Photography Tips {Do It Yourself Christmas Photos}

It may seem early for this post, but I had time to write it and was inspired!  Enjoy!

Set Up for DIY Christmas Photos

Okay, so you didn’t learn your lesson from my do it yourself family photo debacle, and you’re determined to do your family’s Christmas card photos.  It’s ridiculous, you say, to spend $1500 on a photo shoot, you have a nice camera, and it’s decided; there’s no talking you out of it!  Well, lucky for you, I understand!  With all of the other holiday hub-bub, it’s difficult to remember to get your family portrait session scheduled.  Most professionals are doing Christmas photos in October or early November and you can’t squeeze it in, or maybe there’s just not a professional in your area you trust.  Whatever the reason, Becky is here to save the day with some more INCREDIBLE photo tips!

I know you’re going to think I’m a lush, but because this does involve the whole family – you’ll NEED a glass of wine.

Normally, I would suggest setting everything up and then, when your scene is perfect, inviting your family into the set.  However, we’re going in a whole new direction this time.  The first item on your checklist is to set a day and put it on the calendar.  Announce the date to your family; might I suggest the following, “Family, I have decided that Saturday hence will be Christmas Card Photo Day!”  (It’s much more effective when spoken in a British accent!)  Immediately after the announcement, take the family shopping.  Buy festive (inexpensive) shirts, garland, lights, tinsel, fun ornaments – anything that will add to the spirit!

Before the photo day arrives,  do a Google search to find a wireless remote that is compatible with your camera.  Most Canon and Nikon DSLRs have one available for around $20.  You might also be able to find one in your local camera store.  A wireless remote is almost a necessity.

The day before the shoot, charge your camera’s battery, make sure there is empty space on your memory card, and be sure you can attach the camera to the tripod (for some reason, I always lose the screw piece for this step).  If possible, ensure the whole family eats a healthy diet and gets a good night’s sleep.  Seriously.

Alright, the day is here!  I can feel your enthusiasm from across the web!  This is going to be the pinnacle of your acquaintances’ card collection – you just KNOW everything is going to be PERFECT!  Go drink that glass of wine.  Now.  With your tempered excitement, comment throughout the day about how much fun the photo shoot is going to be!  You really want to hype this up, we’re going to make it a blast.  Start singing Christmas carols!  About an hour before you’re ready to photograph, after you’ve all donned your holiday gear, set up your camera.  Start with the backdrop, you can use a wall, a large piece of fabric, or go crazy and build a set.  Invite the family to help you.  If you’re using natural light, you’ll want your family to stand just at the edge of the window, so your backdrop will need to be behind this area by at least two or three feet.  Next, put your camera on the tripod and get the settings dialed in.  Start with your white balance.  Try setting on ‘shade’, ‘cloudy’, and ‘daylight’ to see which you prefer.  Next, you’ll adjust your aperture.  If there are four people in your family, set the aperture to 4.0.  If there are five people in your family, set the aperture to 5.6.  If there are six, seven or eight people in your family, set the aperture to 8.0. The shutter speed should be set on 1/100th of a second (may display as only 100 on your camera).  Now, get your exposure to “correct” by adjusting your ISO – you’ll probably need a pretty high setting: 800 or even 1600. Ask one of the kids to stand in as a test subject, and make sure you like what you’re seeing on the back of your camera.  Because we are working with pretty small apertures  you *might* have to pop up a flash :(  If you do, manually adjust it so that it’s at half or even 1/4 power (use your camera’s manual to find out how).  You’re window is the main light, so you’ll just use the flash for fill light ( I know, that’s a pretty techie word, please forgive me!)  Look through the viewfinder and put some markers on the floor using tape showing what your camera sees.  This is just to give you some boundaries – everyone will know to stay between the tapes to ensure they are in the frame.  When you’re ready, turn up the Christmas music and place your family.

Wrap each other in lights and garland. Play, laugh, tell jokes, whatever needs to happen to make it fun!  And, while you’re having fun, point the remote at the camera every few seconds and capture the memories!  Ta da!  After the session, make some cookies and hot chocolate and put on a Christmas movie.  Maybe this could be a new holiday tradition!



I didn’t follow all of my own advice in the following photos (I left out the wine and the relax parts), but it was the most fun we’ve had with a DIY photo shoot thus far!  Also, I was using my studio lights rather than window lighting.  

Watch the little ones – they’re climbers!


My daughter is a fan of crazy faces!




…and the cat joined us!


One of my faves!


She had the remote and was so proud of herself!


A true smile on my face!


They are NOT going anywhere!! (I was handholding the camera for this one)


Bringing it all together for the Christmas card!


Merry Christmas!


Was this helpful?  Let me know in the comments!