How to Take a Last-Minute Holiday Card Photo

My secret sauce for getting awesome holiday cards

tossing snow up in the air in a family holiday card photo

This year, man. It was such a mixed bag, right? For me, at least, it was simultaneously one of the most joyful years of my life (hello, new baby!) and one of the most challenging from a political and professional standpoint. But because of all the hard reasons, it felt really important to lean into happiness wherever I could. The more frivolous the better. (There’s a reason I went bonkers for my friends’ weddings this year. Other than, you know, loving them.) And one of the most frivolous things I do each year is put together a very over-the-top holiday card. So when it came time to coordinate this year’s, I figured why not go all the way in and coordinate bonkers holiday cards for the whole staff. I mean, what’s the point of having a studio and a professional photographer on staff if you aren’t going to use them?

children running on a couch while parents prepare winea handsome gentleman pours wine into a glass

So we all rented ridiculously formal evening gowns from Rent the Runway (again, if the account is just sitting there). And then I found this amazing tuxedo at The Black Tux. I’ve been itching for an excuse to try out their tuxes ever since my friend rented this beauty for a mutual friend’s wedding, and they generously loaned us all the suits for this shoot. And the absurdity sort of unfolded from there. But if you don’t have a professional photo studio in your house, that doesn’t mean you can’t still have just as much fun as we did and get kick-ass holiday cards at the same time. Here are few of my best pro photographer holiday card photo ideas making the most of yours.

a dashing man poses towards the light

1. Wear something crazy or fun or that you just plain love.

I used to think that if we were going to get our holiday card picture taken, it should reflect who we are in everyday life. (Which is a totally valid option.) But then last year I said eff it and decided to use our holiday card as an excuse to wear a formal gown I’d bought on a whim with an expiring gift card. And surprise, it was way more fun to get our picture taken when we weren’t taking things so seriously. So wear a silly sweater, or that sequin dress you found at the thrift store, pretend to be a model, and have fun. (Hat-tip here to Michael, who is such a good sport. The man has been putting up with my themed nonsense since I made us go to homecoming ’02 in matching cowboy hats and bolo ties.)

an attractive couple pose together

2. Find a good wall.

Most holiday card designs look best with a minimal background. But you don’t need a professional photographer’s backdrop to make that happen. A simple white wall is often the best backdrop you’ll find. Just make sure to put a little space between you and the wall (to avoid lots of shadows) and leave lots of space at the top or bottom of your photo for holiday card overlay text.

a good looking man standing heroically

3. Download a photo editor.

If you’ve got a newer smartphone, you probably have a better camera than I had on my first DSLR. But you can improve the quality of your photos even more with some basic editing software. My favorite is VSCO, and I use the A6 minimal preset on pretty much everything. (It looks pretty similar to the photos you see here.)

a beautiful couple smile as confetti falls from the ceiling

4. Put some confetti on it.

Props are the easiest way to take a simple photo and make it 🎉. Two years ago Michael and I used smoke bombs for our holiday card (that I got for, like, $15 at a paintball supply store). But for something slightly less fire hazard-y, you can’t go wrong with confetti. Flutter confetti is especially great for photos because it falls to the floor more slowly (that’s what we used in our photos here).

behind the scenes photo of a family holiday card photoshoot

5. Don’t bring your giant dog.

They are the worst models. And they will try to eat your plastic snow.

So if you need an excuse for some frivolous fun or a last-minute holiday card solution (heck, even if you aren’t going to turn them into holiday cards—wedding website, anyone?), then throw on something you love, stand against a wall in your house (perchance with a glass bottle of champagne), and set your self-timer for confetti. That trifecta has never steered me wrong.

P.S. I want to see your holiday cards! Leave them in the comments for me?

Big thanks to The Black Tux, who supplied all the suits and tuxedos for our holiday cards this year. If you’re looking to rent formalwear for your wedding, they have amazing styles (including some, ahem, more normal looks than Michael’s), and their rentals start at just $95. Thank you The Black Tux for helping us make our holiday cards 💯.


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  • Amy March

    Omg that dog. How many APW kids can ride him at once?

    • Jessica

      I love the glitter collar she’s wearing

      • THANK YOU FOR NOTICING. (Yes, I totally bought it just for the shoot. I have no shame.)

