Pursuit of the Card-Worthy Photo

It happens every year – the angst over capturing and selecting “the perfect holiday card photo”. I send my cards to over 150 people as my annual big “hello” to family and friends, so I want the hero and supporting photos to count.

I have come to appreciate that there is not just one way to get card-worthy photos. To ensure I get something I am happy with, I actually pursue photos in many ways so I have lots to choose from. Here are my top 5 approaches. Yes, I admit to using all five.

1. Retail Portrait Studio
I have used JCPenney Portrait and Target Portrait Studios and have gotten good results. The prices are reasonable for you to get their CD with all the shots on a disk and image rights. The secret here is to make sure the kids are in a good mood (timing is everything), that you get a photographer who the kids click with and that you select a neutral background that can work with any card style. My background of choice is always a classic white sheet. The advantage with a retail portrait studio is that its easily scheduled and the rates are pretty reasonable.

2. Local Professional Photographer
I have been fortunate to find a few local photographers who I like. What they have in common is that they will provide me with the digital images on disk so I can do what I want with them. You can find them often just by asking around and viewing their work. They tend to cost a little more, but the advantages are you can choose them based on their style, their fit with your family and you can have them photograph in natural light (something retail studios don’t do).

3. Friend
If you’ve got a friend with a steady hand, you could luck out. Get a friend to snap away in natural light. The more they take, the better your chance of finding a winner – or at least giving you the raw material to crop and edit your way to a winner. The advantage here is certainly the price. If your friend has good chemistry with your family, that’s a bonus.

4. Santa Sitting
Visiting Santa is a magical tradition for many of us. Watching our kids interact with Santa is priceless. A holiday card that shows off that magic as the hero image or as an inside image can make the card. Most Santa portraits in malls now have the ability to provide you with the digital images for a fee. You can find the nearest Santa to you with this locator. The advantage to this type of portrait is it certainly says “Christmas” and is sure to put a smile on the face of everyone you share it with.

5. Do it Yourself
If you’re like me, you take photos all year long. My personal photo collection has now exceeded 40,000 images. Within my collection, there are certainly photos that are worth sharing. With a little planning or luck, they can be card-worthy too. The advantage of this approach is that they are likely to be the most authentic – with glimpses of your family as only you can see.


  1. TonetteB says

    You have a gorgeous family! Excellent tips! I have tried and used all of these options as Christmas cards except a local photographer! When my kids were little there weren’t many local photographers around and if they were they charged an arm and a leg in the 90’s before digital photography. Now there are so many options and affordable local photographers that I wish my kids were little again since they hate wasting time to go get professional photos done!

    I have also used favorite vacation photos as a Christmas card as well. One trick I used when my teens absolutely refused to get their photo taken and I didn’t have any good ones of both my kids together that would work that I then came up with another idea in pure desperation! I made a collage of favorite Christmas photos over the years. I even inclued some of me as a baby and some of my husband as a baby! It was a huge hit! Everyone raved about that one and how they loved seeing all the special Christmas photos throughout the years! It had candid shots, Santa shots, & ones from JCPenneys and Olan Mills! It was so fun to make! Its a great alternative if the kids are sick and your busy in the winter to get the perfect xmas shot and you want it to be in the holiday spirit!

    Thanks for sharing all your wonderful tips!

  2. Joey says

    This is a great article Sam, and such great tips to achieve that Christmas Card photo.
    I know when I was a kid, my parents used photos they snapped, or of us with Santa and some at Penney’s and later on we always had professional ones done. I wish we stil did that. Now we try to, or shall I say, that I try to achieve this every time we are together for a family photo. I get lots of grumbles but in the end they all like them.
    A couple years ago, my sisters and I wanted a professional shot for my parents of the grandkids. My original idea was to do all us kids and grandkids and then i could make a book! So i searched around for someone kind of new (seems there’s a new photographer opening a business every other week! Thats a lot). We picked a guy and he did some nice outdoor shots in October so we had a lot of leaves. I was surprised he didn’t take that many and we would have to pay extra for a CD, so we just ordered our parents a big print.
    Every year I try to get a photo w/ my nieces and nephews & I. This can be quite challenging. We did get one on my birthday in June. So I just went with that. My sister and oldest nephew live in Minneapolis and didn’t think i’d get a photo in time. I already ordered mine.
    I recently took my sisters in-laws pictures, the idea is she wanted to use one or some for her cards. This was the first time where I worked with someone in a more ‘structured’ way. Positing people etc. I also liked the casual fun ones we captured. I do need more practice but it was a good experience.
    This was a great article, filled with awesome tips. Happy Holidays!

  3. says

    Sometimes you can get lucky by finding a local photographer who is just starting out! They don’t charge nearly as much. They just look for the experience and the option to use the good photos in their portfolio. I know, I am one of them!

  4. says

    I have always loved kids in the moment! I have gone with the do it yourself photo of the kids getting into the Christmas decorations the day after Thanksgiving as I put up the tree. Instead of shopping on Black Friday, I take that day to get the house ready for Christmas and take a very relaxed photo of the kids by the new put up tree. This year I did the do it yourself annual kid portrait. Posed and everything. They came out great and I took one of the photos and made it black and white and put it into one of Shutterfly’s new Christmas card designs. Came out great and now they are done and ready to go. I must stay I will still have to take the Black Friday photo… it has become a family tradition, so it looks like some of my friends and family will get two Christmas cards this year.

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