Ten Things I Learned While Taking My Children’s Holiday Photos


Every year, I become excited about dressing my kids in festive clothing and capturing perfect holiday photos for our Christmas card.

You know exactly what I envision: my adorable little ‘elves’ smiling beautifully for the camera with neatly smoothed clothing and gleaming eyes.  Something straight out of a Pinterest page.  The type of holiday photos that make you go all gooey inside.

The last few years, my husband has actually taken some really adorable pictures of our children for our holiday card.  

However, instead of this process becoming easier as my children get older, it is getting harder.

You’d think this wouldn’t be so difficult!  My husband has great photography skills. I have much practice in making children laugh, smile and follow directions from my former career as a pediatric speech-language pathologist.  Parents tag teaming to encourage two kids to take ONE good picture out of many shouldn’t be all that problematic, right?

When we took this year’s pictures, my children were just shy of 5 and 2 years-old.  It was 63 degrees outside in November and I’d managed to put up some decorations to use as a backdrop.

photo decorations for our holiday photos

I even had a backup plan! I figured if having them stand in front of the decorations failed, we could have them sit in our rustic looking wooden Adirondack loveseat instead.

My husband and I felt prepared in every way. I was entirely determined to do the photoshoot on the day we chose, as the forecast warned that it would be the only day suitable for taking outdoor pictures with our children that week. I was also wanting to design our cards in time to purchase them on sale, which gave me less than 10 days. Grim determination plus Christmas lights are festive, right?

I cannot tell you how many pictures we took that day! We tried a first round on my husband’s camera, a second round on my phone, and then my husband attempted a third round on his camera again.

This is what I learned from this 45 minute ‘photo shoot’ (if you can even call it that).

1) Even if you stand in the shade, your child will probably still complain that the sun is in their eyes.

I promise the sun was being blocked by our house.  Also, said child had not complained any other time we had been outside earlier that day about the sun being too bright.

2) Don’t try to take pictures outside and expect your kids to look at the camera when your neighbor turns on their leaf blower.

Outside is a wonderful place to take pictures, except when there are major distractions. I have about ten pictures of my kids looking to the side, gazing off into the distance. Their expressions look as if a UFO just landed and they aren’t sure what to make of it.

3) When you say, ‘stand behind your sister and give her a hug from the back,’ your child may assume a choke hold on his younger sister.

I do not think I need to elaborate further.

4) If you are taking a picture of two children and one child is smiling and looking at the camera exactly as you want them to, the other child will be either pouting, covering their face, or ‘cheesing’.

I am entirely convinced this is some kind of scientific law. If one is lucky enough to take a picture of two smiling children in a staged picture, then the stars definitely must have aligned at just the right moment.

5) If you try to make your kids laugh by leaping in dramatic fashion behind your husband while he is trying to take the picture, your kids may stand up and try to copy you instead of just laughing or smiling at you.  

I cannot say this method is an entire failure. This strategy is usually the only way I get decent pictures of both my children on a good day. Actually, I am pretty sure that if you see one picture of my children in which they are both content, this was probably the method by which the picture was taken. However, my two year-old has recently entered the stage in which she copies EVERYTHING I say and do. After I used this ‘leaping diversion’ twice, she took it upon herself to start jumping. At this point, I prayed neither of them blinked in each of the pictures in which they were seated and laughing at my ridiculousness.

6) It is possible for a child to lose a shoe while their photo is taken.

The shoe in question was lost as a result of #5, after which, my independent child insisted on wiggling the shoe back on herself. Luckily, I was able to convince her after a minute that accepting my help was a good thing in this case. We were able to resume our photography session in a timely manner because I was not about to give up.

Shoes get lost while taking holiday photos

Photo credit: DDP

7) After your two year-old begins to tire of taking pictures, they will decide there are more pressing matters to discuss. For example, the existence and location of their belly button.  

Oh sweetie! It’s a cute belly button and I am glad it is still there! However, I’m more worried about seeing your beautiful, smiling face for 0.5 seconds while we snap this picture. Please?!

8) If your children decide they don’t want their picture taken anymore, even chocolate bribes won’t work.

I mentioned the word ‘chocolate’ and no one seemed to notice. It was the same reaction I would have gotten had I offered them tuna fish.

9) To toddlers, apparently benches are more comfortable to lie down on than to sit on.

This is a conclusion I came to as I reviewed the pictures on my phone, most of which contained one child lying down and one child slouching.

10) Giving your kids ‘props’ to look at may help them sit for a picture, but it will not help them look at you.

My kids love leaves, rocks, and acorns. I am not sure what the lasting fascination with these items is, but I attempted to use them to my advantage. The result? Pictures of them looking down at their laps at leaves, pictures of both with their face half covered by huge oak leaves, and pictures containing a child trying to exchange their leaf for another on the ground that ‘didn’t have a hole in it.’

As I write, I am realizing that I should share one more thing I learned with you.  I know in my title I said I would share ‘ten things’ I learned from this experience, but there is one more I just have to share.

11) Sometimes the most imperfect pictures are the most perfect ones because they are real.

My husband and I managed to get a couple of nice pictures after 45 minutes of me dancing, begging and pleading. However, my favorite photograph is probably the most imperfect of all. It depicts my son slouching to one side of the bench scowling, while my daughter is lying on her back on the opposite side of the bench, ankles propped up on the arm of the seat. It tells the true story of not only what that ‘photo session’ was like, but what having children is like. Oddly, this picture makes me smile the most out of all of them. It captures the frustration of a long day of parenting. It causes me to look back and giggle at my failed attempts, and also reflect on what I learned from the experience.

Isn’t this what I should be doing every day as a mother anyway? The photo is not only entertaining, but its underlying symbolism is a gift in my eyes.

Our family card may include multiple photos this year, but this one will be front and center.

What are some challenges you’ve encountered while trying to take holiday photos of your children? Do you have a favorite holiday photo? What are your tips and tricks for getting the best photo of your children?


  1. Haha, this is great! Thanks for writing. I still only have a 1 year old but now she can crawl… Good luck getting her to stay still for a staged photo!

    • Thank you for reading, Caroline! With a one year old, your fun is just beginning ;-). I’m sure you’re quickly learning to embrace the ‘imperfect’ pictures as much as you do the ‘perfect ones’. There is still hope, though! We managed to get some nice staged pictures of the kids despite all the shenanigans, it just took so much longer. Happy Holidays to you and your family!


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