        • Jessica

          That is a gift to your dog that keeps on giving.

          (Also where did you get it my dog *needs* one)

    • They have such a delightful relationship with her. Meg’s kids like to stand at a safe distance and throw treats at her, and she thinks it’s the best thing ever. Lincoln on the other hand gets a full tongue kiss every morning.

    • PAJane


    • suchbrightlights

      Right. Absolutely, #1 rule of taking a holiday card photo, BRING YOUR GIANT DOG.

  • penguin

    We’re doing a holiday card for the first time this year! Mostly as an excuse to send out a wedding photo of us (married this fall). I’m shopping Minted but having trouble picking out the right card and right photo(s). This is a good problem to have, but I want to get them ordered this week so we’re not sending them out in like February.

    • penguin

      Also I went back and looked at that past holiday cards post, and the smoke bomb picture is amazing.

    • Kara

      Though, if you can’t get them out by the end of the year, you can do a Happy 2018 card! Several of our friends do this because there’s just not enough time in December.

      • Sarah

        I’m trying to talk my husband into this and he says “looks like we just forgot/were to busy to do them right.” well, yes that is true! and getting fun January mail is awesome.

        • Kara

          Getting snail mail from friends/family is always a welcome sight in our home.
          Way more fun than bills and junk mail!

        • Send cards to celebrate the new year!

  • Sara

    I just completed my holiday card on Minted today (free shipping today!)! But mine is just a picture of my dog, in black and white to make him look classy. Maybe next year I can do formal gowns and get him a mini tux. Also, I’m turning into the crazy dog lady.

    • mjh

      Fantastic. He looks downright stately.

  • CMT

    I just sent out my Meowy Catsmas cards. This year there’s a picture of my cat next to last year’s Christmas tree, but it’s not my favorite. I’m going to have to do a Christmas-themed cat photo shoot this year.

  • Sarah

    Our picture if me, husband and toddler with Santa. Basic, but hey. Found some nice cards at Staples website. Any good ways to reduce red-eye with a free photo editing program?

  • Rose

    We didn’t have good photos of us again this year, so my wife did a drawing of the cats and then we used it in a design from minted. Splurged for foil! I love doing this (it’s pretty much what we did last year, too), but this post is also making me want to take awesome photos of ourselves. Although both of us are fairly awkward, so who knows if it would even turn out.

    • Jessica

      That’s super cute!

      • Rose

        Thanks! We had a big move this year, so cats in boxes seemed like an appropriate theme.

  • Sarah E

    +1 to a post full of real-life dapper men.

  • Jessica

    I’m commissioning a portrait of my dog, cat and myself with a banner that says “YAS QUEENS” and foliage around the banner. I don’t think it’s going to be done in time for a December send out date, but it will be a great “Let’s be grateful 2017 is over” card image in January.

    • ART

      I’m sending New Year’s cards! No reason they have to come by NYD, either. You can celebrate the start of a new year for…a while :)

    • mjh

      I remember you talking about the idea in another comments thread and me thinking it sounded great. Sending it out as a grateful 2017 is over card makes it all the better!

    • I had a birthday party in 2014 that was my “let’s be thankful I survived the hell of the previous 53 weeks. I’m all about celebrating moving on from awful years, and Jessica I hope your 2018 is full of good things.

  • Another Meg

    I put my kid in a cute outfit, laid him down on my sister’s kitchen floor, and she made faces at him while I snapped away. It got us this:

    • penguin

      This is the BEST card – he’s so cute and happy!!

  • PAJane

    Who wants to come over and take a picture of us with our super angry-looking cats?*They’ll be ten shades of ragey because they don’t like people who aren’t us, and they hate being held.

    • Eenie

      We had quite a bit of success with our two cats! I’m posting our end result here soon.

    • suchbrightlights

      I will come over with catnip and play with your cats until they are so tired of beating up on the toys and me that they fall asleep. Then, you artfully pose around your sleeping cats.

      • PAJane

        Excellent. How’s Thursday?

  • Kara
  • GCDC

    I’m a terrible photographer (and even worse as the subject of photography) so this question is very basic. But assuming you aren’t hiring a professional photographer every year, how do you take a picture of your family? Do you ask someone to come over and take the picture with your smart phone? Are there tripods for this? Also, how do you make sure the lighting works?

