Photo Tips

Tips for Taking the BEST Family Holiday Photos!

Me Ra Koh


Since November is the busiest month for families wanting that perfect photo for the holiday card, I want to set you up for success by sharing 12 tips for taking the BEST Family Holiday Photos!  Fill yourself with inspiration!

Over the last six weeks, I’ve been having a blast photographing clients from New York City to Seattle!  What am I looking for when capturing a family?  Light is always a key factor, but I’m also observing the dynamics between family members.  Subtle gestures like the way a mom laughs, the way a dad comforts his 2-year-old, how a great grandma’s eyes light up when her great granddaughter squeezes her … all of these pieces play a role in creating a vision for a family portrait that is worthy of this season in their life.

Below are my 12 Tips for Taking Amazing Family Holiday Photos, whether your family has babies, toddlers or beautiful great grandparents!

Taking a great holiday family photo can be a bit stressful, but it doesn’t have to be.  This year, follow my favorite photo tips and not only will you capture a GREAT holiday family photo, but you’ll also have a great time together!

(Check out my new book, just in time for the holidays!  Your Child in Pictures: The Parents’ Guide to Photography Your Toddler and Child from Age One to Ten!)  Enjoy!

1. How to Get Foliage in the Background

Tree foliage can be so beautiful, but the leaves are often too high to fill the background of your photo.  How do you get around that?  To get beautiful foliage in your background, have the family stand on a hillside.

This is the only time I shoot up on people.  As long as you watch for double chins, you should be good to go!

2. Look for Emotion, More Than Focus

When all the faces are in focus, I sometimes feel like I lose the magic of the moment.  That is when I opt to leave a couple people unfocused.

3. Start with What They Expect

How do you get a great family holiday photo with busy toddlers (or twins for that matter)?  You start with what they expect.  They expect to look at the camera and smile.  But they also need someone to look at.  Many times I have someone help me get their attention, or I use the Live View to frame my photo versus looking through the View Finder (and covering my face with the camera).  Keep your face uncovered, so toddlers can stay engaged with you.

4. Capture the Story of Now

The most beautiful family holiday photo is the photo that captures the story of now.  What is the “now” for your family?  Do you have little ones who run around everywhere?  Then consider a photo like that for the holiday card because in the next few years your “now” will look very different.  Capture something about today that will be unforgettable to not only you, but your friends and family!

5. Close the Gaps

When taking a family holiday photo, get everyone to close the gaps by getting as close as they can to each other.  If you can see any background between two people, have them get in closer, tighter, for a more affectionate feel.  Overlap each other.  Blur the lines that separate people in the photo by keeping everyone physically close and tight.  Watch me demonstrate this in 30 Minute Family Photos with Nate Berkus!

6. Allow for Playfulness

I can set the family up for a great group photo, but if one of the kids has another plan in mind, I go with that!  I want the family photos to be fun, make my clients laugh, capture the essence of personalities, dynamics … and the messier the better!  What makes this year’s holiday photo your BEST one yet?  Visit my blog for reflections I’ve collected over the years, after shooting hundreds of families, on what makes a family holiday photo the BEST one.

7. Mix It Up with Dad

Over the last decade, every time I take a family portrait of dad and the kids — dad wants something different.  Nine out of ten times, he wants to be doing some kind of action with the kids whether it’s tickling them, chasing them, or even kicking up fall leaves.  Ask dad what kind of action he’d like to capture with the kids.  Be prepared for something you wouldn’t necessarily think of.  I’m always surprised by what dads say!  I LOVE IT!

8. Action Leads to Natural Smiles

Right after the action is over, have dad and the kids lean in to each other and look at the camera.  You won’t even have to ask them to smile because the joy will be shining in their eyes and smiles already!

9. Tip For Slimming Down Women

If you are not going to take an up-close family photo, leave a little room above their heads and below their wastes.  Cutting women off at the waste in a photo can make us look even bigger.  Get far enough back or zoom out so that their knees are almost at the bottom of the photo.  This is much more slimming, and grandma and great grandma will LOVE you for it!

10. Keep a Watch for the Unexpected

Keeping one eye open for the unexpected moments will set you up to capture unforgettable moments!

11. To Look or Not Look at the Camera

This dynamic of not always looking at the camera for the holiday photo can create a sweet energy between mom and dad that is more picture perfect than everyone smiling at the camera.

12. First Holiday

If it’s baby’s first holiday, stay inside.  Dress them down to the diaper and have mom wear a spaghetti strap tank top so lots of skin can show.  This creates a beautiful, natural look that is wonderful to capture the first year.  Have baby face the window light, as parents tuck into each other.  I love to have mom and dad in the shadows because I feel like it creates an even greater feeling of love, peacefulness, intimacy versus everyone being in the light.  Shadows is where mystery lives, and emotion runs deep.

As online print companies send us email after email with discounts for holiday cards, I want to set you up for success with some of my favorite tips for taking the best family holiday photos!


Me Ra Koh, The Photo Mom, shares her best family holiday photos and tips


Me Ra Koh, The Photo Mom, shares her best family holiday photos and tips


Me Ra Koh, The Photo Mom, shares her best family holiday photos and tips

And the messier, the better!

What does your “now” look like?  What is fleeting about this season?

That is a wonderful place to start!

Share your best family holiday photos with me on my FB page!  I would LOVE to see!