If asked to pare it down to one word, “unique” might be how we’d choose to describe 2020. With obstacles and curveballs abound, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and exhausted from all the on-the-fly adjustments. And the unique circumstances will of course impact the holiday season in many ways, including how one goes about getting the traditional family photo for the annual holiday card. Because of the risk involved with photo studios or meeting with a photographer, many people are committing to stepping behind the lens themselves. 

While it’s possible that throughout the months of quarantine one of several hobbies you’ve mastered is portrait photography—if that’s the case, that’s wonderful, many claps and snaps from us to you—it’s more likely that the idea of taking such an intimate, directly-shared photo sends you into high-stress mode.  

We’re here to calm that stress, one tip at a time. With insight from a wide-array of professionals, here you’ll find tips and tricks on how to take the perfect holiday photo in the one place you’ve seen plenty of in 2020: your home.

Prepping for the Picture

Taking the perfect family holiday photo at home starts with preparation. By that, we mean making sure you have the right gear for the job. But don’t stress—you’re probably further along in preparation than you think. And if you aren’t, it’s easy to purchase, or rent, what you’ll need.


The obvious one. But don’t feel like you have to go out and buy a digital camera just for your family’s holiday portrait. If you don’t have one, or if finances are tight, the camera on that handy dandy phone in your pocket will do just fine. Newer phones will perform the best, so make sure to have baked goods on hand, just in case you have to persuade the phone’s owner into letting you use it. 


A tripod might not seem crucial at first, but it really is. You’ll need a steady “hand” to take the photo, but you’ll also want something that offers multiple shooting angles. 

“The main equipment required for a good family photo is a tripod,” said Michelle Meredith, , founder of Bright Color Mom. “A selfie stick won’t cut it… Just make sure you’re purchasing a tripod that can grip or hold whatever kind of camera you do intend to use.”

Many tripods out there do work across several camera brands and models, but just make sure beforehand—you really don’t want to play the trial-and-return game if you can avoid it. If you’re planning to use a smartphone, be sure to check whether or not the tripod you’re purchasing comes with a smartphone adapter, or if it has to be purchased separately. 

Find the right model of tripod for you, though, and it easily becomes a solid investment that pays dividends well past the holiday season. 

One last tip when it comes to tripods: consider the height of your family members, as well as the types of poses you’ll be asking them to strike. Why? Because not all tripods extend to the same height. If there’s a family member that’s, say, six-foot-five (77 inches), using a 55-inch tripod to snap a pic in the living room may not do the trick—or, you’ll have to ask that person to kneel for the shot, or sit.

With so many fun photography tools out there, it’s easy to go overboard. But, you may have (most of) what you need for your family’s holiday photo already at your disposal.


Looking for your family’s wardrobe to be super formal? That’s cool. Aiming to present your family members with a color palette they’re to work within? That’s cool, too. Or, thinking of having the wardrobe be reflective of the year, and snap a pic of everyone in their sweatpants? That, of course, is cool as well. 

If the lack of socialization over the past months has you questioning every idea, and decision, hopefully you can find some peace knowing however you and your family dress for the family photo will be just fine. If you’re in need of it, you have total permission to be yourselves. 

Location + Timing

Whether you’ll be taking your photo outside or indoors, something to be conscious of is just how much clutter could make its way into the frame. With the outdoors, specifically, “clutter” can mean the amount of textures, patterns, and colors found in trees, leaves, and terrain.

If you’re taking your family photo indoors, the clutter can come by way of, well, debris that hasn’t been cleaned up, but also wallpaper, (excessive) decorations, and the like. The elements indoors are, of course, more controllable than they would be outdoors, however. Indoors, it could be best in terms of both clutter and lighting if posing in front of a solid background. Another option is posing in front of the largest window in the home. 

As for timing, unless you have lighting equipment, it’s best to stick to what’s known as “the golden hour”. The golden hour is the hour-long stretch of time right after sunrise or right before sunset. From Vinay Amin, CEO of Eu Natural: “The lighting is soft and gentle, meaning everyone looks great naturally. You probably won’t even need your flash!”

Lighting tools (optional)

If you’re aiming to take your photo outdoors, or your house has plenty of windows that offer ample light, you won’t need any lighting tools. But, given just how important lighting is to photography (very, very important), if neither of those are true for your house, or your plans, it might be in your best interest to explore lighting tools. A ring light, for example, can offer plenty to explore, especially one with different levels of brightness. 

