How to take the perfect photo for your holiday cards

You don’t have to be a professional photographer to take a decent photo, whether it's for your Instagram page, business website or holiday card. Or, if you want to create a meaningful gift, consider using personal photos to make custom calendars and photo books.

These days, you don’t even need a fancy camera to snap a high-quality shot - all you need is your smartphone. Regardless of what type of equipment you’re working with, everyone can learn how to take the perfect photo using these pro-tips.

  • Plan the perfect time to shoot.
  • Think about composition.
  • Don't stress about smiles.
  • Shoot like a pro on the go.

Plan the perfect time to shoot.

Shoot outdoors if possible - natural light is easier to work with than artificial lighting equipment. Try to shoot your photos during one of nature's 'golden hours,' either an hour after sunrise or an hour before sunset. You’ll find that by taking photos at these times, the shadows are longer and less harsh due to the lower angle of the light. The warmer tones created by this low light make dawn or dusk popular times of day to shoot portraits, as the soft light is more flattering and won’t make people squint their eyes. And if you *can* only shoot during harsh sunlight hours, look for a shady spot.

Of course, it’s not always possible to shoot outside. If you are capturing photos indoors, never pose in front of a window, or make sure the light source isn't behind the subject. If your smartphone or camera has a flash, use it - bounce it over the ceiling or walls to create a softer light. If you don't have a flash, take advantage of any natural light you can by moving near a window.

Another indoor lighting trick is to have the light source come from the side of the subject - this can add some drama to your photo.

Think about composition.

Composition refers to the placement of subjects in a photo - it’s a good idea to visualize the final design before you start shooting. Think about how you're planning to use the photo and how you want your subjects to fill the frame. If you're shooting a photo for a holiday card, pick a card design you like beforehand so you can compose your shots accordingly and shoot with your final design in mind.

Remember to always keep the rule of thirds in mind - mentally divide your photo in three, and place your subject on one of the dividing lines. For example, if the selected card has text on the right, you can place your subject on the left side of the frame to make sure there’s plenty of space to add your message later.

Vistaprint Tip

If you plan to overlay your photo with text, make sure your background is either dark or light, with very little contrast. This will make the text stand out against your image.

Don’t stress about a smile.

Trying to crack a smile under pressure can be a challenge, especially when the subject is shy. Tell a joke or choose a familiar shooting location to make your subjects feel comfortable - this will help them relax and minimize awkward posing.

And never underestimate the candid moments, either, as these can seem more natural - especially if you're struggling to get a great shot of young children. Remy Van Donk, an Associate Creative Director at Vistaprint, suggests capturing genuine, natural moments instead of staging every shot. "During great and funny moments, shoot a lot of images, and pick the ones you like most later. These are the photos you'll want to see later, when your children are all grown up, rather than standard family portraits."

Serious shots with the subject looking at the camera can be powerful and are more appropriate for professional portraits - perfect for your LinkedIn or 'About' page.

Shoot like a pro on the go.

You don’t need an expensive SLR camera to start taking great holiday card pictures. If you're using a smartphone, you can still leverage some expert tips to make sure you capture the best shot possible. Remy adds that most iPhone cameras are powerful and cope exceptionally well with poor light conditions. "Learn how to use it - it's better than a DSLR camera, (unless you invest in a $2,000 lens)."

Follow these steps before you start shooting:

  • Before you begin shooting, clean your lens. (Check the manufacturer's guidelines for cleaning tips specific to your device!) This will help to achieve a crystal-clear photo.
  • If you’re deciding between a color or black and white photo, always shoot in color first. You can always change to a different filter later.
  • Get close to your subject. The more you zoom from afar, the lower the quality. So, step right up and shoot...but give yourself a little extra space if you need to crop later.

Vistaprint Tip

More tips from Remy, Vistaprint's in-house photography expert.

  1. Go low. Don’t shoot children from an overhead view. Instead, sit or lie down on the ground to capture them at an appropriate size.
  2. Separate your subjects from noisy and busy backgrounds. Move them closer towards the camera to create professional-looking images.
  3. Use simple backgrounds. A simple wall, a window, or an out-of-focus Christmas tree help to create great compositions.

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