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Tips for Awesome Family Holiday Photos

It’s that time of the year again: HOLIDAY PHOTOS. ::cue the dramatic music::

Every year I make sure I have some kind of holiday photo taken, whether it’s for client holiday e-cards, social media, or to be printed and framed as a gift for the grandparents. Mainly, I love looking back at the photos taken through the years and watching my family grow and change. As someone who is savvy with the camera, I alternate between my own DSLR camera, my iPhone (DIY) and trusted local photographers. But it isn’t always all smiles and good angles.

While I love the idea of family photos, it’s easy to let the stress of putting everything together get in the way of the fun and enjoyment. Finding a location, handling grumpy, uncooperative kids, and picking outfits can put a damper on the day. Tips from my good friend and family photographer, Nicole Wise will help you set up an easy session with fantastic photos to show for it.

And if you want to take a look at some DIY holiday photos and videos I’ve done, scroll to the very end for bonus content — these ideas could help if hiring a photographer isn’t in your budget this year.

Set the Scene

Image: Wise by Nicole Photography / Courtesy of the Behrens Family

Holiday photo shoot locations don’t have to be fancy studios with big lights and loads of decorations in the background. Photographer Nicole suggests keeping it simple and classic with an outdoor photoshoot this year. Nature is an amazing backdrop – no decorating required! Of course, if you wish to add props to your photos you can bring along cozy blankets, a small tree, a picnic basket, or special family items. Nicole suggests, “it could add a personal touch and unique feature to your photographs.”

Nicole suggests a location with beautiful trees. They are an interesting background and great lighting. “Locations that are filled with greenery and nature give a beautiful sense of adventure. For me, they give the photos a sense of wonder and magic to make your moments a little more special!” She also suggests shooting early in the morning to avoid harsh shadows and overexposed backgrounds.

If you’re hiring a photographer, they may have a certain location in mind. They may even have a mini holiday session day where you can book a time slot and arrive to a decorated backdrop. You can always ask for their professional recommendations or provide inspiration photos for guidance.

Get Warm and Cozy

Image: Wise by Nicole Photography / Courtesy of Rosalind Prieto (Addy, 10 months old)

Scarves, coats, blankets, and anything that keeps me comfortable and warm are my favorite winter things. So I didn’t stray far from my comforts for my holiday photos a few years ago. My family had our holiday pajamas on and Nicole took pictures of us in our living  room like it was Christmas morning. Other ideas are sitting by the fire, sipping cocoa, or baking chocolate chip cookies together. (Eating the cookies afterwards is a nice bonus, too!)

There’s something wonderful about taking photos in the comfort of our home, surrounded by things we love and spaces we’re familiar with. The cozy home photos also have a feeling on intimacy and authenticity. Plus, they fit right in with the festive winter mood. Nicole says, “I have been loving the cute and cozy winter shoots! As someone who lives in Southern California and doesn’t quite experience ‘winter’ I love when clients bring their own warmth to our sessions.”

Be in the Moment

Image: Wise by Nicole Photography / Courtesy of Blogger Kristin from Be Mom As F

“One thing I always tell people during sessions is to enjoy the experience. People often stress too much about photoshoots and the best shots I get are when my clients relax and goof around with their spouse, their kids, their pets,” Nicole shares. To ensure the best photos, be in the moment. Don’t focus too much on posing and smiling. Engage with your family; tell jokes, play, and tease each other. Nicole says that “nothing beats a real laugh in a photo.”

Don’t worry about kids misbehaving, the regular rules don’t apply in photography. Let them run wild, let them be themselves! Nicole reassures us, “whenever I have shoots with little ones I plan to be running after them taking photos because these candids are the best! Don’t put too much stress on the shoot and let everyone enjoy it!”

Forget the
Matchy-Matchy Outfits

Photo by Yan Krukov from Pexels

When coordinating outfits, Nicole suggests NOT matching outfits. “Photos often look better when you set a color theme and each person fits the guidelines but doesn’t match completely.” Having just a “pop” of the same color is very pleasing to the eye in photographs, and instead of being identical, everyone can show off their personal style. It shows in the photograph when everyone is comfortable and proud of what they’re wearing.

