Photography Mini Series Part 8: How to Take Your Own Family Pictures for Your Christmas Card

Hi everyone! So last week I said we were going to finish up this photography series. Our family had a little unexpected twist of events Sunday afternoon that warranted another photography post.

A couple weeks ago, our family and some friends headed out to take family pictures. Our intent was to take pictures for each other, and it worked out great! I loved some of the pictures we ended up with. I had already chosen the ones for our Christmas card this year. The pictures were sitting in a folder on the desktop waiting to be edited when I came across this card from

Christmas card inspiration from
I don’t love everything about this card, but I like it. I think it’s fun.

Almost immediately, I scrapped the idea of our cute family picture with ‘Merry Christmas’ scripted beautifully along the bottom. I didn’t want something exactly like this card pictured above, but it got my wheels turning. I didn’t want individual pictures of each of us. What about a fun collage of candid pictures for our family? I would use Photoshop to add the text I wanted. Then I would use some gold painted dots to add a little dimension and quirky fun to the card.

We arrived home from church on Sunday and the photo session started. Somehow, we successfully managed to take our own family pictures in the calm and warmth of our own home. Since it’s getting a bit late in the season to book a photographer, I thought I’d share with you how you too may be able to take some of your own pictures for your Christmas card this year!

1. Find a good source of diffused natural light in your house. This means you need lots of natural sunlight, and you want indirect sunlight. You don’t want the sun shining right on your faces. If the sun is pouring in the window, drape a white sheet over the window to diffuse the light.

Sunday afternoon was a bright sunny day. It had just snowed, too, so we had plenty of light reflecting off the snow. We had lots of light coming in the windows, but the sun was high enough in the sky that it wasn’t shining directly inside.

Below was the room that worked for us on Sunday.

How to take your own family pictures for your Christmas card.
Please excuse the mess. 🙂 This is how the room started before our pictures.

2. Choose your setting and props. Do you want your couch behind you? Do you want family pictures with everyone’s feet tucked haphazardly under your favorite quilt on your master bed?

You can even do this outside if you can find a nice shady spot for family pictures. (Read my post on good lighting for pictures if you need a few tips.)

3. Move your desired props so they face the natural light source. For us, this meant moving our couch out of our living room. We moved it over into the playroom facing the window. I know rearranging furniture can be a hassle, but good light is essential to a good photo.

I like lots of white. We recently purchased a new slipcovered white couch. That, combined with my finished triangle quilt, made for a good combination of props for me. Nothing else in the room was going to be in the pictures since I wanted close up head shots of everyone. Candid ones, of course.

How to take your own family pictures for your Christmas card.
We cleared away some cutter in the boys’ playroom and moved the couch in front of the window.

4. Styles of photography vary so much these days! Add in some of your favorite belongings or toys that reflect your family well. I like bright, almost overexposed, candid images. If you are drawn to those qualities as well, try to add these props to your photo space: Lots of white, low volume (light colored) blankets and/or pillows, wood textures, no clutter, and no primary colors.

5. Using a tripod (if you don’t have a tripod, a stack of books works great!), set your camera near the window facing where your family will sit. Peter sat right in front of the couch where I wanted our family to sit. I set the camera. For our pictures, here were the settings that worked in the light we had that day: Aperture 3.5, Shutter Speed 1/400, ISO 1600.

How to take your own family pictures for your Christmas card.
6. Get your camera focused. This is important…especially if you are working with a wide open aperture (small number). You need to get your camera focused on the right plain for taking the picture. Peter sat in front of the camera. I focused the camera on his face.

You can see above that I had our aperture set at a 3.5. This is a pretty safe aperture for an entire family. I love a great bokeh (blurry background), but with no one behind the camera to re focus as needed, using an aperture around a 3.0 or 4.0 is going to give you a better chance of getting clear images.

7. Communicate where the picture will be framed. We had our couch behind us. Peter and I both knew everyone’s heads had to be within the lines of the square cushion in the middle of the couch. This gave Peter and I boundaries for getting us and the kids all in the shot.

How to take your own family pictures for your Christmas card.8. Set your camera on continuous shooting mode. I think the preset on our camera was four shots. Instead of just taking four shots, bump it up to nine or ten. This gives you plenty of time to get the kids giggling for the camera.

9. Okay. Camera is set. Meter is checked. Kids are nearby. Start your camera on continuous shooting! Pick up the kids, get them within the frame for the picture, and start giggling together. Use whatever method works for your family. Gently tickle. Hang the kids up side down. Tell jokes. Sing crazy songs. Anything to create fun, candid, and natural smiles.

How to take your own family pictures for your Christmas card.10. After taking pictures with the whole family, rotate taking pictures of combinations of everyone in the family. I took some of Peter with Case. Peter took some of me with Cole. Then Peter and I took some together. Be goofy. Have fun together. Let the kids take pictures with their favorite toy.

How to take your own family pictures for your Christmas card.
11. Using a free program online (I’ve heard good things about PicMonkey) or using your photo editing program (I use Photoshop Elements), start looking through your pictures and editing them.

How to take your own family pictures for your Christmas card.I’ll have our finished card done soon, and I’ll put it up on the blog once I get a result I love!

If you are interested in learning more about photography, I encourage you to check out the first seven posts of this series:

Six Reasons to Learn to Shoot in Manual Mode
Aperture: How to get that Blurry Background in Pictures
ISO: How to set your ISO to take Bright and Balanced Pictures
Shutter Speed and Metering: How to use Shutter Speed to take Bright Pictures
What is the Best Lighting for Taking Pictures?
What are the Benefits of Shooting in Raw?
Where should I Focus when taking Pictures?

Like I have said before, I offered this short series in hopes of teaching others like myself who want to get great pictures of everyday life.

What do I mean by people like myself? I want good pictures of my kids, good pictures for my blog, and candid pictures of life. I do not want to start a photography business nor hire myself out for family pictures.

This mini series is meant for amateurs like myself who just want to capture life’s moments.

If you are among the thousands who own a DSLR, but you don’t know how to shoot in manual mode, I highly encourage you to try to learn. This series is a great place to start.

The camera I use is a Canon EOS Rebel T3. While this is a great starter camera, I would not recommend this camera if your goal is to learn to fluently shoot in manual mode. I use a fixed (or prime) 50 mm lens for almost all my pictures. I highly highly recommend this lens. CONSIDERING THE PRICE, it is an excellent lens, in my amateur opinion.

Next week, I will wrap up this series talking a bit about photography products I’d recommend or like to have myself.

Please leave any tips you have for taking your own pictures for your Christmas card!

How to take your own family pictures for your Christmas cards.

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