how to take the perfect family holiday photo

“Everyone look at the camera! Smile! Wait, get back here.”

“Is that chocolate on your outfit? Okay, we’re all ready.”

“Can we do another one? I think I blinked.”

Does this sound familiar? If you’re looking for ways to take a better family holiday photo this year, you’re not alone. Getting an entire family to look at the camera with eyes open and a natural smile is no easy task, especially when young kids and pets are involved. And you can only get to that point after you choose an experienced photographer, coordinate dates and figure out outfits.

The good news? It is possible to capture your family’s personality in a photo. With a few simple ideas for creative holiday cards, you’ll be on your way to the best holiday photo yet.


The Heart of a Great Holiday Photo Session

The holidays are an ideal time to build memories and establish family traditions, and a family holiday photo is a perfect tradition to start or continue. The annual holiday picture gives you a chance to capture your family at that moment — a moment you might otherwise forget. It creates a sort of timeline to show how your family changes through the years. Looking back at your holiday pictures takes you on a walk down memory lane you can revisit every year.

Holiday photo sessions also work well for holiday photo cards. Whether you take your own photo or use a photographer, the image makes it a snap to create customized cards without a lot of work. Choose a holiday card design, upload your photo and order cards for all of your family and friends. Everyone on your holiday card list gets to see your smiling faces in a photo that highlights your family’s personality.

So what does it take to make a great holiday family photo session? It takes a lot of planning, a lot of patience, some creative poses and a sense of adventure.

After all, isn’t everything involving your kids an adventure? Our guide to holiday family photos covers all the bases to help you survive — and even enjoy — your upcoming photo shoot.


Finding the Photographer

Anyone can point a camera at a group and take a picture, but a skilled photographer can take even the craziest, most chaotic session and turn it into some amazing moments captured in photographs. Professional photographers often aren’t cheap, so you want to choose a talented one who shares your vision for family photos.

If you don’t already have a family photographer, one option is to visit the websites or business Facebook pages of local photographers. Not only do you get to see the style and quality of the photographer’s work, but you might also find some great pose ideas for your family’s holiday photo.

You might even want to enlist the help of a talented photographer friend or family member if you have one. Since you already know them, they may be able to truly capture your family’s personality. 

If you decide to go the professional route, it’s best to book your photographer early. They often fill up quickly, especially around the holidays when many families are trying to get in for a session. If possible, schedule the session at the time of day when your kids tend to be happy and compliant. It makes it much easier to wrangle everyone if they’re happy in the first place.


Choosing the Photo Outfits

The photo outfits are one of the biggest decisions you’ll make that affect the outcome of the photos. The key is choosing outfits that coordinate but don’t have too many loud features that take away from the main focus of the photo: your beautiful smiling faces. That doesn’t mean you all have to wear the same thing. Matching outfits can also be distracting.

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womens holiday photo shoot clothing ideasjuniors holiday photo shoot clothing ideaskids 9


If you need a little inspiration for outfit ideas for holiday family pictures, here are some suggestions:

  • Choose a general color scheme. Gray, black and white, blue, brown or red are all common options as the primary outfit color. Add in another color as an accent. For example, you might add in aquamarine with your black and white color scheme or coral as an accent to a primarily navy blue color scheme. By choosing one bright color and pairing it with more neutral colors, you won’t end up with too many bright colors fighting for the spotlight.
  • Spread out the color. If everyone wears white on top and black on the bottom even if the clothes are different it will look very matchy. Mix and match where the colors come in. One person might wear black pants while another wears a black shirt, for example.
  • Consider the location. Are you heading outdoors for some snowy shots? Outfit everyone with cozy boots, scarves, hats and vests so they look cute and stay warm. Staying indoors? Choose outfits that are lightweight so your kids don’t start feeling uncomfortable. A hot, itchy toddler is much more difficult to wrangle than a comfortable one — no matter how cute he looks.
  • Avoid busy patterns. A loud pattern can distract from the rest of the family.
  • Start with an inspiration outfit. Does your daughter have the perfect holiday dress you want in the photos? Pull colors and styles from it for the rest of the family.
  • Accessorize to add in extra pops of color and points of interest. Add a headband, scarf, flower, belt, hat or vest.
  • Lay out all of the outfits and accessories to see how they look together. Does anything stand out in a bad way? Do the colors work well together? Is there a balance of colors?

Getting Creative with Poses

Casual or formal. Serious or funny. Indoor or outdoor. The posing and location of your photo session comes with so many options. Your choice in photographers may dictate the poses and locations to some degree. An independent photographer may not have their own studio, opting for natural locations around the city instead.

ideas for family holiday photos

Your photographer should have some ideas for family holiday photos that work well, but having a few of your own is always a good idea.

There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to the types of poses and locations you choose. Consider where you and your family will be the most comfortable. An outdoor session in negative temperatures with kids isn’t an ideal scenario. If you do opt for an outdoor location, consider the surroundings. Avoid a park near a busy road or river if your toddler likes to run off suddenly, for example.

