How to Take Easy, Perfect, Family Holiday Card Photos

Last year I decided that I would not send out holiday cards at all. The issue was the pictures.

Over the course of several weekends we scheduled shoots. Then someone got sick, or someone was out of town… We tried to take pictures ourselves, dressing up in semi-matching outfits and sitting on the front steps.

My sons made weird faces. My daughters rolled their eyes.

I actually considered using the bad photos. My husband has a comical drawerful of awkward family photos from his own childhood. We love to look at the pictures of him and his siblings glowering in front of a tree in their front yard. What family cannot relate to the agony of taking holiday pictures?

But no, I couldn’t do it. The home attempts at “family portrait” as we know it, were just too awful. So I gave up. Forget it. Who needs holiday cards, right? Who wants to see another faked out and forced photo of some perfect people pretending that they all like wearing matching pj’s or sweaters? Like they do that all the time!? Do our friends and family back east really appreciate those “we live in a warm sunny climate and you don’t, nyah nyah…” photos of us cavorting on the beach?

I think not.

Over the kids’ winter holiday break the cards from friends and family rolled in. I punched a hole in each one and hung them on the mantel, as I do each year. After the holidays I put the cards on a metal binder ring, making an impromptu album. I love to look at the cards we’ve received over the years.

I like to see how everyone’s kids have grown and changed. Even the ones in cutesy pajamas, cavorting on the beach. If I was missing one of the families one year, I’d notice. I’d be sad.

If I felt this way… others might too. It occured to me that they might miss OUR card. For sure I’d miss our card in the booklet. I wanted to remember my kids as they were at that very moment.  I knew I had to make a card, and quick. I had to do it in a way that was easy, cheap, and wouldn’t make my kids nuts. I had to make it fun. I wanted to make it memorable.

“Kids! Get down here!” I yelled.

My son came in wearing a bike helmet. My tween approached warily, still texting a friend. My teenager barely removed her earbuds and the “baby” set down the nintendo DS to hear what I had to say so urgently.

“You each have ten minutes to put on your favorite outfit. I don’t care what it is. Whatever is your favorite thing in your closet or drawers right now. Go put it on. Then grab your favorite toy, game, or item – any thing really from your room and meet me in the kitchen.”

Ten minutes later my toddler was still barefoot, nose deep in the DS. My daughters emerged in party dresses, arguing over who got the Justin Beiber cut out and who got the iphone (they shared faves). My son had on his favorite tee and asked if his bicycle was allowed to be his thing, since it was in the garage. I told him sure. Go get the bike. Bring it in the house.

His eyes lit up.

“Here’s how it’s going to work,” I told them as I lifted the toddler (still playing his game) onto the kitchen island. “You’re all going to stand there, in your most favorite clothing right now, with your favorite stuff right now, doing whatever you feel like you want to do right now. And I’m going to take a picture of that.”

“Should we smile?” my son asked. Sitting on his bike in the middle of the kitchen, it was difficult for him NOT to smile.

“Sure, if you feel like it…” I said, snapping away.

The cat ran into the kitchen and jumped on the counter, clearly realizing she belonged in the picture. I shot a few more shots.

Ten minutes later, we had the best and easiest holiday card photo I’ve ever taken. I uploaded the shots online, used an online editor to make photo cards and mailed the cards the very next day.

People still talk about our holiday card from last year. Last minute photos might become our holiday card tradition!

Ready to give it a go? What do you have to lose?

Tell your kids to pick out:

  1. Their favorite outfit right now. It can be anything – pajamas, sports uniform, ski suit – whatever they want to wear, so long as it is not indecent. Limit to ten minutes to choose and change.
  2. Their favorite item right now. It can be a toy, sporting equipment, tech, food, blanket, etc. Whatever they are most “into” and can carry.
  3. Choose a central location in your home. Resist the urge to clean up!
  4. Have everyone pose as they wish with their favorite things, in the central location, doing whatever they wish. Resist the urge to direct other than getting them into the frame.
  5. Print pictures and add to premade cards or order online using your image.

I predict the best holiday cards ever for you too!  You’ll look back years from now and remember your kids exactly as they were. Which is, after all, perfect.

A big thanks to Target for sponsoring this campaign. Click here to see more of the discussion.

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