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How to Take DIY Christmas Family Photos Around Your Tree

A step-by-step tutorial for taking DIY Christmas family photos by yourself that look dreamy and professional in front of your Christmas tree.

If you’re in a pinch, these tips for DIY Christmas family photos are the BEST for wrangling the kids for a sweet Christmas card pic right in your living room.

I’ve never really mentioned this here before, but for a few years in my early 20s, I was a family portrait photographer. Once Thanksgiving hit, I was cranking out Christmas family photos on the daily like there was no tomorrow.

toddler playing with Christmas ornaments

It was hard. But it taught me a lot of great tricks for getting great angles and sweet kids’ expressions (no matter their mood) in any camera, even a cell phone. 

If at some point this season when you’re gathered around your tree with loved ones, maybe these tips can help any of you wanting to capture the moment during your festivities.

How to Take DIY Christmas Photos Around Your Tree | A step-by-step tutorial for taking Christmas pictures of your family by yourself that look dreamy and professional. #christmasphotos #christmasportraits #christmaspictures #diyphotography #christmasphotography #howtotakephotos #christmaslights #takepicturesofchristmaslights

I rounded up Regan and Olivia for a quick DIY Christmas photo shoot, and (even though Regan was not having it) while I was at it, I took a picture of my setup to hopefully help some of you.

Whether you have a DSLR camera or a cell phone, this works!

How to Set Up Your Camera for Christmas Family Photos

(Some affiliate links are provided in this post for convenience. Full disclosure here.)

how to set up your camera for photos in front of a tree

1. Set up for perfect lighting.

I shoot only in natural light 99% of the time, so to avoid any weird hues on peoples’ faces in the photo, turn off all of the lights in the room except for the lights on the Christmas tree and sunlight streaming in from a window or open door.

Place the people in the photo between the Christmas tree and your natural light source so they will be lit from behind and in front.

Check out this super professional diagram I made so you see what I mean. Haha!

How to Take DIY Christmas Photos Around Your Tree | A step-by-step tutorial for taking Christmas pictures of your family by yourself that look dreamy and professional. #christmasphotos #christmasportraits #christmaspictures #diyphotography #christmasphotography #howtotakephotos #christmaslights #takepicturesofchristmaslights

Whatever works. 😉

Important: NEVER use a flash… it will destroy that dreamy glow from the tree.

If your Christmas tree is in a room that doesn’t get any natural light, you can opt to shoot using just the tree lights and a small lamp opposite from the people in your picture to get just enough light on their faces to make them show up in the photo without being too bright.

how to take your own christmas family photos in front of your tree

Another good way to get good lighting on faces, especially with kids, is to have your subjects lie down facing up under the tree and shooting over top of them to allow the glow of the Christmas lights to illuminate them evenly.

christmas kids photos in a DIY photoshoot

2. Frame your subject.

Always try to shoot at eye level with your subject. So if you’re shooting kids, squat or sit down so that their faces are the same height as your camera lens.

framing family photos beside a tree

3. Use these camera settings for your Christmas family photos.

If you are shooting with a DSLR, be sure to switch your dial to manual mode.

Aperture – Set your aperture (f/) to the lowest setting your lens will allow for that dreamy, blurry effect. I set my lens at f/2.0, but if your lens doesn’t go that low, just opt for the smallest number it will allow.

Shutter speed – Next, set your shutter speed to 1/200 or higher. Any less than that (especially with kids) will make the people in your photo look blurry, if they move.

ISO – Now that you have those two settings, you can adjust your ISO depending on how much light you need. The higher your crank your ISO number, the more grainy your photo will look, but a higher ISO will let in more light and create a brighter photo.

White balance – For white balance, set it to auto since it will give you a “best guess” for your photo’s coloring.

(If you only have a cell phone, you can get the VSCO app to use these settings on an iPhone or an Android too. It does cost about $20 per year, but there is a free trial you can use and just delete the app after you’ve taken your photos.)

How to Take DIY Christmas Photos Around Your Tree | A step-by-step tutorial for taking Christmas pictures of your family by yourself that look dreamy and professional. #christmasphotos #christmasportraits #christmaspictures #diyphotography #christmasphotography #howtotakephotos #christmaslights #takepicturesofchristmaslights

4. Focus on your subjects.

Because you’re shooting at a wide (low number) aperture, it will cause a blurry effect in your background and Christmas lights will have that dreamy, soft look. But that makes it even more important to make sure you’re focusing on your subjects’ faces so they appear sharp.

If you’re shooting on a DSLR, you can set your focus point to do this.

If you’re shooting on a cell phone, tap on the person’s face you’re shooting on your screen to set the focus.

family Christmas photos in front of a tree

5. Tweak in edits to create dreamy Christmas family photos. (optional)

I use Adobe Lightroom for editing my photos on my iMac, but if you’re using a cell phone, you can use the VSCO app again for adjusting. There is also an Adobe Lightroom mobile app, if you prefer it, but VSCO is just as great.

The main thing I do to adjust my photos in editing is…

  • Increase exposure
  • Increase whites
  • Decrease highlights
  • Decrease shadows
  • Decrease blacks…

…to create a more evenly lit photo. But even without editing, your photos will likely have a soft, natural glow.

Like this…

how to take dreamy DIY Christmas family photos around your tree

If you want to know about any of the photography gear I use, I have a Canon 6D and a Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens, but really any basic DSLR can handle this and a cell phone can manage in a pinch.

I hope that helps! And I hope it allows you to capture precious moments with family and loved ones this season. Merry Christmas, y’all!

If you want to save this post for later or for next year, you can pin it here:

how to take dreamy DIY Christmas family photos around your tree


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  1. Beautiful pictures! Do you have any tips for a family of 6 with children ages 10-16? It’s hard to get everyone in the picture, and even more difficult getting that right arrangement to avoid looking stiff.

    1. Hi, Amy! Pictures are so tricky. I do not have any top tips to get the perfect picture. Getting the kids to cooperate is the hardest part.

  2. Darn! I wish I read this before I just bought presets from someone else. I would have much rather bought from you and used your method

  3. Lauren,
    These are beautiful photos of your two precious girls at Christmas. Thank you sharing detailed information about how to create photos around a Christmas tree.

    Merry Christmas,


  4. What beautiful photos of your babies! Merry Christmas and may you continue to have many blessings in the new year.

  5. Hey Lauren, love your pics, the children are ssoooo cute, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas!!! In Christ Pat Davis

  6. Absolutely love the pics you’ve shared with us of your children, they are beautiful. Thank you SO much for the photography tips, I feel sure they will help a lot.

    Best wishes for a wonderful Christmas
    Judi in the UK

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