Guest Blog: Even professionals have a hard time nailing that holiday card photo.

Last weekend, my family and I went on our annual expedition to take the perfect holiday card photo. This is a something I take super seriously: in the past, we have planned out the kids outfits, scouted the perfect locations… the whole bit. For last year’s card, we even made and styled a snow woman in the background:


This year, we’re working with three children for the first time, and things aren’t that easy anymore. Simply getting out of the apartment is a task to be proud of. Getting out with a shoe and a sock on all feet is a major win. So while I tried picking out the kids outfits for them, I had to settle for them wearing shoes (any shoes!) and the clothes of their choice.  

Pro lesson one: Be willing to let go of what you envisioned. Their cute smiles will speak for themselves (or so we can all hope!).

We walked down to our favorite park at the Seaport in Manhattan and figured we’d let the kids play and then shoot the picture. Plan going well! Until it started raining.

Pro lesson two: Check the weather before setting out. You definitely don’t want rain, but bright sun isn’t ideal either because your little one will be squinting.   

The good news was it wasn’t hard rain, and the kids didn’t care. We soldiered on!

At the park we love, there’s a bright red tower the kids love to climb that’s also well suited for a card background. I always tell clients to keep the background as clean as possible, so putting type around the cuties on their cards won’t be an issue.  

Pro lesson three: Find a simple, bright background that leaves room for a holiday message.

I plopped down Raphael (age four) and Charlie (nine months) in front my perfect background while Gus (age three) was careening down the slide, head first, at 50 miles an hour. This gave me a chance to test the lighting and my camera settings.

I could definitely work with these two, cooperating and hamming it up. The problem was going to be Gus. How to get him off the slide?  


Pro lesson four: Be prepared with bribes! Most kids simply can’t sit still for a photo shoot. Rewarding them for cooperating makes it 100x easier for mom and dad.

But sometimes ever bribes aren’t enough. Gus is coming in the next photo, but note his ill-fitting outfit. Note his expression. Note everything. This is my Gus, otherwise known as crazypants GUSMAN.




Yup, he’s doing the head shake now.


Even baby Charlie thinks he’s crazy…  WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO?!?


Back to pro lesson one, again! Not everything will go according to plan. Roll with the punches, and embrace what you’ve got.


That’s it, folks! As soon as the shutter clicked on this shot, Gus was off… back on the slide, head first, as on-lookers gasped.

I decided I love this last picture, and there’s a good strong chance it will make the cut for our holiday card. These are my kids. Holiday cards don’t need to be picture perfect; they’re a snapshot of your family. And in our family, Charlie likes her binky, Gus is nuts, and Raphael is four. I can’t help but laugh out loud every time I look at this picture (note Raphael’s fly is down). These are my kids. They are goofballs, and I love them, and if I made them look perfect it would be weird.

And I know that when all my friends and family get our card, they’ll laugh out loud too.

Lara Levine is an all-around pro: she’s served as a contributing photo editor at Town & CountryOprah, and Real Simple, and most recently, she ran the photography department at Baby TalkFirst Months, and Mom-to-Be. But she’s also honed her baby-photographing chops as a mom of three. You can see more of her work at

Jessica Solloway

Mom to a 1-year old, Itsy Bitsy Spider re-enactor, weeSpring editor.

You may also like...

1 Response

  1. December 13, 2013

    […] that I’ve let you guys in on the madness of my holiday family photo shoot, I’d like to share with you what a typical professional shoot is really about … one […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *