Looking to save money this Christmas? Find out how to master DIY Christmas family portraits, even if you’re a total newbie. Scroll to get my top Christmas photo ideas for locations, outfits, and props!
I’m a HUGE proponent of family photography.
We hire photographers multiple times each year to capture Christmas photos, vacation photos, and momentous occasions.
I think it’s really important to capture moments in our lives that are a bit more planned than quick phone selfies. Although, those are also pretty important!
This year, we’re trying to limit our exposure to people, so we’re doing our own Christmas photos. We’ve done it before and we’ve gotten some fun results.
So, how do I take my own photos for Christmas?
In this post, I outline exactly what I do in order to get my whole family on board with our Christmas photo shoot.
Keep scrolling to find out how to save 30% off your Christmas cards!
Photography Basics for Parents
I’ve had friends tell me they can’t get “good” photos of their kids because they aren’t photographers. That always makes me sad because it usually just takes a few tricks to instantly get better photos.
I’m not a trained photographer, but I love watching what other people do and find out what works for me.
Do you need a fancy camera?
Nope! Most of the photos I take for my blog are just iPhone photos.
iPhone and Samsung phones have pretty good built in cameras and they keep getting better for each new generation.
That being said, it definitely helps if you do have a “nice” camera and tripod to use. My husband is pretty passionate about photography and has a sweet set up.
I also have a good mirror-less camera that I usually take when we’re traveling.
When to your Family Christmas Portraits?
It’s always important to think about the lighting.
Professional photographers love shooting first thing in the morning (like an hour after sunrise) or at golden hour (an hour or two before sunset.)
But, that’s not always realistic for families with little kids.
My suggestion is to think about when your kids are the most easy-going. And if you have babies or toddlers, consider their nap time and meal time.
In my family, that’s anytime before lunch. After that, I cannot predict any of our moods and it might be stressful.
Sunlight or Shade?
Before I was a blogger, I always thought it was important to shoot on bright sunny days for the best photos.
I had no idea that cloudy days are actually better because of the lighting.
What I’ve learned is that you either need your photography subject to be completely in the sunlight or completely in the shade in order to have uniform lighting.
And always remember to have the sun behind you.
How to Get Kids to Look Natural
We all know the moment kids start to put on their forced smile. It can be really frustrating when they put on an unnatural smile.
What’s worked in our family is telling our kids to “fake laugh.”
The point is that they start doing their cheesiest laughs which usually get them to actually start laughing at each other, resulting in natural smiling photos.
Another idea is to tell them jokes, ask them about their favorite movie/TV show, or have them start singing a song.
As a final resort, we usually end up asking “Who tooted?” or other potty humor to get them chuckling. In my opinion, it’s totally worth it to get the photo.
Christmas Family Photo Shoot Ideas
Every fall, I start thinking about our Christmas family photography shoot and what I want it to look like.
Pinterest is a great place to find Christmas family photography inspiration. There’s usually a lot of classic photo ides plus some trendy Christmas photo ideas.
Christmas Tree Farm Pictures
One of my favorite places to take Christmas pictures is at a local Christmas tree farm. The trick is to try to go before they open to the public.
This year, we went in October and were able to walk all over the Christmas tree farm without getting strangers in our photos.
We love visiting Christmas tree farms because the trees are fairly close together so we can get a few in our shot.
And we bring a ton of our own props to change it up a bit.
Another idea for outdoor Christmas pictures is at a local park. I actually think dog parks can be a great option if it’s in a scenic area.
If you are doing family photos with little kids, you can bribe them with a visit to the playground after you are done doing photos.
Or find a park without a playground if you feel that might be too big of a distraction.
Lake or Ocean
We’re lucky here in the Pacific Northwest to have so many beautiful waterfront outdoor Christmas photo spots!
We have lots of peaceful lakes, little streams, rivers, and tons of places along Puget Sound.
Posing in front of water is a great way to avoid random people in your photos.
Family Christmas Portraits At Home
This year, a lot of families are opting to take their Christmas photos at home. I mean, we’ve all spent a LOT of time at home this year, so it makes sense.
Here are my favorite places to take photos at home:
Are you as in love with those matching Christmas jammies photos as much as I am?
They are usually taken on a neatly made King or Queen sized bed in a room with awesome lighting.
You can get photos of your family snuggled together, reading a book, or having a pillow fight.
One of the most popular places to take family photos at home is in front of the fire place. It’s especially cute if you have it all decorated for Christmas.
If you’d like to try something different for your holiday cards this year, you could do one where your family is baking or decorating cookies.
It’s extra cute if everyone is wearing aprons!
In Front of Christmas Tree
Another classic place for Christmas photos at home is in front of your Christmas Tree.
You can either stand in front of it or have everyone sitting together surrounded by presents.
We love adding oversized teddy bears near our tree because it reminds us of the adorable Teddy Bear Suite at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel in Seattle!BUY ON AMAZON
Decorate your front porch with some outdoor Christmas items and you’ve got the perfect spot for a Christmas card photo.
