Capturing Holiday Card Images: Top Tips

The pressure of getting just the right photo for your holiday greeting each year can be daunting. After all, this image is going to be seen by your beloved friends and family … so the pressure is on!

As a lifestyle photographer (translation: no studio, ‘natural’ images), I constantly get asked, “How do you get children to relax, be real and not give those phony ‘cheese’ smiles?”

The short answer is this: if you want children to smile, you have to genuinely make them smile. Screaming, “Say cheese and SMILE!!!” only tends to freak them out and produce anything BUT a real smile.






Here are a few photography tips for capturing this year’s holiday card image no matter what type of camera you own. You don’t have to have a DSLR to achieve a great shot. The goal here is to help you achieve a relaxed image that reflects your child’s personality.

Please note: those using a point and shoot camera and those that shoot on auto setting – your best bet is to shoot outside on a cloudy day. Dismantle the flash option, face the child in the direction of the brightest part of the sky (even in cloudy weather there is always a brighter spot) and employ the following ideas:

Ditch the props.

Inflated Santas and candy canes are so overdone and the furthest thing from natural. If you are going to use props, use ‘natural’ props that make sense. Like pine cones, pretty leaves, or if you are so lucky, snow! If you do shoot in snowy conditions, try it on a cloudy day (sun tends to blow out everything, especially in snow). Or simply dress kids festively in holiday colors and hit the park!







Make them move.

What child doesn’t like to run? Find a pretty path or a beautiful natural backdrop. Give them a count off of 1, 2, 3, GO and have them run towards you. Start shooting and keep shooting. The smiles will be real. The shot right before ‘go’ can also be a happy one, as they wait in anticipation for the signal to bolt! I love the idea of taking a running shot of your child and captioning it as, “Be sure not to race through the holiday season. Enjoy making memories that will last a lifetime.”







Use a door frame.

Want a home-for-the-holidays-type vibe? Have your child sit in the door frame of your home. The natural light will allow you to not use a flash, which always produces a more natural-toned result.







Grab a hat.

For every holiday shoot that I do, I tell Mom to bring a hat. A tight head shot where a child’s little face is framed by a hat is classic and packs a punch. Position yourself standing on a step and have your child sit on the step. Or have your child sit on a park bench and you stand on the bench.

Make a strange noise or start singing. Something that will make them look up towards you and fill their eyes with light. I always sing the wrong words in a song, which generally produces a few giggles. If you have more than one child, consider doing this for each one, then showcase each solo shot on the card like a storyboard.







A final idea for your card is, on the back, have a shot of the child walking or ‘running’ away. It’s a great ‘the end’ for your (now) masterpiece of a card.







Happy Holidays all and happy *snapping*!

Check this out, Readers:  To get in the holiday spirit, Jennifer is offering some great discounts on {don’t} say cheese, her awesome manual that offers practical information that you can use immediately in your every day shooting (retail price is $35). The first person to enter mommybites in her order will get the manual for FREE! If you don’t make it in time, have no fear – you can still get {don’t} say cheese for 20% off by entering mommybites2012 in your order. Offer expires November 27, 2012, so make sure you don’t miss out!

Jennifer Tonetti-Spellman is a natural light, children’s lifestyle photographer based in New York. Her work has appeared in Professional Photographer Magazine and on and You can view more of her work on her site and follow her on Facebook.

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