5 Tips for Great Holiday Card Photos


Creating Memorable Images for your Holiday Cards.

Article by Jenn Gidman    Images by Kristi Bonney

Photographing and choosing the image to use for your annual holiday card can be a tough decision, but the driving force behind your final selection should be what moves you the most. What you love about your kids, for example, are the same things your friends and faraway relatives who are getting your holiday card love about them, too.

Look for personal, emotional moments for family and individual portraits.
Have a plan in mind before you start taking pictures. If you want to include more traditional posed images as options, get those shots out of the way first. Don’t force the emotions, though. Have the family stand tallest to smallest in front of a barn or brick wall, or ask Mom and Dad to stand in the middle and then have the kids gather round and start hugging. As the photographer, just go with whatever they’re doing and start taking pictures.

© Kristi Bonney

It’s also ideal to get the family outside and capture them as they interact with nature. Holiday card photos don’t have to be stuffy! Make it kind of like a “Hey, wish you were here!” postcard. A 70-200mm zoom lens is perfect for these type of shots, since you just can stand back and observe as they run through the leaves or go sledding. The point is simply to place your family in an environment they love being in (this can be a room in your house, too). Put your family’s personality into it and showcase the environment at the same time.

© Kristi Bonney

Parents often like to focus on a single child for their holiday card, a touching way to show your faraway family and friends how a child has grown over the past 12 months. It’s a great way to make a connection with your loved ones. Fill the frame with your child doing something interesting or something she likes to do every year, like reading a certain holiday book or rearranging the ornaments on the tree or trying to untangle the Christmas lights. It speaks volumes about your child’s personality, and your family and friends will get the card and say, “Oh, that’s so Jane!”

© Kristi Bonney

Try different angles to showcase family traditions.
As a photographer, I’m always seeing photos everywhere I go. During the holiday season, I’ll see little snapshots of the memories that are happening right before my eyes. Always have the camera ready, and try to capture those moments from all different angles. For instance, as we decorated Christmas cookies, I wanted to get a couple of pictures more or less straight on to capture the whole essence of the episode. In one image of my daughter, I got down a little lower to get the plate of cookies in the foreground and my daughter slightly blurred in the background. This image really gives a sense of how many cookies we were actually decorating, as well as how much fun she was having. She’s also got this really funny expression on her face that she always makes when she concentrates. It’s great to capture that, because it’s one of those little things you look back on when they’re older and remember how they were and what they did when they were younger.

© Kristi Bonney© Kristi Bonney

It’s also cool to get pictures like this from above. I love getting shots of the entire messy table while we’re making cookies or wrapping gifts. That perspective can show a lot about the person or family. For instance, I really wanted to capture all the hands that were digging in to the cookies during our decorating session. My mom was visiting, and we don’t get to see her a lot, so I thought it would be a neat shot to get up on a chair and take a picture of all of their hands from above to really show our fun, chaotic family tradition.

Capture the solemnity and respect for your holiday when the lights go low.
The holidays can also be a really reflective time, and it’s wonderful to show that in a holiday card photo as well. A menorah image, for instance, can really capture the feeling of Hanukkah and the emotional impact of the moment when you’re in front of the menorah and thinking about the holiday and your life in general. For lit menorah shots, I’d recommend people use a reflector, as well as a tripod and shutter release to keep your camera stable, and keep your lens wide open. I literally lowered my eye into the viewfinder just so I could see where my reflector was hitting, because I wanted the light to bounce off of the metal of the menorah.

© Kristi Bonney

Incorporate your holiday decor into the image.
You could take some really fun shots using materials for holiday decorations. For example, you might ask your child to blow some glitter into the air and try to capture that. For an image like this, it’s important to light the glitter from the side, so use a reflector or just position your subject so that the glitter is sidelit. You’ll need to use a faster shutter speed to capture the glitter in midair, so shoot for at least 1/500th of a second. Also, use a smaller aperture so that more of the scene and glitter are in focus.

In my family, we make paper snowflakes to decorate the house, which are fun to use in our holiday card pictures. To create a blurred snowflake effect, hang paper snowflakes at varying intervals and pull back when you shoot. You can also switch it up and try something like placing the edge of a paper snowflake on the outer edge of the lens so that it creates a cool blurred effect along the edge. Or you could use colored paper to give it a bit of a glow. The snowflakes can also be used to frame your subject, which makes for a nice composition.

© Kristi Bonney

Take the picture for your card with the end result in mind.
When you’re composing your image, think ahead about how you want the actual holiday card layout to look. For example, do you want it to look more like a landscape image or a portrait? Also consider where you might want to place the text. Either take the picture and leave room for text, or plan on framing the image on the card, with room for text on the side of the image. Finally, don’t be afraid to play around in post-processing and edit the photos. Play around with the settings if you need to to add more warmth to your image and make it a true reflection of your family.


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