7 Tips for How to Take Your Own Family Christmas Pictures for a Photo Christmas Card

It's closing in on my favorite time of the year...Christmas card season! I love love love Christmas, but my favorite part by far is the steady influx of Christmas cards in my mailbox. It usually starts on the first day of December {some loyal college friends are known for being card number one every.single.year} and it lasts until the start of the new year.

As a family, we get excited to get those cards.  We pray over every one of them at the dinner table, we use their Christmas letters {and Facebook} to fill in the details of that family’s life over the past year, and we proudly display those cards on our walls and on our mantels. The kids anxiously fight over who gets the mail and they tear into the envelopes with reckless abandon. We then pray over the cards we receive that day at the dinner table and we usually share a story or a detail or two about that family before we proudly display those cards on our walls or on our mantel.

Because I so very much cherish every single one of the cards from friends and family near and far, I take great care in making sure I send out a Christmas card that is one to cherish. 

I don't know when the switch happened but it did. When we were first married a zillion years ago, I would go to the store and pick up a few boxes of those stock Christmas cards. I would write a personal message inside each one and we would include our family Christmas letter.  About ten years ago though things started to change. At first we just got a few photo cards at Christmas, and then it was more like half and half and then last year, BAM! Getting a card with no photo was a rarity.

Ten years ago, I sent out our first family photo card. Our youngest son was a newborn and we dressed up our two other kids to look like Mary and Joseph. How adorably cute are they?! That first picture started a new tradition.  My husband would be in charge of writing the Christmas letter {ours doesn't suck} and I would take on the task of getting a photo for the Christmas card.

Some years it was a no brainer. There were a few years that we had professional photos taken, so I included those images, but professional photos are expensive, and well, I just didn't have it in the budget to hire a photographer every year.  But I loved the look of a professional photo.

About three years ago, I got smart. Perhaps I'm the only one that hadn't had the ah ha moment yet, but I thought, we have a camera and that camera has a self timer, lets just go to the park and take a family picture. 

There was no scheduled day or time. No hoping that the weather would cooperate on the day that we had scheduled, no long drawn out posing session with a stranger.  We set our own day and made up our own time. We showed up. And you know what? It's worked out great for us.  So I have a few tips for you in case you want to try taking your own family pictures for your Christmas card.

1. Invest in a tripod
The first year, we took my camera and placed it on a ladder that was acting like our tripod. The second year, we borrowed a tripod.  This year, I finally bought a tripod. They aren't very expensive and it will come in handy more often than you think that it will.

2. Get familiar with your camera's timer
There is nothing more frustrating that being frustrated with technology. Especially when other people are waiting on you to get said technology working. Read your manual before you go. Set whatever settings you need ahead of time. We have ours on a 10 second timer to give my husband time to press the button and get in the shot.

Some of you may be fancier than we are and have wireless remotes. We aren't there yet, but just so you know, that technology exists if you want to go that route.

3. Pick a location
It still doesn't feel totally comfortable for us to stand in the middle of a crowded place and smile awkwardly off into the distance. We like to pick locations for photos where we are sure to not see anyone. This may not matter to you, so your options are more open. 

4. Save room
My husband is usually the one pushing the button on the camera so we have to make sure we save him room in the picture for him to run quickly into his spot. Save a spot for everyone!

5. Take a test shot
Make sure before you take a whole bunch of pictures that the location is o.k. You don't want to be standing in a stream of light that is blinding to everyone or in a shadow that washes you all out. Get the settings on your camera set {nothing wrong with auto mode sometimes!} and focus on your family so that you aren't all blurry but the leaf behind you is super crisp!

6. Take lots of pictures
Take more pictures than you ever think you will need. I would rather have more to work with than not enough.

7. Leave your pets at home
Our golden retriever Sophie is a part of our family.  We love her dearly, BUT if we are trying to take our own photos, scurry to jump into a picture and have everyone looking decent, adding the wild card that a pet brings, makes getting a good shot so much harder! With someone running back and forth, the dog is sure to be looking the wrong way!

I always get home super excited to see the pictures that we took. Another perk to taking your own...there is no delay in getting those shots into your hands!  

Next step is narrowing them down and ordering your Christmas cards.  I love using Tiny Prints. There are so many great high quality options to choose from. The website is super easy to navigate and I can easily narrow down my Christmas card search with a glance when I use the "show my photo" option.  This is the best feature in my opinion.  It's so much easier to select a card for your family when you are seeing your family and your picture instead of stock image.

Every year I drool over the newsletter cards. My husband has written his signature Christmas letter for nearly two decades and I can't justify switching it up for a newsletter card, but man, I would love it if we got a few of these in the mail.

It's inevitable that every year we get what we call the "I'm alive" report.  You know what those are. It's the card that comes in the mail with a picture of kids you don't know and the standard printed message: "Love, The Smith Family." Those are great. We appreciate knowing you are alive, but what we would appreciate more is just a few lines letting us know what you were alive doing. I love those little details.  But honestly, I'm not going to get all hung up on that. I just love getting Christmas cards in the mail!

I decided what picture I wanted to use for the card and that helped narrow down which card selection we could make {I picked the Happy Expression card}.  Also, if you want to select one photo or even up to five or more, you can do that as well!  I love that you can personalize the backs of the cards, so I settled on making my selection with one large horizontal family photo on the front and a collage of pictures on the back.

You can also choose the trim that you want {I like the traditional rectangle}, your greeting {I always have a card that says Merry Christmas}, you can select a color, your paper {I like matte} and your format {horizontal, vertical or square}.  It's so easy to personalize your card so that it's one of a kind. And let me tell you, there are years when we get the same exact card several times!

If you really want to personalize it, you can add envelope liners to match your cards. Talk about swanky!

While I was placing my order, I also decided to make life easier this Christmas {because we all need that amIright?} and order pre-printed personalized gift labels.  I love these because they are self-adhesive and I can adhere them to anything, including these clearance priced holiday candles I bought last year for 90% off.  This little touch created the perfect neighbor gift don't you think?

Lest you think taking Christmas photos on your own is smooth sailing, I wanted to include these outtakes from our little family session.

It really is a ton of fun doing it yourself! If you want the look of professional photos but don't want to pay the price tag, give it a shot on your own. I know you can do it!

Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Tiny Prints through their partnership with POPSUGAR Select. While I was compensated to write a post about Tiny Prints, all opinions are my own.

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