How to Take Your Own Christmas Family Photos


If you’re a Baby Boomer, Gen Xer, or even a Millennial, you may have fond and even humorous memories of your dad setting up a film camera (remember those?) on a tripod to take family photos. He composed the shot, told all of you to stand still, set a timer, and then ran into the picture to preserve the moment for posterity. Sometimes things would go slightly awry and part of dear old dad was cut off when the prints came back from the photo lab. While the concept and general principles remain the same, you can relive these fun moments and create DIY family photos or homemade videos using the wide array of sophisticated digital tools available today. And the beauty of digital is that you can peek at the photos immediately and reshoot if needed while everyone is together celebrating Christmas, Chanukah, or Kwanza. 

How to Take Family Photos 

Taking family photos doesn’t have to be stressful. The keys to a successful DIY family photoshoot involve a little planning, investing in the right equipment, and learning how to use it. Of course, a creative touch is an added bonus if you’re looking to create cute or unique shots worthy of showing off in your yearly holiday cards. 

Plan Ahead to Ensure Success 

Schedule a time during the day when everybody is relaxed and rested without competing activities. Decide the types of poses ahead of time so you can capture them quickly and efficiently. Share your plans with family members well in advance so everybody is on board and not surprised the day of the shoot. For most family photo sessions, 30 to 60 minutes should suffice. If you’re shooting videos with a specific theme or story in mind, setting up the perfect shots and filming may take a little longer upfront and much longer on the production end if you want to edit the footage. 

Find an Ideal Location 

If you don’t want to shoot at your house, select a nearby location that provides a memorable, fun, or beautiful backdrop. If you’re including family members that live in different places (e.g. grown children or grandparents), a holiday event when you’re all together is the most logical time and place since you have a captive audience. Just make sure there is adequate space and an appropriate background. Here are a few tips for taking good family photos

  • Instead of taking a group shot after a big holiday meal, take pictures before it gets dark to avoid relying on harsh flash or indoor lighting.
  • On a sunny day, the afternoon light is generally too harsh, so avoid this if possible.
  • When shooting outside, find a place in the shade to avoid uneven, excessively high contrast, and unflattering shots caused by bright sun and shadows.
  • Never shoot with the light source behind people because their features won’t show.
  • If the weather prohibits taking shots outdoors, pose family members against a wall facing a big window with soft natural light filtering in. 

Choose and Learn How to Use the Proper Tools 

To take more formal family photos, you’ll need a tripod and self-timer and/or a camera remote. To avoid those comical moments your dad experienced back in the day, learn about your camera’s self-timer ahead of time. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on a tripod and can use the same one for smartphones by purchasing an inexpensive mount. 

  • Bonus Tip: If you want to take a family photo in the evening, in dim lighting, or against a night sky, you’ll need a tripod, long exposure setting, and timer release. You don’t want the camera to move when you press the shutter because the result will be blurry pictures. 

A remote control is similar to an old-fashioned shutter/cable release but since it is wireless, it offers far more flexibility. Look for a wireless remote control that supports autofocus, single shooting, continuous shooting, bulb shooting, and delayed shooting modes. Affordable, high-rated models will set you back $25.00 or less and are useful tools for shooting selfies and family photos alike. You’ll want to read the manual, but here are the basics: 

  • Press the shutter once to take immediate pictures
  • Hold down the shutter to take multiple photos continuously
  • Set the camera and the remote control to bulb mode to take long exposure photos 

Use a Self-Timer and Take Multiple Shots

Use a 10-second timer to shoot photos and set the camera to take more than one shot. That will give you time to run into place, fix your clothes and hair, and smile at the camera! And if the first shot is a dud, the second or third one will likely be better. If not, ask everyone to stay in place and repeat the process. 

One of the secrets to taking good group photos is to take many. Whether you’re using a digital camera or smartphone, use burst mode, and make everyone pose several times. It’s common for one person to close their eyes, so taking many photos can help ensure getting at least one good shot. Moreover, it’s a good idea to continue taking pictures because people tend to relax more after posing for a couple of minutes. 

Keep it Simple & Make it Fun 

Fun and memorable Christmas family photo ideas range from posed formal shots to informal candid shots. For example, photos of your smiling kids tearing open presents on Christmas morning or playing in the snow are great ways to preserve magical winter moments. Of course, if you want to create DIY Christmas photos for your holiday card, you may want something a bit more formal. 


Tips For Shooting With a Smartphone 

  • Many phone apps include a self-timer option so you can join the rest of the family in the shot.
  • If you’re using a smartphone, hold down the shutter button and it will keep shooting photos until you lift your finger. 
  • Since just about everyone has a smartphone, enforce the one photographer rule to avoid family members looking in different directions, and getting annoyed.
  • Buy an inexpensive smartphone tripod or mount that works with a standard tripod, set it up on a chair or table to get more height, and use the camera’s built-in self-timer. 

Remember the ultimate goal of taking family photos is to capture each member’s personality for posterity, not to create the “perfect family” photo. And one last word of advice – remember to download the best pictures to your computer or cloud so you can create digital scrapbooks and personalized gifts or print enlargements to share and frame.