Attempting to take your kid’s holiday photos at home can be much more stressful than it should be. We got tips from professional photographers to help you get the best pictures possible.
Maybe you’re trying to save some money, or maybe you simply forgot to book a professional session and have now found that it’s too late. Regardless of the reason, you’ve decided to take your kid’s holiday photos at home, and that experience can be, well … interesting, to say the least.
The good news is that you don’t have to be a pro to take some great holiday photos. You don’t even need to have a camera—you can just use your phone. We spoke to professional photographers to get their expert tips on how to nail the DIY holiday photo session, and found that this is something really anyone can do with a little patience and time. Keep the below tips in mind.
When searching for the perfect background, your best bet is to head outside and try to find something real to pose in front of. This could mean the decorations in your front yard that you’re especially proud of, a woodsy area full of picturesque evergreens, or a local area heavily decorated for the holidays (think the town square Christmas tree).
Something like a Christmas tree farm could also work. Keep in mind that some public places or parks will require a permit for photo sessions—though the permit process usually only applies to professional photographers and not parents snapping personal photos—or they don’t allow them at all. Be sure to check before you head over there.
You don’t need to go outside, either. Set up photos in front of your decorated Christmas tree or fireplace if you think it looks nice.
It’s also important to note that you don’t want a background that has too much going on. “Use a clutter-free background like an open field, pine trees, or a tastefully decorated fireplace,” suggests Laura Merz, a professional photographer who specializes in portraits and wildlife photography.
And be careful checking the photos to make sure the background doesn’t look odd. “Double check that background elements are placed nicely around the subjects so no one ends up with a candle stick or tree trunk coming out of their head in the final shot,” Merz says. Something that takes seconds to fix before snapping the photo might prove difficult to correct for later.
If going out to find a spot isn’t an option or you’d just prefer to take photos at your home, you can always set up in front of a backdrop. You can find tons of holiday-themed backdrops on Amazon with a quick search.
This one, a Christmas fireplace decoration background, is a cute and popular choice. Not only is it very festive, but it’s also similar to the kind of fake backdrop you might find in a photographer’s studio.
CYLYH Christmas Photography Backdrops
This festive backdrop will make your photos look instantly holiday-ready.
If you are planning on going this route, be sure to do it the right way so that it’s not immediately obvious that it’s fake. Once you receive it in the mail, be sure to roll it up tightly with a cylinder and wait a few days before unrolling and ironing the back with a steam iron on low heat. Creases will be obvious in photos.
You can also hang this using a backdrop stand, which comes with a whole kit full of everything you’ll need to make the scene look as realistic as possible. This isn’t exactly cheap, so you might only want to buy it if you plan on using backdrops more than once. If you’re looking for an inexpensive way to hang a backdrop without a backdrop stand, you can always use the old film industry standby: gaffers tape. It’s like duct tape but without the aggressive adhesive.
FUDESY Backdrop Stand
Hang your backdrop like a pro with this easy to use kit.
Whether you’re taking photos of the whole family or just your kids, be sure the outfits work well together. You don’t have to match completely if you don’t want to, but you should coordinate colors and patterns.
If you’re more into the matching pajama route, that is always a cute and classic choice as well. These Christmas Candy Cane pajamas from The Children’s Place come in a variety of sizes for babies, toddlers, and girls. They also have a cute matching pom-pom headband option.
Merz suggests, “Keep the color scheme for outfits simple: two neutrals and one pop of color will keep everyone looking coordinated and cohesive.” You may want to get the kids dressed and do some test shots first to be sure about your choices.
You can choose something like the above: One child wears a colored pattern, while the other coordinates in something more plain. A red plaid dress with black tights from The Gap for the baby is adorable.
And to match? Throw a simple black sweater on her older brother. These look good together without being over the top.
You don’t have to be elaborate with matching outfits and it helps to focus on a fancy/cute outfit for the youngest person in the photo and then match everyone else to the baby or toddler. They’re going to be the adorable focus anyway so take advantage of it!
