Taking Christmas Photos

Taking Christmas Photos

A Quick and Easy Guide to Taking your Own Magical Photos in Front of the Christmas Tree


Last year I went through the nightmare that seems to be part of every family’s holiday repertoire– “Getting Christmas photos taken.”

This sweet sounding activity is actually one of the largest headaches I face each year– from booking the photoshoot with overbooked photographers, to squeezing my kids into those *almost* too small holiday outfits from last year, only to have them spill Juicy Juice all over the front, just as we are ready to leave.  When we finally do get to the photographer’s studio, we are penned up with dozens of other stressed out parents, all fighting a futile battle to get our grumpy kids to keep their outfits nice and stop crawling around on the floor (are those . . . mud spots on the knees of your white tights??).  When it’s finally your turn, you scoop up your grouchy little bundles of joy and try your best to get them to smile like cherubs in front of the fake tree background and for GOODNESS’ SAKE HURRY UP WE ONLY HAVE ONE HALF HOUR SESSION!

The photographer smiles and tries her best to entertain the kids with her little light up duck, and you hold the kids fiercely on your laps, trying to get a family photo that looks festive, instead of tense– as if someone is about to bolt.  What?  You were thinking the KIDS were the ones bolting?  Funny.  I had pictured the adults as the ones wanting to flee.  haha.

Finally your session is over (if you had to do an outfit change in there, too– all I can say is “God bless you”), and you wearily sit on the little computer chair to view the results.  You pick the 3 poses that look the least cringe-worthy, pay your 200 bucks, and get 2 8x10s for the Grandmas, a sheet of 5x7s for work desks, and several sheets of wallets for Christmas cards.

Oh my gosh.  Did I seriously just pay TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS FOR 5 SHEETS OF PICTURES???????

You’re not alone.  Parents the world over dread Christmas photo time with the kiddos.  But guess what?

Your struggles are over. Because I’m going to show you how to take your very own Christmas photos in front of the Christmas tree.  You are going to be able to stretch the photo session over WEEKS, if you want to.  If baby is having a fussy day, no problem.  Try again in an hour.  If you don’t like the way the photos turned out, no worries.  You can try again. And guess what?  You can put the dress clothes on top and let ’em wear sweatpants (or, heck– diapers!) on the bottom. No one will ever know.  Did I mention you will save a couple hundred bucks?

You are OHHHH so welcome.  What are we waiting for?  Let’s do this!


To start with, you can pull off these Christmas photos without buying tons of equipment– try what you have, first, before you go buying anything special to do this.  I will show you what I have, and how I set it up (messy house and all), and you will see that it’s totally possible for anyone to take spectacular Christmas photos. 🙂

First, let’s talk light.  You might think that Christmas photos need to be in the dark, so you can see the light of the tree, right?  WRONG!!!  Your Christmas photos actually need to be very well lit.  Go figure.  You don’t want your subject (your little sweeties) right in front of the tree, either.  Aim for the kids to sit 4-6 feet away from the tree, so that you get those adorable little blurred lights in the background (called bokeh for you photography nerds).

You also need to have your kids placed beside or facing a light source (like a bright window or door).  The light will illuminate their faces and make them look like little angels, even if they just dumped an entire box of fruit loops all over the bathroom floor (how did that cereal get in the BATHROOM?!  Never mind.  I don’t care.  Clean it up!).  So to recap, here’s what we know so far:

  1.  Your kids need to sit 4-6 feet in front of the tree, rather than right beside it.
  2. Your kids need to sit beside a bright light source, such as a window or open door.



