7 Tips for Grown-Up Holiday Family Photos

My mom has always sent out a Christmas Card for the holidays and 90% of the time that Christmas Card included a family photo (usually just my sisters and me, not my mom and my dad). We used to whine and complain about taking these holiday family photos and then cringe when we saw the photo she chose to have printed on those annual cards.

Fast forward almost thirty years and now we LOVE looking back at those still cringe-worthy photos and laughing at ourselves. It’s crazy to put them all side-by-side and see how much we changed over the years!Tips and tricks for holiday family photos

When two sons-in-law joined the group and we were all “grown-up” and moved out, we weren’t sure if the annual Christmas card tradition would continue. I mean, the first year it was easy because my mom used one of the wedding photos as the “group shot” but after that…. we weren’t really sure where to take this now cherished tradition.

Holiday Family Photos
Taking a good family photo around Christmas time is a holiday tradition.

If we’re being completely honest, it probably is a little weird that we still get together and take these photos. BUT in our defense, if we don’t force ourselves to carve out time for these annual photos, we would go years without documenting our family all together. Don’t get me wrong, we spend a TON of time together as a family, but we never pose for a photo with everyone in it without a specific reason (i.e. graduations, wedding, baptism, etc.).

Keeping this Tradition Alive

So last year we decided that we HAD to keep this tradition alive (no matter how OLD we are). Last year’s picture, above, was the first “not-at-a-formal-event” group photo we took and we learned A LOT from this pretty painless process.

But before we took that photo, I searched Pinterest and the blogosphere for tips and inspiration on family photos. The only thing I could find was insanely adorable photos/inspiration for families with little ones. I could not find any pictures or ideas for families in our stage of life. So that’s where this post idea was born. If you have a group of adults (with or without kids) that is getting together for a family photo, Christmas card, or just because, I hope these tips provide you with some of the info I was never able to find!

And heck, even if you don’t have a group of twenty-somethings in your family, I’m confident these 7 tips can still work for just about any family!

7 Tips for Taking Family Photos with Grown-Up Kids

After learning from our mistakes the first year around, here are my best 7 tips (and this year’s family photos):
A beautiful location full of greenery is perfect for a family photo.

1. Choose a Location

It’s important to think of a location that is big enough (aka wide enough) to hold the entire group. This year we chose an apple orchard because picking apples is one of our favorite fall traditions and there was plenty of room to photograph all of us together. Last year we went to a local park, but we waited until it was December so the trees were pretty barren and the temps were FRIGID (note to self: super cold temps are not good for morale or for outfit selections).

You don’t need anything extravagant … heck, even a plain wall could work… just make sure you choose a place where you can spread out and not be rushed. And if your family is anything like ours, I would suggest going to wherever you are going when the LEAST amount of people are there (less people watching you take these photos will save everyone from feeling awkward).
Outfits that are cohesive is an important part of taking a family picture.

2. Choose Outfits Wisely

We learned after last year that it’s hard to read the outfits accurately in the photo when some of us have on super dark colors (black, dark navy, dark green) and others have on super bright colors (like white). This year I told the family to steer clear of these extremes and I also told them to choose “fall colors”. We definitely didn’t want to match (been there, done that for about 10 years in a row) but we wanted to loosely coordinate. Establishing these flexible guidelines helped keep us in the same “ballpark” without being too matchy-matchy.

I also started a google doc for everyone to type in what they were wearing. I know that sounds crazy (it probably is), but I was able to see the colors and vibe of the outfits before the “big day”. Seeing the outfit plans in advance helped me recognize any problems and also helped me and Matt choose our outfits accordingly. And since I usually set up the photos, I like to wait for everyone to let me know what they’re wearing and then I try to choose outfits for Matt and me that will mesh the whole look together.

Rookie Tip: I know this sounds super scientific but honestly my advice would be… DON’T OVERTHINK IT. You want everyone to feel comfortable and feel very “them” so provide loose guidelines but let each person put their own spin on their clothing from there.

Family photos outside are great for Christmas cards.

3. Go Outside!

Remember when I said you should choose a place that you can spread out, maybe even a place that is special to your family? Well, there’s a bit more to that story. My BIGGEST piece of advice when choosing a location is to try to do everything you can to take your photo outside because of the natural light. If you’re using a friend to snap a few pics (or a tripod + remote like us), choosing an outdoor space will make sure your photo is well-lit even without a professional photographer.

Overcast skies produce the best light, but if the day is super bright (direct sunlight) try to take your photos in the shade or around dusk to get the best lighting. Having a well-lit photo makes the picture look 100% more professional so try everything you can to choose an outdoor location…or at least an indoor venue that has super large windows.

Lots of smiles and laughs are essential in a family picture.

4. Have Fun… It Shows!

It’s important to HAVE FUN! Not just so everyone has an enjoyable, stress-free experience that day but also because if you’re having fun while snapping these photos, it will definitely show in the photo! Make jokes, laugh, do a few “fun ones” because these genuine smiles will make the best pictures…and the best memories!

Taking several pictures is a good idea so that you have options to choose from.

5. You Only Need One!

Feel free to snap away but don’t forget that you only need ONE photo! If you keep snapping away, I’m confident that at least one of the pics you snapped will be a keeper so try not to stress.

Using props for a family Christmas card photo is a unique idea.

6. Bring Props

Last year our family held up a DIY Pallet sign, which definitely helped make our pose a lot less awkward and a lot more natural. Remember when we held these poster boards to create a personalized Mother’s Day Gift in preparation for the newest member of the O’Connor family? Both of these experiences have taught us that having props (or something to hold) makes standing and taking a group photo a lot less awkward. I know that’s not always a possibility (like in our photo this year) but it is a tip I wanted to include because it definitely makes a difference.
Perfection does not matter when taking a family photo.

7. Imperfect is Perfect When You’re All Together

At the end of the day, my BEST piece of advice is to not focus on perfectionism. It really doesn’t matter about the outfits or the lighting or even the location, as long as you all get together and capture this time (as cringeworthy as it may be later on), your family photo will be absolutely PERFECT. Crying babies, laughing siblings, flat hair…. these things are all a part of our stories and as long as this story is captured and frozen in time, your family photo will be just like it’s supposed to be — perfectly imperfect!

For your information, here is our all-time favorite photo equipment & what we use to take all of our pictures (affiliate links used):


The Year of Casey

Hey there!

I’m Casey Finn, the voice behind The DIY Playbook. I’m a Chicago gal teaching you how to design, DIY, and maintain your home…by yourself! Learn more about me right here.

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