How to Take Your Own Christmas Pictures: Tips & Ideas

Updated May 25, 2021
Happy family and friends celebrating Christmas

Everyone loves receiving holiday cards with great photos, and it's fun to send them out too. You don't have to be a professional photographer to get some great pictures of your family for the holidays. Learning how to take your own Christmas pictures is easy, whether you have a DSLR or even just a phone camera.

Basic Steps to Take Your Own Christmas Photo With Any Camera

No matter what camera you use, you'll need to take these basic steps to make sure your Christmas photos look professional.

1. Choose Your Background and Outfits

Before you bring everyone in and start to take photos, it's a good idea to set up your shot. Choose a great Christmas background, such as the Christmas tree, a special spot in your home, or a snowy scene outdoors. Also take some time to figure out what everyone will wear. It's nice to pick a single color like red or blue and then have everything else be pretty neutral. Stay away from busy backgrounds and loud prints on clothing, since both of these can be distracting in a Christmas picture.

2. Find the Right Light

The right light is what will make or break your holiday photos, but you don't need a ton of expensive lighting gear or a photographer's experienced eye to light your photo well. You simply need to avoid extremes. You don't want to take your picture in the middle of the day with bright sunlight beating down on everyone and casting ugly shadows. You also don't want to take it at night or in a place where there isn't light on people's faces. Here are some tips to help:

  • Outside, look for a shady spot where no one's face is in bright sun or dark shadow. Avoid dappled light too, since it can create a distracting pattern.
  • If possible, shoot your Christmas photo outside on a cloudy day, since that soft light will be flattering for everyone.
  • Indoors, pick a spot near a large window or patio door that isn't getting really direct, bright sun. Place people so the light from the window is shining on their faces.
  • If you're shooting inside and the sun is too bright through your window, hang a sheer curtain or piece of fabric in the window to help soften the light.
  • For inside photos, always turn off all the lights in your house and use the natural light from the window. Although this might seem counterintuitive in that there will be less light, it will always be more flattering. Lamps and overhead lights cast strange and unflattering shadows.
  • If you're shooting in front of the Christmas tree, make sure there is light hitting everyone's faces too. Otherwise, the tree could be the brightest thing in the photo, and everyone could be in shadow.

3. Select a Pose (or Several)

You can use any photography pose you like, but the key is making sure everyone in the picture is touching at least one other person. Sometimes, this can feel awkward, but the more space you can eliminate between people, the more connected they will look in the final photo. The great thing about taking your own Christmas photos instead of hiring a photographer is that you're not on the clock; you can try as many poses as you want.

Family taking Holiday portrait

How to Take Your Own Christmas Photos With a DSLR

A DSLR is handy if you want to take your own Christmas photos at home. If you have this type of camera, you can use this basic process to take a photo of yourself with your family, with friends, or as a couple.

  1. Put the camera on a tripod. Have someone stand in the spot you'll take the photo and look through the camera to make sure you like how the photo will look.
  2. Choose your camera settings. You can shoot in auto, or if you're more familiar with shooting in manual, you can do that. You'll need to keep your aperture small enough to have everyone in focus. f/4 should work in many situations for a small group or a couple.
  3. Have everyone pose and figure out where you will be in the picture. Focus the camera on the people who are already standing there.
  4. Set the timer on the camera for interval shooting. This means it will shoot a photo every second (or any interval you choose). You can also use a remote if you have one.
  5. Start the timer and get in position. Remind everyone to smile.

How to Take Your Own Christmas Pictures With a Phone

You don't need a fancy camera to get great Christmas photos. This process works with a phone camera or with a point-and-shoot. You can use this method to take a photo of yourself with your partner, with a friend, or with your whole family.

  1. If you have a tripod, put the camera on it. If not, find a stable surface that allows you to get the angle you want. You can stack books or other objects to adjust the height.
  2. Think about the camera settings you can control or want to control. You'll need to shoot so everyone is in focus, so make sure the aperture is at least f/4.
  3. Position everyone else in the frame and get a sense for where you'll be standing and what the final picture will look like. Focus on someone who will be in the photo.
  4. Most phone cameras have a timer built into the camera app. You can use this to shoot in burst mode, which will allow you to get multiple images. This is great in case someone blinks. You can also download one of several more advanced interval timer apps for your phone if you want more control.
  5. Start the time and get in the picture. Repeat as many times as you need to get the photo you want.

Tips for Taking Great Christmas Self-Portraits

Whether you're using your phone or a DSLR, there are a few tips that can help you get the best possible images for your Christmas card or just to share. Keep these things in mind:

  • Pick a time of day when everyone is happy. If you have kids, this should be after they've eaten and before they get too tired.
  • Consider having someone else behind the camera. They don't have to be a professional photographer, but they can help encourage everyone to look at the lens.
  • Take lots and lots of photos. The more you take, the more you'll have to choose from. Also, when you're photographing a group, someone is often blinking. Lots of photos means you will get some good ones.
  • If you want to have the Christmas tree lights out of focus in the background, have the camera closer to the people and the tree as far behind them as possible. Then, if you can control the aperture, choose as low an f/stop as you can.
family taking a selfie during Christmas

Don't Forget to Brainstorm Christmas Portrait Ideas

Before you take your own Christmas photos, take a moment to brainstorm. Make a list of Christmas portrait ideas you'd like to try and then give them a shot. You'll definitely end up with a photo you're proud to put on your Christmas card and send to friends and family.

How to Take Your Own Christmas Pictures: Tips & Ideas