Holiday Family Photographs: Tips for Top Shots

The holidays are coming up fast, and that’s usually the time of the year for gathered family members to take a yearly family photo. These keepsakes seem so relaxed and wonderful to view, but getting the group together for a shot can be a nerve-racking experience for all involved. Even for the Professional Photographer, doing it at home can be more difficult.

Let’s picture (pun intended) Thanksgiving at your house this year. Kids are running in and out of the house, ladies are sipping cocktails, and the guys are gathered around a digital screen with football showing. It’s tradition. It’s Thanksgiving.

Now, that’s the task of the official family photographer — to get everyone together, and make sure that liquidity, location and lighting are all in sync for the best possible photo, the one that’s likely to appear on family Christmas cards. Here’s what we recommend to make that family photo coming out looking as good as possible this year.


Instead of trying to corral everyone when the mood strikes, set up a target time for everyone to arrive at a designated area for a family photo. Ideally, this image should be before eating, but definitely after a cocktail or two. You want your family members to be loose and smiling, not filled from food and lethargic. If your party starts at 3pm, with dinner at 5pm, try a photo op around 4:30pm. That will give the guests enough time to have a drink or two and some casual conversation to be in an animated mood for the big picture.


This year, try something different when it comes to picking the right location for the family photo. Instead of doing it outside in front of ‘the old tree’ or by the fireplace, create an area of your home with a photographer’s help. Drape some linens over a large frame, bring in professional lights, family props, chairs for the seniors and stepping stools for shorter family members.

Make sure the lines are of a neutral color behind the group, to avoid color clashes for photos. Let everyone know that informal portraits of married couples, individual families and/or singles could be done prior to the big group picture. These small shots are often quite fun and informal. You could get all the kids under ten years old together in one picture, and add the family matriarch or patriarch with them in another. Keeping the mood light and the collection of people fun and friendly will show in the final images caught.


All too often, I see family images that are shadowy representations of humans. That means, too often, people position themselves in FRONT of a window and the photo person shoots the group with the light source in the back of the subjects. Now that’s just plain wrong. Make sure your group is against a plain background, with light sources streaming in from the side. You can even use a whiteboard or other reflective board to bounce some of the light into the subjects’ faces.

Using common sense, good lighting, the right location, and a fair amount of good-mood inducements will have a terrific effect on your family holiday photograph.