22 Creative Holiday Card Photo Ideas You Can Do Yourself

holiday card photo ideas"
holiday card photo ideas
Source: @katebarnesphotography via #sharetheeverymom
Source: @katebarnesphotography via #sharetheeverymom

With countless opportunities to celebrate and gather with the ones we love, the holiday season is made for family time. Whether we’re icing dozens of cookies together one morning, lighting candles with the little ones, or picking out the perfect wreath for the front door, there’s always a festive touch to each day. Even our mailboxes participate as the holiday cards start to flood in.

As a portrait photographer with more than a decade of experience capturing families, I know firsthand how meaningful these more formal portraits are and just how much planning goes into making these sessions a reality. But no matter how much I personally look forward to sending and receiving holiday cards in mail, there are some years when booking a portrait session of our own just doesn’t happen, and finding a “nice” family photo for the card seems nearly impossible.

If you’ve ever been in a similar position—perhaps scrolling through your camera roll late at night praying for just one picture where everyone’s eyes are open—here’s your cue to stop the frantic search and make your own magic with these holiday card photo ideas.

22 Creative Holiday Card Photo Ideas

From adding seasonal touches to embracing the winter weather, each of these simple and fun holiday card ideas can be completed fairly quickly once you have all of the desired elements in place. Keep scrolling for plenty of holiday card photo ideas, pick your favorite, and enjoy all the compliments from the lucky recipients on your “nice” list.

1. Add Twinkle Lights

For a simple yet festive touch, light your portrait with just a string of Christmas tree lights. This is especially sweet for little ones who will love draping the light strands around their arms, and babies who will be drawn to the twinkle of the lights. (Don’t forget to keep a watchful eye and always have an adult present when kiddos are helping with lights!)

2. Do Some Holiday Baking

For families who love to spend time together in the kitchen, now is the perfect time to bring out the mixing bowls and whip up some fun holiday treats (while capturing a candid or two along the way!). Whether you’re baking cookies, decorating a gingerbread house, or prefer to keep it simple with a cup of hot cocoa, the fun seasonal pops will make a fun addition to the scene. You can either use a timer and a tripod to capture everyone in one frame or take turns snapping candids of each other (and your baking creations!).

3. Creative Christmas Tree Delivery

For a very cute twist on a Christmas tree decorating photo, let the smallest member of your crew trot out their wheels (either a kiddie car or even a wagon will do) and handle the tree “delivery” themselves! The hardest part of this holiday card photo idea will be narrowing down the dozens of frames you capture with your phone. As an added bonus, this holiday card photo idea is one your little one will actually love posing for!

4. Matching Holiday Pajamas

Nothing says “holiday” like a family matching set of PJs, especially when the parents join in the fun! Host a mini jammie party with your crew (during the day could actually be best to make the most of your window light) and squeeze everyone onto a bed or sofa! Crank up your favorite tunes, have a pillow (or tickle!) fight, snuggle in close, and maybe just this once give the green light for jumping on the bed. Think less “posed and smiling” and more just capturing a genuinely happy moment.

5. Holiday-Themed Pregnancy Announcement

If your gifting list will be growing by one (or more!) this coming year and you’ve been waiting to share the news, your holiday card could double as a pregnancy announcement—think tiny baby stockings hung on the mantle alongside those of the rest of the family!

6. Festival of Lights

If you and your family celebrate Hanukkah and you’d like to incorporate the holiday into your family portrait, there are countless ways to get creative! You can light the menorah and gather round—lighting the portrait with just the candlelight—or bring in a blue, white, or silver color theme for a subtle nod to the celebration!

7. Deck the Halls

For another fun hands-on holiday card idea, turn a family tradition like decorating the Christmas tree or hanging up other holiday decorations into a mini photo session. Capturing the process from bare branches to twinkling boughs loaded down with tinsel and ornaments can be especially fun for little ones who will love being lifted up to add the star or sprinkle one more strand of tinsel on top. For a classic touch, grab a tripod and snap a group photo with the final “work of art!”

8. Accessorize With Wreaths

If you like to go all out with wreaths, this is a fun way to play with scale and quantity in a family portrait. Snag a wreath for each member of your family–you could buy (or make) wreaths in varying sizes and colors, or stick to the same size wreath for everyone—and have fun incorporating them as props in your scene! Whether you hold them, pose with them, or hang them around the family, this touch of festive greenery will immediately bring a holiday feeling to any portrait.

9. Under the Christmas Tree

Babies tend to love lying under the tree and looking up at the twinkling lights and the ornaments. Snap some special pics—after they’ve eaten and napped, of course—for an adorable Christmas card photo.

10. In Front of the Fireplace

Highlight your holiday mantle decor in your holiday card by having the little ones plop (safely) near the fireplace. Stockings and festive garland can add texture for a cozy Christmas card photo.

11. Using Local Holiday Displays

If your town gets into the holiday spirit, take advantage of already-created displays like oversized Christmas trees, outdoor coffee spots, or Santa’s village for an easy holiday family photo op.

12. Ugly Christmas Sweater Vibes

For a truly festive touch to an otherwise classic family portrait, head over to your favorite thrift store––or dive deep into your closet—and pull out the ugliest sweater you can find! Bonus points if it has tassels, fringe, or light-up elements.

