody a Santa hat or some reindeer antlers, or just keep the editing low-key. You can incorporate your family’s favorite Christmas tradition or inside joke into the photo post-production. After you’re done with your portrait, you can use Photoshop to create a Christmas card with the final photo.

6. Equipment and Timer Settings

Unless you’ve enlisted the help of a friendly neighbor to take the shot, your photographer will likely just be your camera or smartphone in automatic timer mode. If this is not the case, you’ll need a tripod or some other way of mounting the camera as you hop into the photo yourself. See our tips for taking professional photos with an iPhone.

Figuring out your device’s timer settings won’t be as much of a problem as timing out the charade itself. Your first few attempts will not be perfect. Just keep ironing out your approach until you find the winning combination of moves to make. The benefit of DIY portrait sessions is that you’re not paying for a limited amount of shots. Take as many as you need.

With any luck, after making it through the points above, you’ve coordinated the portrait to some extent and are following a plan. Get everybody in place, start the countdown, and smile.

Take Fun Family Photos for Christmas

Taking DIY family portraits is never easy, but there’s certainly something about the spirit of the holiday that makes taking holiday photos so much more fun. We recommend that you capture your family authentically; choose a photo that shows you all at your happiest.

You’re going to end up with more than a few bloopers. Honestly, though, the flubbed shots usually end up being more memorable than the one that you send to Grandma. Focus less on perfection and more on the fun. It is Christmas, after all.


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