5 Tips for Taking Amazing Holiday Photos

Holiday season is upon us, and that means it’s going to be picture time for virtually everyone at some point in the coming months. Now, the meaning of picture time varies from person to person – some are already feeling a palpable sense of dread just from having been reminded of it, some already have their mind-gears turning about outfits, hair, and poses. It’s a polarizing subject. But, the last decade has been kind to everyone when it comes to pictures. The former banes of holiday pictures – red-eye, poor picture quality – have all gone by the wayside thanks to cameras and editing software that fix all that automatically. You’re even protected from bad shots and people blinking, with cameras that can take multiple successive shots, allowing you to pick the best one. It’s a golden age for picture lovers and haters alike – for the former, we have better pictures, and for the latter, the pain ends much faster. Still, all is not perfect in the land of holiday pictures. There are some things that we haven’t been able to fix with technology just yet. OK, we can fix them, but if you don’t want to learn how to use Photoshop like an expert, you’ll want to take some preventative medicine. Here are a few ways you can make photo time a little more pleasant (or a little less painful) for everyone.

Find a Good Background

Finding a good background is key!

Avoiding the mainstream has become mainstream. Traditionalists are under attack from all sides, and that means the shot in front of the fireplace is just as likely to elicit groans as good memories. This is also assuming your abode has a fireplace, which is no guarantee, either. So, where else do you go for happy holiday memories? You can always have the requisite silly pictures in the kitchen during food prep time, but you do need at least one serious shot that proves that you have a real, normative family (or at least lets you convince everyone else that’s true). If you have the whole house with lawn deal, the outdoors shot up against the house isn’t bad, as long as your house is looking good, too. The only problem with the outdoor shot is that you have to treat your home like another member of your family. If you don’t have a photogenic house, that’s going to cause problems, and maybe an undeserved trip to Awkward Family Photos for your shot.

Keep the Focus on the Family

Back indoors, the couch isn’t a terrible place for a family shot, either. In some ways, it’s even better than the fireplace (mainstream complaints aside), because couches tend to fade into the background. The couch is also probably up against or close to a wall, so you won’t have a lot of background noise distracting picture viewers from your family. If you can frame the shot with an end table or something else nondescript, you can end up with a nice, classy shot that will make for good holiday picture material. You can even put some old holiday photos up on that end table for meta points!

Avoid Photobombers

Be wary of Photobombers!

No amount of casual editing will fix the presence of a photobomber. On its face, this might not seem like a holiday photo problem. Family photos aren’t usually taken in public places, and there’s usually not someone in the family who gets shunned from the holiday photo. Photobombing should be impossible, right? Not so! Photobombers don’t always have to be human. They might not even be living. The family pet is the most likely offender – Spot wandering into the frame or the family cat hacking up a hairball in the corner. Worse, there could be a forgotten object in the background that blended in during everyday life, but sticks out like a sore thumb in a picture. The perfect family photo can be crippled by the unfinished 2-liter of Mountain Dew left on the table. There are lots of reasons why take one might not go well. But photobombers, human or not, don’t have to be one of them. Do a quick scan and make sure the coast is clear before taking the shot.


Plan picture time. You don’t have to plan out a whole schedule, but giving everyone a heads up that picture time is going down in thirty minutes can save you from a world of headaches. Trying to get everyone together for a picture at the drop of a hat is begging for trouble. People are usually involved in something, at the wrangling it takes to detach everyone and get them together is daunting. Fair warning can get everyone on the same page, so picture time doesn’t drag out and become the latest source of family drama. Otherwise, you’ll have a couple people ready to go, waiting for the person who isn’t ready yet. And there’s nothing you can do in that interim time – the people waiting can’t get a conversation going or invest their time in anything, because it’s going to inevitably get cut short by the impending picture. It’s just dead, standing around time. It creates a pall over the room. The holiday spirit gets sucked away, and you need the spirit for a good holiday family photo. Giving everyone a heads up lets everyone take the time to get their photo face on, and guarantees that the process will run more smoothly and quickly. And you know that’s going to put happy on the faces of everyone this holiday season.

Get It Done on the First Try

This is the Law of Diminishing Photo Interest. Once your first picture gets taken, everyone more or less takes themselves out of “picture-taking” mode. They relax, and everyone looks to get back to watching television or playing with their new toys or whatever they were doing before picture time. Then, those two words come – “one more.” Groans. Silent dejection. Everyone summons up what’s left of their energy to get back into “picture-taking” mode. But you can never get that initial level of enthusiasm back. A good family photo is like catching lightning in a bottle. Your best chance is to nail it on the first try.

Like the old adage says, measure twice, cut once. Find just the right background, and make sure the coast is clear of undesirables before taking the shot. Make sure you have the picture framed properly (plenty of head clearance). Those big smiles are never going to be bigger than they are on the first go-round, so make sure you capture them.

Use a Good Camera!

As for technology, that’s the easy part. Just head over to your local Best Buy, where the golden age of the digital camera is on full display. You’ll find cameras that you can use to manipulate lighting, color, and balance, giving you a technically beautiful shot. One of our favorite cameras of the season is the Sony NEX-5R. This interchangeable lens camera doesn’t just offer DSLR quality photos, but it manages to do so in a much more lightweight and attractive form-factor. Plus, it has an easy to use touchscreen user interface with tips, that will help teach you the ins and outs of photography. Now, all your family needs to do is provide the smiles.