    • Sara

      My family props up a smart phone with a timer for the annual Christmas photo. Usually leaning against some sort of box, lol.

      • GCDC

        Now that I have realized my iphone has a timer, this seems much easier. Like I said – awful photographer. Even worse with lighting, so that question still exists.

        • Kate Bolen

          Lighting is definitely tricky! The easiest answer is natural light—going outside or sitting near a very bright window. Then the trick is to make sure the sun/light source is behind the camera or phone, not behind you.

          The other trick is what Maddie mentioned in the post—download an app with some preset filters. That can help if lighting isn’t perfect, but it’s best to start with decent lighting. Good luck!

    • Joby makes some gorilla pod tripods that would probably be good for this!

  • Olive

    We haven’t done photo holiday cards yet because my husband bought a ridiculous amount of meh holiday cards before we met and I feel the need to use them up before we have kids…booooooring.

    • ART

      (You can always donate them to a thrift shop? “Whoops, were they in THAT bag?”)

    • Jenny

      Oooh, another idea for getting rid of those meh holiday cards is to find an organization that sends holiday cards to (military, foster kids, families with kids in the hospital, some other cause that sounds good) and have a party where you eat cookies and drink holiday cocktails and write cards to send to that group!

      • Olive

        great idea!!!

  • NW

    My husband has used The Black Tux twice this year and he loves it! The fit is great and he gets everything he needs in one box!

  • savannnah

    We just got ours back from Minted and I love them! We got married in September so its an excuse to send out professional wedding pics and its our first time sending them out. It’s a little more fraught than I had expected since we are a in the process of turning us as a pretty non-religious couple into a Jewish family and while I wanted to steer clear of any #blessed #holynights #jingleballs green+red paraphernalia I also didn’t want to go straight fiddler on the roof either. Which probably means I picked something too subtle for anyone on my husband’s side to read as not a Christmas card and I’m probably overthinking it a lot anyway. But I like it and it makes me feel a little more grown up so that’s gonna be enough.

    • ssha

      Super classy multi-holiday card! Love it!

    • Zoya

      Such a pretty photo!

    • Angela’s Back

      I have this dilemma also, as a Jewish person sending Christmas cards to lots of Christmas-celebrating friends.. so I’ll be honest, every year I’m like I should just buy Hanukkah cards and send them out to make a point (because I love my friends, but most of them straight up send me Christmas cards and write happy holidays in there…), but in the end I always get generic “wintery” cards with snow and trees and such and roll with it.

      • penguin

        Yeah my husband is Jewish and I’m not, but his parents still celebrate Christmas and do some Jewish holidays (but not really Hanukkah). Some of his extended family is more Jewish and I’d feel weird sending them Christmas cards – so I think we’re going to get either holiday cards or winter-y cards and call it a day.

    • Lindsey d.

      Same. Every year, I filter out all the Merry Christmas and red and green options and got with your basic Happy Holidays.

    • Anna

      Late to the discussion, but my family’s solution to this dilemma has always been to send out New Year’s cards instead. Like, just avoid the whole Christmas thing altogether, plus get another couple weeks to throw something together. Doesn’t bring Chanukah to the forefront or anything, sure, but Chanukah is such a minor Jewish holiday anyway (this is my axe to grind recently; I figure it’s a better use of my pedantry than getting annoyed at the idea that an enormous Christmas tree plus a six-inch-tall electric menorah = representation…).

  • ssha

    Y’all look bomb. *confetti emojis x 100*

  • Brynna
  • Capondoodle

    When we got our engagement pics, we knew exactly which one to put on our cards this year!

  • Eenie

    “Happy Mew Year”

    We were unable to finagle a picture that had a good amount of space for writing on the picture, but I’m pretty happy with this.
    Also, yes the photo above us is not straight. I wish I had realized that when we staged our house for the photo shoot.

    • suchbrightlights

      This is just excellent. Thank you for sharing. Which cat went under the bed?

      • Eenie

        The orange one that looks like our hostage.

