5 Tips to Designing Your Best Holiday Card Yet

I love this time of year – when the holiday cards start arriving in my mailbox! It’s so old school, yet most of my friends and family still send holiday cards via snail mail – and I’m not mad about it. 🙂 I truly get excited to see everyone’s family pictures and it really puts me in the holiday spirit.

I love planning our family holiday photoshoots – and thought I would share some of the tips I’ve learned along the way so that you get your favorite family holiday card yet!

1 – Location and Lighting

Location and lighting are so important when planning a photoshoot – or even just having someone snap a family photo for you DIY-style. My favorite lighting is typically right before sunset…and usually that’s a better time of day for my family as well. It’s so much easier to get out the door all dolled up by a certain time later in the day rather than early, early morning. But early morning is another good time of day for a shoot. Mid-day is typically when the sun is harshest and not a great time to shoot outdoors. If you’re inside however, none of this matters unless the inside space also relies on outdoor light.

And location…I love having fun with locations. One year we did a shoot in an alleyway downtown, along with some Union Station shots (photos below) and those are still some of  my faves to this day.  Outdoor parks can be great backdrops, reservoirs, Christmas tree lots, festive city scapes – Denver has a ton of cool locations to choose from.  But it can also be fun to do some intimate home pictures too – as long as your space has good lighting – it can work!

If you’re interested in shooting somewhere specific, it’s always good to double check that they allow for photo shoots so you don’t arrive just to have the ca-bosh put on your whole vision by someone telling you not to shoot there. So do your homework!




2 – Color Story/Outfits

This is probably my favorite part of the process – I love coming up with a look for the fam and then shopping to piece everyone’s outfits together so that we all compliment one another. Although, I understand that for some, this can be the stressful part of the process. Either way, I do think it’s important to come up with a color story for your shoot so that you get your best shot. If you’re spending money on a photographer and coordinating the whole family to get to a location to capture some awesome photos – it’s important to put effort and time into planning outfits. You don’t want to have the perfect, gorgeous backdrop and then someone is in a t-shirt with some big logo on it. It just doesn’t make for a long-lasting family photo you’ll display in your home for years to come, or put on a holiday card….So whether you’re going for pops of holiday colors, dreamy neutrals or glammed up or paired down in pajamas – it’s important to put some thought into everyone’s outfits.

I pressed the easy button this year, and we only captured one family pic right after we did London’s newborn pictures. For this year, I didn’t want our outfits to be a focal point and wanted to just blend and basically be something that people don’t give thought to…so we are all in very neutral hues and it’s a more intimate shot in our master bed and just focused on us in a tight shot.

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

3 – Mood/Theme

I have always dreamed of a holiday shoot in our kitchen with our family in Christmas pajamas making holiday cookies together – with flour everywhere, the kitchen a mess, but all the love in the world! I actually really wanted this theme for this year, but with London’s stay in the NICU after her arrival, and her being on oxygen once we got home – I just didn’t have the time to get organized for a shoot like this. Maybe next year! But either way, I love trying to think of new theme’s each year for our holiday card. It’s fun to switch it up – however, I think glam is probably my go-to by default — it’s just what I lean towards every year. I loved our glam shoot for our holiday card a few years back!  It was a really fun shoot to do as well. Either way, it can be a fun occasion to think of a theme to go along with your family holiday card photo shoot – like hiking in the snowy mountains and everyone is in Colorado outdoor gear, or shopping for a real Christmas tree and everyone is bundled up in cute mittens, jackets and hats, or putting up the Christmas tree as a family in pajamas.  I feel like picking something that your family actually does and making a theme or mood-board out of it can be fun and rewarding. And the kids will have those images to always reflect back on to remember how special this holiday season was to them. Like I said, I lean towards fairly glam shoots – but love doing so in a rustic setting…like our holiday card last year.  I would never go hiking around outside in a wooded area in a long, red maxi dress, but for a shoot – it looks awesome. I like being able to mash up ideas. I’ve also seen sparkly sequin gowns done in snowy forests – and there is just something cool about combining opposite concepts for the sake of a cool photo.



Another tip that I think belongs in this section is to think about what kind of card design you want and have the photo you take best compliment that design. For instance, if you need to include a lot of negative space on your photo because you selected a design where the text overlays the photo – so you’ll need to ensure it doesn’t cover anyone’s face. I’ve included one example below. That’s important for planning so you can communicate to whomever is taking the picture that you want some good space around the main subject of the picture – being your family – so that there is room for text.


A card like this wouldn’t work with a close-up shot because of the text, but works well with a shot further away so there is negative space to work with for text. 

4 – Vacation Shoot

One of my favorite holiday cards to get is one with that family’s vacation shot on it from their big trip that year. When we went to California one year, we hired our wedding photographer to do a family photo shoot of us on the Catalina Island beach front and it’s definitely one of my favorite photo shoots we’ve ever done. And I’ve heard about a new service that helps people find quality photographers wherever you plan to vacation, it’s called flytographer – linked HERE. You can find an affordable photographer to capture your family on vacation and use those for your holiday card. Done and done!  People save up for nice vacations – why not have some images of the whole family in a special place where you’ve likely made some really special memories too. Not to mention, how fun to get dressed up (or down) in some resort-wear or vacation outfits you would normally not wear in your hometown – I am adding this to my list of to-do’s sometime in the future.

5 – iphone/DIY

Last, you don’t always need to spend the money on a photographer to get some family photos taken. We have amazing camera’s in our hands at all times these days and you could most definitely set up a shot with your iphone (or any other smartphone with a good camera) and get a great pic to share on your holiday card. Just use the tips above to still put effort into your overall look, outfits and backdrop – and you’ll be set!  An iphone tripod with bluetooth is so affordable and you can be your own photographer!  After all, all you really need is one great shot!  And with a little editing, you’ll make it perfect.

This is one of the only tripods that allows an iphone to also do portrait mode and not just landscape – I linked it for you to shop HERE.

joby gorilla grip tight mount.jpg

Or another DIY option I always like seeing is a collage of your fave candid shots from the year – and show a bit more about what your family was up to. Or keep it all selfie’s and do a play on words “Have your selfie a very Merry Christmas” – so cute!

You’ll be a pro at family photo’s after spending just a little extra effort researching locations, selecting coordinating outfits, and coming up with a mood for your holiday card – you’ll definitely get your favorite one yet!

What are some of your favorite holiday card pictures?



And don’t forget about Basic Invite – my new fave place for holiday cards! Linked below and you can use my discount code! 



Leave a Reply


  1. 12.1.18
    Kadi said:

    Great post! Thanks for sharing. I love holiday cards. It’s a great tradition to keep going as times change in general.

    • 12.2.18
      sarahk said:

      Thank you so much! I’m glad you agree! Love the traditions of the holiday season.

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