You’re probably the kind of person who won’t demand that your family wear matching Christmas sweaters for the annual card. You’re probably against posing people in awkward contortions suitable for synchronized swimming, too. So far, so good.

But — How are you going to take a professional-looking photo for your holiday card if you don’t know “ISO speed” from an F-stop?

Thanks to today’s tools, you don’t have to be an expert to produce a memorable photo. And you certainly don’t need to force your children to wear those itchy sweaters they can’t stand!

All you need is a good eye, and some tips from the pros. The perfect holiday picture happens thanks to what you do before, during, and after you take the photo. Here’s what I learned while talking to the pros.

Before Taking the Photo

There are several things you can do before you even take a family photo to ensure it looks its best. Here are some things to consider:

  • Plan out your wardrobe. You don’t need to wear matching Christmas sweaters, but everyone in the photo should, for example, be dressed in a similar level of casual or formal wear. Keep it simple.
  • Pay attention to color. Photos will look better if the people in them are wearing similar or complimentary colors and tones. Not only does it look better, but it signals that you have put time and preparation into the photo. Plan your family wardrobe as if you were creating one outfit.
  • Minimize or avoid patterns, slogans, and logos. Dramatic clothing patterns can pull focus away the entire group and “date” the photo too quickly.

During the Photo Session

Taking your family photo at home is the most convenient. Select a location that gets good natural light or one where you can easily bring in more light if necessary. One caveat: too much light can wash everyone out and make their complexion look terrible. You’re going for a holiday look, not the “Victorian death photo” look!

  • Set the stage in advance. Consider where the photo will be taken, whether in a casual or formal location. Bring in lights, tripods, timers, and other necessary equipment required for the location. Lighting should be placed behind the photographer.
  • Consider props. Photography studios use a range of props. Even though this is not necessary, you might want to include a poinsettia or wreath to signify the time of year.
  • Call in the people and pets last. This way, it is more likely that you can get a natural shot quickly before everyone fatigues of the process (photographer included).
  • Have fun. Compose the shots to emphasize the smiling faces of people and pets, not your location. Just be wary of gimmicky poses, like everyone lined up with hands on the next person’s hips or shoulders, or worse: popping out of gift boxes. If you find yourself asking, “Does this look stupid?” you’re probably posed in an embarrassing photo in the making.

After You Select Your Favorite Snap

Upload your image to a site that specializes in creating holiday photo cards. From there, do this:

  • Select a holiday-themed backdrop for the card. Resist changing fonts if the backdrop already includes them, because the designer had a good reason for using a particular font.
  • If the backdrop doesn’t include fonts, select and use just one. It is easy to make a card look unprofessional with the wrong mix of fonts. Choose something simple, so the emphasis remains on your photo.
  • Select your envelopes, postage, and ink with an eye for matching or complimentary design details. For example, when possible, match the same pattern or font to the envelope, and select an ink to address the cards that matches, too.

All of these tips work together to ensure that your family photograph looks very professional, and doesn’t embarrass the rest of the family. Be proud to share your photo with family and friends across the country. Don’t forget to proudly display it at your home, too.

Katie McCaskey is a small business owner, author, and freelance writer on holiday news, trends and tips for Vistaprint, a leading provider of cheerful Christmas photo cards and many other personalized gifts this holiday season. Katie blogs at