How to Shoot a Family Holiday Card

Updated: November 5, 2014 Mpix Support Guest Post, Holidays, Photos, Tips

Wildly passionate about her family, Ashley Ann Campbell captures the beautiful details of her life through a collection of powerful photos and words called Under the Sycamore. Follow Ashley’s latest adventures on Instagram and Facebook.

Capturing a family photo is a fun (and challenging) exercise that my family regularly partakes in around the holidays. I love documenting our family as a group. In fact, our group photos are some of my very favorite photographs. Here are a few tips to help you capture family photos for a holiday card.

1. Begin with family shots before individual shots – For most families, everyone tends to be more willing and happy at the beginning of a photo session than at the end. Snapping individual photos is a bit easier than group shots, so plan to capture the family as a whole first.

2. Pick your location – Scout out a location that compliments your family, not distracts from it. Whether you opt for an urban setting or a more rustic outdoors location, try to avoid a cluttered background. Most cameras handle large areas of open shade well in Auto. I recommend finding an area, whether urban or natural, that is well lit without harsh shadows or spotted direct light.

3. Practice & Set Up the Shot First – The key to capturing a family quickly, before everyone revolts or gets tired, is to be quick. Get everything set up on your camera before you ask anyone to stand still or look your direction. I recommend looking on Pinterest for posing ideas before your session, but don’t get overwhelmed by all the ideas there. Have your family stand in the area that you are going to take the photo. If you understand how to use the Manual mode of your camera, go ahead and pick all your settings now. If the Manual mode is foreign to you and you like blurry backgrounds, try switching your camera to the Av/A mode and select a number around 3.5 (f/3.5) – or the smallest number available to you. Take a practice shot, if not everyone is in focus, increase that number until all of your subjects are in focus. Take a few minutes to shoot some practice shots before you have everyone get into position.

Once you get everyone in position, start snapping photos. Sometimes you take the shot, celebrate that everyone but the puppy is looking, only to realize that the middle child has a water bottle cap tucked in his cheek.

And sometimes you get a shot without the water bottle cap, the puppy looking right at the camera and the oldest daughter is looking at her little sister. Group shots, especially with children, take patience but even the outtakes have their own charm.

4. The “Golden Hour” – Many photographers refer to the “Golden Hour” in regards to the last hour before sunset. At this time of evening, the sun sets with a beautiful golden glow over everything. This light is especially gorgeous when softly lighting your family from behind. Capturing back lighting (the sun behind your family) can be pretty tricky on Auto. For those that understand how to shoot in Manual, here are a few things I did to capture a back lit photo of my family. Like above, I found a location with even light and used my tripod. As far as settings, I used the tree to block the sun from directly hitting my lens and washing out any family members. I used the following settings: ISO 250, 1/320, f/2.8.

In the end, maybe you will have a ‘perfect’ image and maybe you won’t. If you can keep the whole experience fast and relatively fun for your family, the chances of walking away with an image that they treasure is far greater. While it is always fun to have everyone looking at the camera, sometimes a toddler spoils your plans and tries to run away the moment you snap the shot. And that is okay. One day that toddler will sit still and smile and your family will fondly look back at the shot of him running away.

For photography tips from Ashley, check out 5 Tips for Capturing WHO Your Kids AreImproving Phone Photography and Phone Photography Tips for Kids

21 Responses to “How to Shoot a Family Holiday Card”

  1. November 5, 2014 at 1:09 pm #

    What a great looking family. Tip #4: ISO 250, 1/320, f/2.8. May I ask what lens you used and where you focused with that aperture setting? Everyone looks in focus. Thanks.

    • Ashley November 5, 2014 at 3:55 pm #

      LeeAnne – thank you! I focused in between my son with the blue shirt and his little sister in the tan dress. I used my 50mm lens. If you zoom in super close, I am not quite as sharp as my husband. Having the camera a good distance from us helped increase the depth of field.

  2. Susan November 5, 2014 at 1:27 pm #

    Nice article! Question – how did you get the family all in focus at 2.8 as they look to be on slightly different planes?


    • Bill Nichols November 5, 2014 at 3:37 pm #

      I thought I would jump in on the focal plane / how is everyone in focus at F2.8 questions that are on here.

      For those asking, the distance away from the subject works in relation with the Fstop to determine the depth of the focal plane (as well as other things, but those are the main two)

      Ex 1) F2.8 shot from a a couple feet to a few feet away, the focal is likely less than the tip of your nose to your ear. Back the photographer up a bit (let’s say 12-18′ like these photos look) and the depth of that focal plane is more like several feet, it is similar to how light works (Inverse sq. law with light) as your subject increases in distance from you the amount of depth in the focal plane increases. Likewise you could shoot something at F11 or F16 with a macro lens but be just an inch or two from the subject and the focal place again would be only inches or less.

      Hope that help!

      Bill Nichols

  3. Sally November 5, 2014 at 1:37 pm #

    Getting a perfect picture is so hard but these are great tips. We think this year people should add taking a little video to their holiday picture fun. They can send a free video greeting with our service, GiftGram, to post to Facebook or email to the extended circle not on the Christmas card list.

  4. Jenna November 5, 2014 at 2:10 pm #

    Loved the article. I have the same question as Susan (above)…how did you get the family all in focus at 2.8? Thanks!

  5. November 5, 2014 at 2:13 pm #

    When you photograph using backlighting, do you put your camera on Spot Metering or Evaluative?

    • Ben November 5, 2014 at 3:33 pm #

      Spot metering is best for backlit shots.

    • Ashley November 5, 2014 at 3:56 pm #

      Elaine – I like spot metering and used it on that shot, but other photographers prefer other options. I use spot metering all the time though, just a personal preference.

  6. Tony November 5, 2014 at 2:27 pm #

    I too question the f2.8 comment regarding the image shot into the sun. If you look at the grass in front of the Dad’s feet it appears to be in relatively clear focus as well. 2.8 shots usually have a very narrow focal length, even at distance, don’t they?

  7. November 5, 2014 at 3:36 pm #

    I too had the same questions as LeeAnne, Susan and Elaine. Thanks!

  8. November 5, 2014 at 3:55 pm #

    The size of the lens (70mm or 200mm) as well as the distnace of the lens from the subject both impact depth of filed and could produce a photo that has a greater area of focus.

  9. Tampa Photographer November 5, 2014 at 7:30 pm #

    Maybe I should be more adventurous and try this out. I still have Halloween candy in the house and bribery often works with my children 🙂

    • DigishotsDiva November 6, 2014 at 1:20 am #

      Tampa Photographer: Yes try it out and let me know how it works…and how much candy it cost you. LOL

  10. November 6, 2014 at 11:38 am #

    I was recently “practicing” with my 12 year old outside one day when the light post-thunderstorm was gorgeous. When he got tired of me asking him to move around (away from the distracting backgrounds) and his face turned grumpy, I asked if he wanted pizza for dinner and got the best smiles of the session, really capturing that kid-like enthusiasm. Be ready for the reaction and be prepared to follow through with your pizza promise!

  11. November 7, 2014 at 1:31 pm #

    Absolutely beautiful family!

  12. November 7, 2014 at 2:09 pm #

    So according to what Bill is saying, you can get away with the f2.8 due to being further away from the family, but if you were closer or zoomed in what f-stop do you recommend to get everyone in focus?

  13. November 13, 2014 at 7:47 am #

    Imagine my surprise when I click on here to read and look who it is… a gorgeous family I have seen grow and growing and a very talented lady xxx


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