The winter season offers up lots of natural photo pose opportunities. Hopefully your photographer will have some locations in mind and maybe even some holiday backdrops and props to use during the photo session. But it’s always a good idea to come up with a few of your own. After all, it’s your family. Choosing some fun and creative family photo poses is a great way to show off your personality.

Not sure what to do in front of the camera? Here are a few holiday family pose ideas:


family photos in a snowy winter wonderlandSnowy winter wonderland: Have the first snowflakes already found their way to the ground in your area? Head outdoors for a snowy white backdrop. Your photos will look even more wintery if it’s snowing during the photo shoot. Your family will pop out against the white background. Plus, it’s the perfect way to show off all those cute boots, hats and vests you have. Bonus idea: Build a snowman or have a snowball fight as a family while the photographer captures the moments.

family holiday photos in a forestA walk through the forest: A pine forest is another natural backdrop perfect for holiday family photos. Wander with the kids through the trees and see what happens. You’re bound to come up with some spontaneous poses that are perfect for your holiday cards. Don’t live near a forest? Head to a Christmas tree farm and wander the rows of trees with your family.

family holiday photo in cabinCabin fever: Trek to a rustic cabin for another pose option. Either indoors or outdoors, a cabin adds a cozy feeling to your holiday photos. It’s even better if the cabin has a fireplace for a cozy and wintery backdrop.

family holiday photos with christmas lights and propsLight it up: If it’s too chilly to head outdoors or you simply prefer an indoor photo shoot, add in some holiday props. Christmas lights add a fun, twinkly accent to your poses. Hang lights in the background, or wrap them around the family. Other holiday prop ideas include Christmas trees, ornaments, cookies and milk, Santa hats and confetti.

family holiday photos with movementGet moving: People often think of perfectly posed scenes with everyone sitting still, but photos with movement can perfectly capture your family’s personality and this moment in time. If your family dog always runs right in the middle of the action, let him do it in the photo shoot. If dad loves to toss baby in the air, capture that in your holiday photos. It’s tough for kids to sit still for long periods of time, so adding movement to the photo is a great way to get them to cooperate and burn off energy. You’re bound to get some great natural smiles if your tossing fall leaves at one another or having a snowball fight.

family holiday photos with kids posesKids’ choice: If your kids are old enough to give input, ask them for some pose ideas. They may come up with some really great ideas. Don’t dismiss the ideas they share even if they are crazy. Let the photographer take some silly photos. If your kids feel involved, they’re more likely to stay engaged and cooperative. You may end up loving their ideas, or you may decide to go another direction with your final photo selections. Either way, letting them take the lead for a few shots makes them feel valued and involved.


Picture Day Prep

Want to know a little secret on how to take better holiday card photos? Don’t wait until the last minute to prep for your photo session. The amount of work you put into the holiday photo session ahead of time often affects the outcome in a big way.

Here are a few preparation tasks to make the big day a success:

  • Make sure all outfits are cleaned, pressed and hung up so they’re ready to go on picture day. It’s also a good idea to inspect the clothes closely to look for tears, stains or other damage.
  • Gather any accessories or props you plan to bring. You don’t want to scramble on the day of the photo session to find items you really want in the photos.
  • Consider showers, hair washing and other primping tasks. You might bathe the kids the night before to save time, for example.
  • Start preparing earlier than you think is necessary. Everything tends to take longer with kids involved. Have some quiet activities on hand in case you’re ready earlier so your kids don’t run wild and get messy.
  • Feed everyone, fit in naps, change diapers, take your dog for a walk. All those little things that could get in the way should be handled before picture time. This increases the odds of cooperative little bodies and happy smiles.
  • Go into the session with low expectations, and you won’t be disappointed. Push out those images of perfect families sitting with ankles crossed. Is that how you sit in everyday life? Probably not. Instead, embrace what your family has to offer. Show your personality.

On the Set

how to take a good family holiday photo

You made it to the photo set. Breathe and enjoy the moment. If you are relaxed and simply enjoy the time with your family, the kids are more likely to relax as well. Give the kids and pets a chance to get familiar with the setting and the photographer. Sometimes your favorite shots end up being those unplanned moments when you’re just playing around with the kids or sharing a family laugh.

Bring comfort items, snacks, fresh diapers and any other essentials to keep out of the view of the camera. Those items can keep your kids smiling. A favorite stuffed animal might make your child feel better if they’re a little camera shy. It might not be your personal choice for a photo prop, but it captures one of your child’s favorite things. You might look back on it with great fondness once they’re a teenager.

Make the session fun for everyone involved. If you get upset when things don’t go as planned, it stresses the kids out, and you might as well kiss the rest of the session good-bye. Even if you feel like the session isn’t going well, your photographer likely captured at least a few shots that perfectly show what your family is all about. What more could you want from a holiday photo shoot?


Smile for the Camera

Now that you know how to take a good family holiday photo, it’s time to take start planning. The VF Outlet Holiday Guide features photo-ready outfits for the entire family. Once you find the perfect holiday outfits for everyone, you’re well on your way to a holiday photo for the memory books.


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guide to taking a good family holiday photo this year