Most professional photographers will agree that lighting is key to a great photo. “Good lighting is probably the most important thing when it comes to taking a good photo,” says photographer Stefanie Henne of the travel blog Open Road Odysseys. “It will make it or break it.”
That said, you may not have access to a professional digital camera or studio lighting. The best option is take photos outside. Henne recommends a cloudy day or early in the evening, saying, “cloudy days are best so that the light is diffused nicely with no strong shadows, but the ‘golden hour’ (the hour before sunset) is also a great time to get beautifully lit photos if it’s sunny outside.”
If the outdoors isn’t an option, mimic outdoor lighting inside. Merz recommends not turning on any overhead lights saying you can “avoid strange shadows by choosing an evenly-lit space.” She adds that you can try to copy the lighting of an overcast day by shooting “in a softly shaded outdoor space or in a naturally-lit room for a similar effect.”
And be sure to utilize the windows in your home. “Position the windows behind the camera so everyone is facing the light source for a natural-looking effect,” Merz says.
Planning on being in the photos with your kids? If so, a self-timer and tripod are necessities. Don’t just prop your phone or camera on a random surface. It probably won’t look great and will be more difficult to manage.
A tripod is a great option because it will allow you to tilt the camera or phone if needed, and it keeps the object steady so you don’t have to worry about it falling. This tripod from Amazon is a good choice because of its versatility. It can adjust to hold either a phone or a camera, you can adjust the height from 17″ to 55″ in seconds, and it’s lightweight and compact. It also comes with a carry bag and wireless remote control.
HPUSN Phone Tripod
This can hold a phone or camera and is height adjustable.
If you already have a tripod, buy yourself a wireless remote, like this wireless remote shutter from Amazon. It’s inexpensive and comes on a keychain so you can carry it around. It’s really small and can be kept discretely in your pocket as well.
Zttopo Wireless Camera Remote Shutter for Smartphones
Take photos from afar with this small remote.
Take advantage of the different settings and modes on your phone or your camera. “If the camera or phone you are using for photos has burst mode, turn this function on and use it!” Henne says. “It will allow you to take multiple photos rapidly and capture the best picture in the set. This will help with things like people blinking or children looking away.”
Burst mode may result in a lot of photos, so if you want to trim it down, you can also look for a timer mode where the camera is set up to take photos every 10 seconds or so. The app Photo Timer+ allows you to set up your own intervals from anywhere between three seconds to one minute and has a count-down audio.
Taking photos of kids, especially young ones, can be difficult because they’re always distracted and they don’t like to sit still. If a very posed photo feels too hard, don’t force it. The candid look can be even more adorable and fun than something that feels very staged and forced. This can be as simple as parking the kids in the kitchen, mixing in some Christmas lights, and just letting them chat and laugh about stuff.
Try capturing them in action shots, whether they’re in the kitchen decorating Christmas cookies or outside running around a decorated tree. If you have a dog you’re including in the photos, give the kids treats or a toy to play with the dog so you can snap some photos of them laughing and having fun.
As you’re looking through your photos, it’s easy to nitpick and find things you want to change with a few tweaks on Photoshop. But if you don’t know what you’re doing with this type of photo editing, then don’t try it for your holiday photos.
“Unless you’re a photoshop pro, don’t try to photoshop yourself into the photo after the fact,” Merz says. Stick with any basics you’re familiar with, like color adjustment, but don’t do anything over the top. You might end up ruining the photo and regretting it when the prints come in.
People will overlook imperfect color correction, but they will absolutely notice excessive filters, uncanny face smoothing, and other too-much-Photoshop faux pas.
As you’re taking photos, things might feel chaotic, and you might feel like everything is going wrong. Just remember: Perfection is not the goal here. “Even if the baby is crying in every photo, your dog just won’t sit still, or your brother refuses to smile, ultimately the memories are what is most important,” Henne says.
“You want to capture your family just the way they are, not a perfected version of them,” she adds. Embrace any chaos, opt for that hilarious candid shot, and don’t worry if it’s obvious a professional didn’t take the photos. More than likely, no one will care about any of that but you, anyway.
At the end of the day, your holiday photos should be fun and festive. Have fun with your DIY session and the photos will work in some way or another!