How to Snap the Perfect Christmas Day Family Photo

(Photo: Kristen Sweeting Photography)

The festive season is upon us, abounding with merry traditions and cheer! But between that holiday hustle of shopping and party planning, it can become a frenzied feat keeping up with our favorite traditions.

Most of us have very particular habits we like to revisit each year like our 'adult' hot chocolate or the adorable Elf on the Shelf, but none are more perfect and encompassing of a cherished moment than the annual photo we snap with our family on Christmas Day.

You know which one we’re talking about: the bright, memorable one where your clan is all cozy, doing their own thing in adorable winter PJs, and celebrating the moment as a loving unit. It’s a memory that will last a lifetime and a “picture-perfect” way to track the changes over the years.

But it doesn’t have to be hard to capture at all. Travel wedding photographer Kristin Sweeting of Kristin Sweeting Photography shares with Womanista that you can get a great photo no matter what type of camera you have — all you need to do is let go of any idea that points to perfection.

“The truth is with small children especially, it is really hard to get everyone looking at the camera and smiling,” Sweeting says. “Even professionals need lots of time and tricks to make this happen sometimes.”

To plan or not to plan…
Long before you gather up the family wherever you will be come Christmas Day, think about where and when you would like to snap that coveted festive photo. Between putting thought into what you will wear, if you want to use props or not, and if makeup is an option, Sweeting says it’s okay to come up with a plan even if it’s often believed to ruin the moment.

While her favorite photos as a professional photographer usually happen on the fly, Sweeting says if you like to plan and organize, pick a holiday outing to do as a family and snap that photo at the very beginning of the day. As she puts it, “you can enjoy the rest of the time together without worrying about getting outfits dirty.”

Wardrobe livens up a photo
While great locations can add to your photo — like a snowy backyard or the twinkling of lights on the Christmas tree — Sweeting says they can also detract from the elements if you’re not careful.

“I’m a fan of simple, clean backgrounds and thoughtful outfits,” she says. “If you’re in your house, pick a spot that doesn’t have a lot of clutter.”

As she shares, coordinate outfits instead of matching them. She advises to pick one outfit, like a dress for mom that has multiple colors, and use it as a guide for picking everyone else’s wardrobe. If that is too complicated, she says to stick with varying shades of neutrals.

Consider equipment
While many smartphone users this season are looking to the Womanista Approved Moment Wide Lens to add onto devices for the best photograph, Sweeting says what you have, whether it’s a regular old point-and-shoot or smartphone lens, will suffice on its own.

“You can get a great family photo with any camera, as long as you know how to use it!” she stresses. “Borrow a family member to take the snap or have a small tripod on hand and use the self-timer feature.”

If you’re looking for the best tripod this season, Sweeting recommends the GorillaPod Tripod, which she loves for its options for phones or small cameras.

Take a look at your camera settings
Whatever you do this holiday, turn off your flash. Sweeting says to use natural or ambient light already in the scene to help capture your shot. Of course, other settings depend on the type of camera you have. And if your camera allows it, be sure to control the white balance for a more natural effect.

Moreover, if you notice your photos are super orange when you’re inside at night, Sweeting has a quick fix for that — just change the white balance setting.

“If you have a point and shoot camera or small DSLR, look for something that says AWB — auto white balance — and then scroll through the options to pick the setting that works best with your location.”

Consider lighting and composition
Winter can be a tricky time of year to snap photos due to all the snow and lack of color, but Sweeting says it’s important to consider lighting and composition when snapping that beautiful Christmas Day photo.

“Finding the right lighting is going to be the most important thing for getting you a high quality image,” she says. “Position your family near a window or by a light source — if you’re outside, pick a shady spot under a tree or wait until the sun is just about to set.”

Take these ‘Sweet’ cues
As a photographer who has snapped hundreds of images over the course of every season for years, Sweeting likes to keep the experience fun and light for the families she photographs. To help you keep that Christmas Day photoshoot simple, she shares a few cues and poses to ensure ease and peace. With a promise these cues will bring about fun, relaxed and adorable family photos, she says, “These are the ones you’ll end up loving more anyways, I promise.”

Some cues Sweeting shares are to lift your baby or toddler in the air or pull them in tight for a kiss; also, yell “Everyone hug mommy!” or “Everyone kiss daddy!” She encourages injecting a natural dose of spontaneity to the experience by hugging, laughing, tickling or cuddling each other, saying “Keep it fun, especially with little guys!”


Once you’re done and have snapped the quintessential holiday photo for the season, Sweeting encourages you to turn off the camera and just be present with the whole family.

“[It] will give you a whole set of beautiful memories that no camera could ever capture,” she says.