Let’s move on.  You also want to use a tripod, if you have one.  I paid 25 bucks for this cheapie, here, and it totally changed my photography game.  Suddenly my pictures were razor sharp, and I could set up a photo in advance and have it ready to go, and already in focus, when I was able to capture the, ahem, “angels” and plop them onto the chair. 😉  Personally, I think that tripod was the best $25 I ever spent.  But if you don’t have a tripod or don’t want to buy one, just prop up your camera on a small end table or a pile of books.  That will work in a pinch and save you money.  I’m a mom.  I know all your money goes to your kids.  No need to feel embarrassed if 25 bucks is a stretch.  I’ve been there.  A stack of books works just fine. 🙂



Here is my setup.  Why yes . . . that actually IS a laundry basket sitting on the chair.  I told you– you can take great Christmas photos no matter WHAT.  Notice that I have my tree in the background, and the chair for the kids to sit on about 6 feet away from the tree, directly across from a bright light from the door.  Then I have my tripod set up at “kid level,” ready to go.  Don’t “look down” on your subjects for the photo.  Get down to their level– the photo will look so much better.  The tripod (or stack of books!) will help your camera to hover in just the right place.



Why, what in the world is that LAUNDRY BASKET doing in the chair????  Well, I’ll tell you a fun fact about kids.  They HATE to sit still.  In fact, now you see them . . . now you don’t.  Where did you go?  Wait– is that the sound of glass breaking?   *Grimace*

Yes.  Kids hate to sit still.  This is one of the reasons you hate doing professional Christmas photos in the first place, remember?  So . . . set up your photo using a dummy that is roughly “kid size.”  A laundry basket is perfect.  Get your tripod set up and all your camera settings correct, using your laundry basket. Then, when you’re ready, you can swap out the laundry basket for the kiddos, and just snap away.  Yep.  Christmas photos done in 60 seconds.  It IS possible.



So set your photo up something like this– cut out everything but your subject and the tree in the background.  Now, let’s talk camera settings.  *Cringe*

No!  No!!!!  Don’t cringe!  I will explain how to do it.  Once you grasp how to control your camera, it will do anything you want it to do.  Well . . . except do the laundry.  I’m afraid the best camera in the world can’t do that.  And if you find one that DOES do laundry, let me know, OK?  😉

We have done previous photo tutorials on the three “relay runners” of your camera– shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.  Feel free to check out those links if you need a brush up course on how to use those little beauties of your camera.  But here is my “quickie” lesson on how to set up your camera for a Christmas tree photo.

  1.  Your aperture needs to be wide open (the smallest f-stop number that you have– mine is 1.8).  This will help your photo to have that creamy, dreamy background.
  2. Your ISO should be as low as you can go, without the photo getting dark.  Try an ISO of 200 and bump  it up a squidge if your photo is too dark.
  3. Your shutter should be around 80– this isn’t terribly fast.  It’s slow enough to let in more light (so your ISO can be low), but still fast enough that your kids won’t be a blur. 🙂

All this seem overwhelming?  If you don’t have time to figure this all out right now, just shelve these tutorials for later.  This is great info to understand, but if your brain is fried and you need to get Christmas photos like, yesterday, here is a cool little shortcut:

Set your camera to Aperture mode (A on the dial), open the lens as wide as it will go (lowest number you can get when set to A– mine is 1.8), and shoot away. Your camera will compensate for the other settings.  The photos won’t be as pinpoint perfect as if you shot in manual, but it will work when you’re in a hurry. 🙂

Christmas Photos


Focus on your little sweeties and snap away.  Even if it’s not perfect because they INSIST on having that grungy lovey blanket with them, it will still turn out pretty well– so don’t stress it.  You just saved 200 bucks.  And you get unlimited outfit changes and re-do sessions.  You are *whispers* FREEEEEEEE from the Christmas photo rat race!  You are OHHHH so welcome.

Because you did it.  And I’m just so proud of you.

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  1. Melissa

    They are adorable!

  2. Melissa

    Nice! Love the laundry basket dummy. Are those your kids?

    1. Emilie (Post author)

      Yes they are 🙂 Sorry the photos were sideways. Even blog posts get cases of the Mondays sometimes I guess. 😉 Think I have it right, now! 😀

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