Tis the season to don your finest apparel and get everyone assembled for the annual holiday photo. Of course, if you have a fidgety toddler, a crying infant or even a cranky grade schooler, it’s one of those things that’s easier said than done.

Before you decide to rouse the troops, take a deep breath and consider these tips from photography experts to ensure a plenty of fun photos and lasting memories.

Smile for the Birdie

Like the saying goes, timing is everything, especially when it comes to taking pictures. As a general rule of thumb, give yourselves plenty of time to get ready and for plenty of picture-taking. “Anything you can do to eliminate stress will give you a better outcome once you’re in front of the camera,” says Kate Lemmon, a photographer in Boston, Mass. (www.katelphotography.com). She also recommends sessions post-naptime and not on an empty stomach, so little ones are well-rested and fed—and hopefully in a good mood.

If you’re photographing indoors, be sure that your setting is conducive to good picture-taking. “Always, when possible, keep the natural light behind the photographer and allow the natural light to evenly illuminate your subjects,” says Jen Vacca of Zoot Shoot Photographers in Northport, NY (www.zootshoot.net). Because of the wide angle associated with cellphone cameras, people along the edges of the photo may appear heavier. “If it’s a concern, make sure you stay in the center,” she cautions.

To keep the session moving smoothly, Vacca recommends focusing on keeping the kids amused while the parents keep their eyes on the camera. “I always find the number one smile getter is making a loud, funny noise with my mouth (while behind the camera) and asking with surprise, ‘who did that?,” she offers.


If you intend to use your photos for holiday cards, adding playful props can up the fun factor. “I love the look of a simple wreath for someone to hold or non-breakable ornaments for the kids to play with,” says Lemmon. White holiday lights can also help set the scene and offer some dimension when blurred out in the background.

So that props and accessories don’t outshine your subjects, opt for attire that is subtle in tone and style. “Try having everyone wear solid textured neutrals (e.g. a cable-knit ivory sweater) and then add a couple of pops of color in your accessories,” she suggests. “The goal is to tie everyone’s outfits together without being too ‘matchy-matchy.’”

Once the camera is rolling, maintain the positive vibes is key. Rather than making family photos just another thing to check off the holiday to-do list, turn into an adventure. “You can plan a special outing for after the photo session, so that kids have something to look forward to,” offers Lemmon. “A family hot chocolate date would be a fun way to warm up after outdoor photos.”

Taking it Outside

Speaking of outdoor photos, choose a time of day that’s ideal for the best possible outcome. Vacca recommends one or two hours before sunset. “Make sure the sun is behind your subject, or find a little shade to put everyone in,” she says.

If dusk conflicts with naptime or elicits crankiness, choose another time that works for everyone in your family. Find a spot where “nobody has any bright hot spots of light on their faces,” adds Lemmon.

Even with the best light, no photo sessions with kids are impervious to moods and meltdowns. As challenging as it may be, experts say that it’s all part of parenting and you’re not alone. “Know that everyone else struggles with their holiday photos too,” says Lemmon. “For every perfect image you see on Facebook or Instagram, most likely there are dozens of squirmy, tear-filled images that didn’t make the cut.”

At the end of the day (and the photo sessions), putting it in perspective is the best. “Years later, you will look back at the chaos of the family photo day and laugh because your once-feisty toddler is now taller than you,” surmises Lemmon. “Be proud that you made the effort to capture your family in this moment in time…and then have a glass of eggnog to celebrate being done.”