The steps can be helpful if you have kids. Either the kids can stand on the higher steps or the whole family can sit on the steps to be at the right height.
Hotel Room or Airbnb
And if you’re looking for an indoor space that you don’t have to clean, you might consider renting a hotel room or vacation rental home.
This is an easy way to get magazine-worthy family photos on the bed without worrying about anything in the background.
Make sure it’s got good lighting before booking anything.
Plus, it’s a great excuse for a staycation!
Family Christmas Picture Outfit Ideas
What should a family wear for Christmas photos? My vote is for anything that doesn’t clash with your background or each other.
And if you are taking photos in a colder climate, make sure everyone is dressed warmly or you’ll get a lot of photos you can’t use (trust me!)
Matching Christmas Outfits for your Family Christmas Portraits
One of the most popular Christmas picture outfit ideas is to have the whole family matching.
You can have everyone wearing the same color, the same shirt, etc.
When my oldest was a toddler, we took a bunch of photos around Seattle wearing sock monkey hats!
It added a fun element to our photos, plus it kept us toasty warm when exploring the city in freezing temperatures!BUY ON AMAZON
Themed Christmas Outfits
Or you can run with a theme. Christmas movies like Elf and The Grinch are pretty popular.
But you don’t have to limit it to Christmas.
I have a feeling we’ll be seeing a lot of Schitt’s Creek-inspired Christmas card photos this year!
One of our favorite holiday photo outfit ideas is to have everyone wear sweaters.
My husband and I usually wear a neutral sweater and have our kids wear Christmas sweaters. Some years they match, some years they just go together.
You could totally do Ugly Christmas sweaters, too!BUY ON AMAZON
Buffalo Plaid Family Christmas Pictures
Another classic Christmas fashion trend is wearing buffalo plaid.
It’s got that lumber-chic vibe that looks great on just about anyone!BUY ON AMAZON
Family Christmas Pajamas
One of the cutest Christmas card outfit ideas is for your whole family to wear matching Christmas jammies.
These are perfect for photos at home because it feels like you are inviting people in.BUY ON AMAZON
Christmas Photography Props for your Own Christmas Family Portraits
Okay, once you’ve figured out where you want to take photos, it’s time to start thinking about ways to get lots of different photo ideas with the same set up.
Our family motto is “anything worth doing is worth OVERdoing” so I always bring way more props than we end up using.
Here’s what I like to bring:
Nothing adds a little razzle dazzle better than twinkling Christmas lights.
I’ve grabbed a few sets from Target’s Dollar Spot over the years and they always work well for photos. Just be sure to pack extra batteries.
It’s cute to drape them around kids, have kids hold them, or put them on a tree as background.BUY ON AMAZON
Christmas ornaments are another fun Christmas prop idea. Go with the bigger ornaments you have to ensure that it shows up in your photos.
We like taking photos of the kids holding the ornaments and putting them on the tree.
And I love using large ornaments with messages on them (like this Home for the Holidays ornament) for our Christmas card photos.BUY ON ETSY
Christmas garland has SO many possibilities!
You can wrap it around trees, people, or poles to add a pop of color. Or you can have family members hold it.
Or you can place it on the ground for seated photos for a festive touch.BUY ON AMAZON
We always bring a Christmas book to feature in our photos.
It’s cute to sit on a blanket and have kids sitting in laps listening to the story. Or having older kids read the story to themselves.BUY ON AMAZON
We have a Radio Flyer wagon that we bring on every Christmas photo shoot. Sometimes we use it as a photo prop, and other times we use it to haul our props.
It’s super cute to use in photos if you have babies or toddlers. And you can have older kids pull younger kids.BUY ON AMAZON
If you want really easy and recognizable Christmas photo props, grab some Santa hats!
They are cheap, fun, and turn any photo into a Christmas photo.BUY ON AMAZON
I can’t stop buying Christmas signs. I actually picked up a Merry Christmas sign from Target a few days before our last photo shoot.
It’s nice to have something to hold onto if you don’t know what to do with your hands. And it keeps kids from touching other things.BUY ON AMAZON
We like bringing some sort of outdoor blanket to use on the ground when we do outdoor Christmas photography.
Sometimes it’s a fleece blanket and sometimes it’s an actual outdoor blanket. I think theplaid blankets look best, especially if your family is wearing solid colors.BUY ON AMAZON
If you’re hoping to get some romantic Christmas photos, it’s not really complete without a little sprig of mistletoe!BUY ON AMAZON
Where to Order Christmas Cards Online
Throughout the past 10 years, I’ve ordered Christmas cards from SO many places!
We’ve done Shutterfly, Costco, Tiny Prints, etc.
This year, we ordered our Christmas cards through Mpix. We’ve used them in the past for our Disney gallery wall (which turned out so well!)
Right now, you can use code MARCIE30 to save 30% off your holiday card order.