5 Steps to a Classic Holiday Card Photograph

We just finished our holiday card for this year, which turned out well enough. We did not necessarily intend this to be an annual project; we used to write handwritten letters instead of photo cards, but with kids in the picture, the time investment has become overwhelming. Besides, as photo card options have risen in quality and dropped in price, it's a bit irresistible, as a photographer, not to take part. 

While working on this small project, I noticed how opinionated I am about what does and does not make a good holiday card. I thought I would write down a few thoughts, to validate, inform, or bugger your own position on the subject. Enjoy!

1. Take Time for a Dedicated Holiday Photo

Instead of mining your annual photo archives, searching for a photo (or many) that might bend to serve the purpose, give yourselves and your friends the gift of a fresh, purpose-driven portrait of your clan. An image made specifically to suit the holiday season will feel just right and communicate something subtle but important that that photo from your July beach vacation just can't.

2. Include the Entire Family

This is a completely subjective, personal request. I want to see your whole family, not just your kids or your dog. I know, you have WAY more images of your kids than you have of yourselves... I get that. But you're sending these cards to people you rarely see, they're gonna hang these photos on their refrigerator or whatever, and they want to see you, their old friend, looking back at them. Include the rugrats if you must (and of course you must), but get the parental survivors in there too. 

3. Choose a Location Appropriate to the Holidays

Forgive me, but a holiday card should look holiday-ish. I don't want to see you at the beach (unless you live at the beach). If you live in a cold, Northern climate, I want to see you bundled up and looking cozy. If you live somewhere warm, you still know how to look festive, right?

4. Get Help

Maybe you can't afford to hire a professional photographer, or maybe you just don't want to, that's fine. But please, get some help. Use a tripod, or ask a friend to come along. Selfies have a strange, squished look to them, and photos taken on a timer tend to look a little jittery. 

I immensely appreciate the help of Maya's mom, Jackie, who is always willing to shoot under my direction. Not many people would bear that cross, God bless her.

5. Leave Room for a Message

While it's generally a good idea to crop portraits fairly close, you probably need room for some copy on this mission. You might not know whether that copy will go above or below your family, so ask the photographer to shoot a little wider, leaving some room above and below (or above, then below) your faces. As long as you have a variety of compositions, you'll be able to find something that fits on your favorite photo printing site.