  • Lagaviota

    This is great, annnnd I mostly just wanted to get in there and squeal at this Old English Mastiff! What perfect dogs (minus the plastic snow eating, I suppose).

  • Adaire

    Hooray for public art! This mural is near our neighborhood in Boston, and it certainly seems merry and bright!

  • Selina De Luca
    • PAJane

      Ahhhhh, delightful. Excellent use of a Crazy Coup.

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  • Caitlin

    What are people’s thoughts on real card so vs ecards?

    Ive always been firmly a real cards person but having just come across the box containing our last 5 years of Christmas cards and realising that they need to be thrown out I am having some major environmental guilt (plus the money! We could have given it to a good cause, or just put it in our savings). Are ecards still enjoyed by people or does it need to be real to be enjoyed?

    • Amy March

      I think real cards are more special for sure, but if you don’t want to do them there’s certainly nothing wrong with ecards of no cards for that matter.

      • penguin

        One benefit of real cards is that people can put them up in their house if they want – my grandma would always put all the cards she received in one place, like on a door or a mantle. You could get cards that were recyclable if you wanted to reduce the environmental impact.

    • Kate Bolen

      No shame in ecards! I personally love sending physical cards, because I love receiving them. They’re like little gifts. I use them as decorations on the mantle or string of clothes pins throughout the holiday season. My aunt gets crafty and reuses the fronts of Christmas cards she’s received as gift tags. I can’t claim that I do that, but love the idea.

      Also, are those 5 years of extra/leftover unused cards? If so, your local thrift store might take them as donations for resale. Mine does. Or post them on freecycle or something. Doesn’t get you your money back, but at least they’re not going to the recycling plant/landfill.

  • I love all the holiday card posts because it’s a window on such a different culture to the UK. My mum used to get some from her American friends, and it was always so interesting seeing picture of people she knew (like they were famous card models or something!) and a newsletter about their lives (like they were famous celebrity people or something!). I assume she sent something longer back to them than she did to fellow UK friends (who exchange generic cards, maybe with a sentence in to personalise it, or a photo of the kids slipped inside if we were related to them), but I don’t know.

    • This is interesting to me, because the only reliable newsletter about lives that we get (in the US) comes from our UK cousins. Admittedly, they have like 8 kids maybe? (maybe more?) so for a long time it was just announcing new kids, but like, this is a legit newsletter–2 pages double sided with associated pictures. I don’t know if they send it to local people though, or if it was just something that they started before e-mail so they figured they might as well get their money’s worth on that international postage and send everything out at once. Mostly we get photo-collage cards at Christmas, a couple people will send us paper cards with just pictures on it (2 of our single friends do, they also write a fairly long note).

  • louise danger

    I’m a fuddy-duddy who doesn’t send photo cards, but I get mine from the Met Store and part of the $$ goes back to funding their programs, which is A+. This year’s edition was two cards by the same artist, Eyvind Earle, aka the wizard responsible for the backgrounds and scenic look-feel of Sleeping Beauty: (the churchy one) (the non-churchy one)

  • During our family photo shoot, #BabyPi – who normally loves the camera – refused to smile in any of the family shots. But when she was solo? Oh she turned it on for the camera! So our holiday card this year includes a photo of the 3 of us, with my child scowling, and then a photo on the back of her with a big smile. I’m sure everyone is going to wonder what we did to the baby!

  • kayceeee

    I send out cards every year, but since we got married in October I figured I might as well put them to use. I love love love this photo so figured I’d go with it : )

  • Liz

    HELLO SILVER SEQUIN DRESS. First of all, you look AMAZING. COMPLETELY AMAZING. Second, please spill the beans on designer/link? This year, I think I need it.

    • The silver sequin dress was from Asos! Last year, though. But Badgley Mischka makes some super stunning ones (and you can also rent them from RTR.)

      • Liz

        Thank you!

  • Lindsey d.
  • Erin

    Such beautiful staff & families! Love the confetti tip. We did professional photos for our cards, but my 1 year old was more reserved with the photographer than with us. So, I think we might need more DIY family photos.

  • AGCourtney

    How did I miss this post? Last year we started a tradition of using photos from the renaissance festival.

  • Brittany Means

    This isn’t mine, but two friends sent this out a few years back and it’s now my life goals:

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  • dave