Put in the Prep

Photo by William Fortunato from Pexels

One thing about me: I’m a chronic overscheduler. I am extremely busy and have a hard time slowing down. Most of us have packed schedules filled with errands and commitments such as piano lessons or sports practice. But, when it comes to prepping for your family holiday photo session, less is more. Prepare by clearing your schedule and laying the groundwork for a less grumpy, more successful day.

It’s important to try and avoid scheduling something before your session. Nicole warns us, “I have had some grumpy kids in front of my camera and it seems that it usually happens when they have had a full day before the shoot.” A suggestion if you can’t keep your schedule light is to set your photo session for first thing in the morning, and it might work better for your little ones! 

Make sure everyone gets plenty of rest – and don’t forget the snacks. (When in doubt: BRIBE THEM! Listen, I’m not above a little bribery when it comes to pictures we’ll enjoy forever!)

Schedule Early

Image: Wise by Nicole Photography / Courtesy of Blogger Kristin from Be Mom As F

There have been many years I’ve cut it close with booking a photographer for our family holiday photos. Keep in mind that every photographer has a different schedule and different guidelines for scheduling appointments. Nicole’s week-by-week schedule is unpredictable, sometimes she only needs a couple of days’ notice, and other times she doesn’t have an opening for weeks. To be safe, Nicole recommends that you “always try to plan a few weeks ahead of time or check in with your photographer when you start thinking about scheduling your session.”

Also keep in mind that your photographer also has to retouch before getting your photos back to you, so allow time for them to work on your images. If you plan on having cards printed after you receive the final images, you’ll want to a lot of extra time to print and mail them out. I also suggest not booking close to any personal or career deadlines you have so you’re less likely to cancel and more likely to be in the right headspace for family photo fun.

I hope these tips help make your holiday photos jolly and bright this season!

Bonus Content:
DIY Holiday Sessions

Sometimes we can plan ahead and get our favorite photographer to take our photos, other times, it doesn’t work out. Here are some DIY holiday photos (and videos) I’ve created with my iPhone over the years to give you inspiration and additional options:

FallPhotos and Video

Equipment: $10 tripod from Amazon, iPhone, Photoshop Lightroom Mobile, Instagram Reels/Tik Tok

Location: random empty parking lot

2 for 1: we set up the tripod on self-timer to take photos while also recording the screen. The screen recording allowed me to put this video together. PLUS, the kids enjoyed the leaf fight.

Watch the short video

View the photos

Decorating Christmas Cookies / Tree – Photos and Video

Equipment: $10 tripod from Amazon, iPhone, Photoshop Lightroom Mobile, Instagram Reels/Tik Tok, Cookie Decorating Kit from Walmart, Christmas tree

Location: home

What feels more like the holidays than baking or decorating the tree with your kids? I am big on making photos and video that makes you feel something…in this case, warm, cozy and of course, the holiday spirit!

Watch the short video (cookies)

View the photos (tree)

Underneath the Tree – Photos and Video

Equipment: $10 tripod from Amazon, iPhone, Photoshop Lightroom Mobile, Instagram Reels/Tik Tok, Christmas tree

Location: home

I spent a lot of time and care wrapping presents for our family, so before we loaded them into the car to deliver them to our loved ones, we decided to make a video and take some photos.

In this video, you can clearly see that I’m recording my iPhone screen while putting on the self-timer to take our photos.

Watch the short video (see how we did the photos on self-timer)

View the photos

If you want to see more Christmas content from me, I made this Instagram guide to my favorite Christmas posts. Check out the most over-the-top Santa photos we’ve taken.


Hi all! My name is Nicole Wise, I am a photographer located in Ventura (Southern California, near Santa Barbara/Los Angeles). I fell in love with photography at a young age and couldn’t be happier that my passion blossomed into a business. I shoot a lot of different subjects and I LOVE it! Each day is different and with every shoot, I learn something new. I am lucky to have a job and business I love! Let me share my knowledge and experience with you; from family moments to photography for your small business, I am here to help. Contact me at or check out my Instagram pages @WisebyNicole and @MomentsByNicole.

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