13. Just Add a Santa Hat

A Santa hat can be the only accessory you need for a precious DIY holiday card picture. Perfect for babies, toddlers, and little ones who don’t mind wearing a little festive flair.

14. Build a Snowman

For a more tranquil winter scene, grab your favorite gear (hat, scarf, etc.) and build a snowperson (or a whole snow family if you’re feeling ambitious!). Use this opportunity to capture candids, and of course, don’t forget to snag a family portrait with Frosty before you head inside.

15. Visit a Christmas Tree Farm

One of our favorite family traditions each year is visiting our local tree farm and hand-picking our Christmas tree together. If you have a similar family tradition, take this opportunity to snag a photo or two that will be perfect for your holiday card. You can pop a festive blanket (think plaid, red, or white) in the car before you head out and incorporate that too (or use it for littles to sit on).

16. Take the Family Sledding

If your family is all about the action, head over to your nearest sledding hill and enjoy the powdery slopes! For a more traditional look, grab a vintage or classic sled for the little ones. Or, if you prefer to embrace the kitsch of the experience, grab the gaudiest inflatable sleds you can find!

17. Make Snow Angels

For a fresh perspective for your holiday card, have your little ones make their very best snow angels and snap a few portraits from above!

18. Highlight Family Travels

Was this the year the whole family drove cross-country in a camper van? Did you take a trip somewhere warm with sandy beaches and palm trees? Or maybe the kiddos made the long trek down the block and spent their first overnight with their grandparents. Your family’s holiday card doesn’t have to be holiday or winter-themed—in fact, it’s the perfect time to share some of your truly special moments with those you love.

19. Celebrate Milestone Moments

Speaking of special moments, if your family likes to include a letter detailing the many exciting milestones from the past year, this could be the perfect time to illustrate those accomplishments with a picture! This holiday card would take a little planning in advance if you wanted to be truly intentional. But whether you celebrated a first day of kindergarten, a high school graduation, wedding anniversary, or anything in between, showcasing these memories through your holiday card is a beautiful way to share these moments with family and friends.

20. Family Collage

Trying to select a family portrait where everyone thinks they look their best can be a daunting task. If you feel like you’re getting down to the wire, you can always have each of your family members choose a picture of themselves from the past year that they love (whether it’s a group shot, a shot of the siblings all together, or even just one of themselves alone) and incorporate all of the images in a mosaic or grid layout when you order your holiday cards.

21. With the Family Pet

While so many holiday family sessions revolve around parents and their children, there’s often a family member or two who gets left out of the picture (literally!). If your pup, cat, or other beloved four or two-legged friend is the piece that completes your family puzzle, don’t forget to give them their own cameo appearance (and maybe a treat if they’ve been extra good).

22. Let Your Personalities Shine Through

The tone of many holiday cards is often classic, classy, and perhaps a little sentimental. However, if that vibe doesn’t suit your family, then don’t be afraid to let your family’s personality shine through. From the irreverent to the ridiculous and outright silly, holiday cards come in all shapes and sizes, and your loved ones will absolutely love receiving something truly unique from you and yours.

Photographer Tips for Capturing the Perfect Family Photo

Have a Plan

This is honestly half the battle for many of us: narrowing down our options and picking just one to focus on. Once you have a vision for what you want your family photo to reflect this year (classic, goofy, sentimental, just one good picture with everyone’s eyes open for once, etc.) it will be so much easier to create an image that you’ll love. And if you want to be in the picture, be sure you have a tripod handy!

Give Yourself Plenty of Time

While there are those rare instances where the stars align and you can snap one frame and come away with a perfect picture, this might not necessarily be one of those instances. And even if actually taking the picture does only take a minute or two, the rest of the process might be just slightly more time-consuming. If you have high expectations for your family’s holiday card picture, set aside an afternoon or a morning to allow everyone to get ready, schedule enough buffer time to account for any meltdowns or extra potty breaks, and give yourself a little grace if things don’t go absolutely to plan.

Consider Your Light

Photography literally means “painting with light,” so if you know you’d like a bright and airy look for your family portrait, you likely won’t achieve that aesthetic if you’re trying to snap a photo at 7 p.m. on a school night. And don’t forget to consider how you’ll light your photo (Flash? Window light? One light strand?) and plan accordingly!

Double Check Your Angle

This holds true especially if you’re photographing a family photo on the staircase or in any location where you might be higher or lower than the person you’re photographing (a sledding hill, decorating a Christmas tree, etc.). Unless you’re intentionally trying for a creative angle, try to photograph people straight on, at eye level, or above, and not from below (which can highlight extra chins and unruly nose hairs).

Have Fun

Planning, coordinating, and executing a family holiday card photo is one of those exhausting and overwhelming tasks that can easily lead to stress and frustration (especially when it feels like yet another invisible load task that often falls to already exhausted moms). So, if you feel committed to the idea of having a fridge-worthy card each year that you’ll truly treasure, remember this: the best family portraits capture the heart and soul of the people in the frame. 

Even if you don’t have the color-coordinated wardrobe or the Pinterest-inspired props, if you’re able to come away with an image that perfectly captures all of the beautifully imperfect chaos of family life in this season, that alone is something worth celebrating.

The Best Places to Buy Your Family’s Holiday Cards This Year