Ring lights vary in price, but a budget-friendly idea to try if you’re struggling with light and shadow is, “putting a giant white poster board in front of you, just out of the shot—it’ll help bounce the natural light back toward your faces,” Michele Meredith added. “Just tape the poster board to a ladder of the tripod.”

Remote (optional)

If you’d rather not rely upon your camera’s timer feature, a remote can be really useful when snapping pictures from a distance. If you’re using a digital camera, you can choose from remotes that wire directly into the camera itself, or you can choose a wireless remote that operates via Bluetooth technology, or via a receiver that attaches to your camera. Using your smartphone’s camera? Opt for Bluetooth all the way. 

Apps (optional)

Taking the pic with your smartphone but have subpar lighting and are on a super-tight budget? No worries. The kind folks at Cole’s Classroom pointed out that free mobile apps exist, such as Snapseed or Lightroom Mobile, “that allow you to adjust key settings like exposure, contrast, and temperature so you can enhance your picture and make it look more professional.”

Taking the Picture

Now that you’ve properly prepared, all everyone needs to do is just show up—right? Well, yes and no. 

Yes—assuming a fair amount of energy has gone into the planning, showing up really is the biggest obstacle of the actual picture day. Outside of that, it’s all about focusing, and clicking a button. 

Yet, there are some things you’ll want to keep in mind for the big day, starting with how you’ll want everyone to pose. “Posing is one of the most important things for family photography,” the team at JaySoriano.com said. “Everyone tends to line-up in one line, and that’s a big no-no. Get some ideas from Google, or Pinterest and have some fun using your favorite images as inspiration!”


Our tip: have several poses in mind before you start shooting. Then, if the one pose you had your heart set on just isn’t cutting it in the moment, you can pivot. 

Which leads us to the thing we want you to remember most: shoot a lot of photos. And we mean, a lot. Like, set-the-camera-to-snap-100-photos-at-one-every-two-seconds a lot. Why? By snapping a lot of photos you’re giving yourself the best chance at snagging at least one awesome shot. But you’re also giving yourself a chance to capture the outtakes, which, as put by Anji & Pete Martin of Potok’s World Photography, can mean that you’re actually capturing treasure:

“Save the outtakes. My mother-in-law once told us that her favorite holiday card photos from my husband’s childhood were not the ones in which he and his brothers were looking at the camera, were smiling cutely and had perfectly combed hair. Instead, they were the shots in between those takes. The ones in which the kids were wrestling. Or someone’s shirt was untucked. Or one of them was trying to dodge scratches from the family cats, who were definitely NOT willing participants. Why does she treasure those pictures so much now? Because that is what my husband and his brothers were really like as kids. And those real moments are what she wants to remember now, not some idealized version of the past. So don’t discard the “imperfect” shots, because those just might be your favorites in the end!”

After the Pictures Have Been Taken

Photo Selection

Photo selection is, as you may imagine, pretty straightforward—you choose what you like the best. One teeny tiny tip though: don’t just choose one photo. 

Having a back-up, or several back-ups, will give you peace of mind, should an unforeseen obstacle arise, whether you’re sending physical cards or are selecting an online design. We recommend choosing one photo that has a portrait orientation, and one photo that has a landscape orientation. That way, you always have multiple routes from which to choose. Additionally, you may even decide you want to go with a multi-photo insert holiday card!

Sending the Holiday Card

Sending your holiday card via mail will of course be different than sending your holiday card via email. If you’re sending your holiday card via mail, we recommend brushing up on some tips and best practices, as there are several moving pieces. 

Sending your holiday card with Greenvelope is by comparison a lot more convenient. All you have to do is select your photo-insert design of choice, upload your favorite photo, add your contacts, and schedule your card to send whenever you’d like. No paper, no printing, no stamps required. And, thanks to our partnership with the National Forest Foundation, every purchase you make this holiday season will plant a tree! 

Regardless of how your holiday cards are sent, we hope this post helps you take that photo (or several photos) worth sharing. More than that, we wish you and yours a safe and happy holiday season full of lasting memories.

Photo Holiday Card Inspiration

Design: Vintage Postcard by Pink House Press

Design: Kraft Plaid by Ellis Design

Design: Merry Craziness by Monika Drachal

Design: Color Block Joy by Erika Firm

Design: Modern Colorful Cheer by Kate Ahn Design

Design: Colorful Firs Photo   

Design: Botanical Cutout Card by Becky Nimoy Stationery

Design: Holiday Happiness by Creo Study

Design: Snowy Frame by Lehan Veenker

Design: Belly Rubs by Jessie Steury

Design: All Is Not Calm by Loree Mayer Design


Browse all holiday cards here.