3 Tips For Better Holiday Family Photos

Christmas photo of girl in blue dress

The holidays are full of endless photo opportunities. After you get your family portraits from The Shelby Studio ;-) you’ll still want to document your holiday memories. Friends and family visiting from out of town, baby's first Christmas, and sadly, maybe someone's last. Whatever the reason you grab that camera (cough cough) I mean phone, here are a few simple tips that will help you get the best holiday photos you’ve ever taken (along with some photos from some our favorite holiday sessions).

Merry Christmas Christmas card


1. Plan Ahead

This one technically has nothing to do with photography but it will certainly help facilitate you to getting the valuable family photos you want. There's nothing worse than grabbing your phone to take a picture only to get the dreaded message that you're out of space! So whether you backup directly to your computer's hard drive or use a cloud service like iCloud, Google Photos, or Dropbox, make sure to back up all your images then, remove any unnecessary photos from your phone. 

Family portrait Christmas card layout


2. Location, Location, Location!

This one is not always in your control but if it is, make sure you've thought about it. Clutter and chaos are ubiquitous this time of year, by getting your subject in an area free of the mess you will help keep the focus on them. A nice background always helps too! If you’re unable for any reason to determine the location of your photo (e.g. snapping candids) then pay especially close attention to each step in tip #3.

Family portrait holiday card


3. Compose

You don't need a degree in photography to understand photographic composition. Taking a few moments to look at the framing of your shot can make all the difference. There are 3 simple steps to composing a great photo.


Make sure you have your subject in the shot, don't cut people out of frame. Watch those hands and feet! Similarly, don't have that random arm or leg poking into your shot either. Cropping an image is a subject all its own but the quick lesson is that you never crop just below a joint, just above is preferred. For some reason we don’t like to see and ankle and no feet or a knee and no calf.

Another common issue people have is leaving too much headroom in their photos. You should center the horizontal plane your subject is on, or simply put, your subject should be centered top to bottom, but not necessarily left to right.


Consider where people might be when the moment you're photographing happens. Place yourself in an optimal position in relation to your subject. If you're photographing around people who are all standing try to find something to stand on, giving you a clear shot to your subject. Keep in mind photos of the tops of people's heads aren't always that interesting. Complete profiles tend to be less than ideal so get in position so that your getting more of someone’s expression. If you're photographing children you may consider getting down on the ground, take the shot from their vantage point to get a more intimate and emotional photograph. And remember, if your background isn't ideal and your subject can't be moved, try moving yourself, sometimes a few steps can make or break a shot.


Lighting is a difficult thing to master, many professionals struggle with it so don't worry if you are intimidated by the topic. But, understanding a few basics will definitely help.

While photographing indoors in low light, you may be able to place your subject near a window. Avoid photographing anyone directly in front of a window however, as this will cause them to appear darker than the background (best practice is to keep your subject as the brightest thing in an image). Make sure to allow the light from the window to fall onto your subject by placing yourself between the window and your subject. Another low light trick is to use a separate phone's light (possibly multiple phones) to light your subject. Why not use the flash on your camera? Without getting too technical, we usually see objects either lit from above or from far enough away that the light falls over a large area, light from a flash (directly in front of a subject) is atypical and our brains often flag this as peculiar.

If you're outdoors on a bright day make sure your subject is not facing directly into the sun, this will likely lead to squinty eyes which are not very flattering. Conversely, you don’t want to photograph directly into the sun either as this will have the same affect as photographing into a window, your subject will be in shadow and therefor dark. The best solution is to have the sun to one side of your subject. If you’re dealing with the midday sun which is directly overhead it’s time to look for open shade.

Christmas photo of redheaded toddler girl with white bow

Follow these 3 simple tips and your holiday photos will be the envy of all your friends and family, you may even get some Instagram love!

Portrait of toddler boy wearing Christmas outfit