Wednesday, November 11, 2020

DIY: How to make professional looking holiday cards all by yourself.

After going to a professional photographer for holiday photos year after year, I finally decided to call it quits.  It wasn't just one thing.  There were several things that made me finally quit the bad habit.

There's the session fee per person or if you're lucky, per family.  There's the rushed time slot that results in forced and unnatural photos.  Then there's the feeling of obligation to purchase those photos that you're unhappy with because no one has time to do this again or money for more session fees.  Finally, there's the ridiculously HIGH price tag to purchase those photos and even higher prices to turn them into holiday cards.  After all that stress and money, then you wait a long time to get your personalized products.

Anyone else over all that?  I certainly am.  I'll just do it myself.

holiday cards at home

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How to make professional holiday cards.

Step one:  Decide what camera you will be using.

The year that we decided to quit the commercialized holiday picture gimmick, we decided to invest in a family gift.  We purchased a high quality camera for a great deal on Black Friday and put it under the Christmas tree with love, from Santa.  We calculated that after two years of skipping the professional photographer, that the camera will pay for more than itself.  We'll save money and have fabulous holiday cards like we hired a professional photographer!

We purchased a Canon EOS Rebel T7 + accessories.  Learn more about that camera here.  It takes crystal clear images.  Is super easy to use.  Connects to your phone and computer through wifi and has a fabulous shutter sound.  We've gotten countless gorgeous pictures from this camera and couldn't be happier with it.

If you're not looking to splurge for a new camera, that's totally OK.  It's a luxury and mostly unnecessary.  If you have a modern cell phone, chances are that you're able to take quality pictures right from your phone.

Step Two:  Make sure that you have good lighting.

You can set up the perfect scene and invest in the highest quality camera, but if you don't have the right lighting, it's all in vain.  Too much lighting is bad and too little lighting is almost worst.  Avoid setting up your space directly in front of a window.  Additionally, try to strategically position whatever lamps or lights you have so that the room is well lit without direct light.  Do take the time to snap a few test shots before setting up the scene to make sure that the space is bright enough with the perfect amount of light.  Also, be aware of shadows.  They can be sneaky and ruin your professional looking holiday cards!

If you're serious about this, you can try investing in a professional continuous lighting kit like this one, but I think it's unnecessary for once a year.  Unless you have kids, then maybe it is!  I mean think about it - birthdays, graduations, dance routines, etc.

Step Three:  Set up the perfect scene.

To make a professional holiday card you need to mimic a professional studio's scene.  Pick a space.  Clear out the furniture and transform it into a Winter wonderland.

If you have holiday lights, plug them in and display them strategically around the floor.  Find holiday themed props around your home and temporarily place them beautifully throughout your scene.  Gather a wooden bench or stool to use for the pictures.  Keep smaller props on hand like a pretty ornament or an antique looking book.  Get creative and create the picture perfect space, literally.

Take the time and money to invest in a back drop.  Some of my personal favorites that are under $25 are listed below.

After investing in a backdrop, it's important to remember that you will need a place to display it so that it looks natural and not like a crumpled drawing behind you.  This studio set is relatively inexpensive and easy to put together.  I recommend the set because this is an investment and something you'll be using for years to come.  If it's not something you want to commit to at this time, try these heavy duty clamps to use to hang the back drop on something you have in your home like maybe a banister.

Step Four:  Dress up for the event.

Take time to pick out the perfect outfit or two.  You're on your own time so do the wardrobe change!  Remember to coordinate outfits and colors with your family so you don't all clash.  Additionally, remember to coordinate with your scene.  You don't want to wear yellow with a red backdrop, unless ketchup and mustard is your thing.  Mismatched outfits could make would be an amateur holiday card FAIL!

Step Five:  Come prepared with poses but still take natural shots.

Have FUN with this!  Make it a day thing.  Research some of your favorite poses and then try to recreate them for the holiday cards, but also be natural.  It's a great idea to pick up your child and throw them in the air playfully so that you get that natural smile.  It's OK to wrap a little something and ask them to open it for another natural smile.  Maybe make a homemade cookie and have the whole family dunk it in a glass of milk.  Whatever the scene or idea, be creative and try to be natural.

If you're using a cell phone, be prepared with a phone stand like this one.  It's inexpensive and something you'll use a lot more than you think.  It's important to be prepared with this because you're going to want family pictures.  To do this, you'll have to set it up in the perfect spot with a timer.  This is the same thing if you're using a professional camera.  Invest in a stand if you didn't get the accessory kit and utilize the built in timer.  If you're extra lucky, ask a friend to come over and play photographer.  You can pay for their time with those milk and cookies.

Step Six:  Upload those pictures to a secured location.

Whenever I take pictures, I make sure to back them up with Google Photos.  It's completely free and unlimited storage for all of your media as long as you don't opt for special sizing or anything.  It's organized and fabulous.  You're welcome.  

Additionally, I upload those pictures directly to whatever platform I'm using to order the prints, photo book, cards, etc.  I'm emphasizing this because if you upload to one site and then re-upload to another, you're losing picture quality.  I've done this before so trust me.  Upload those pictures a second time directly to the site.  I always use Snapfish.  To do this easily, I keep the Snapfish app on my phone so I can upload phone photos directly to the site.

Step Seven:  Create or personalize the perfect holiday card.

I've used other brands in the past, but Snapfish is the best for quality and price.  You can use similar brands out there, but for me, this is the best one of all those choices.

They have a gigantic selection of cards of all different sizes, designs, shapes, and holidays.  You can select a design that you love and personalize it or you can create your own card from scratch.  I love the designs they have already made so I typically start with that and then make it my own, but this is YOUR card.  Do you because it will be fabulous!

Pick your favorite photos and commit to 3 or 4 to adorn your holiday card.  Place them where you want them to be.  Use the given greeting and saying or create your own and override what's there.  Don't forget to sign your name and to add your return address to the envelope.  It's super easy and actually a lot of fun to do.

While you're there, use Snapfish to order unbelievably inexpensive prints in all different sizes in higher quality than some professional photographers.  You can even do some editing like a professional direct on their site.  My absolute favorite part is that SnapFish ALWAYS has a deal going on.  

Chances are they'll have a deal for those holiday cards too.  To be honest, I don't think I ever paid full price for them.

Step Eight:  Mail your holiday cards out.

Make a night of it!  Pour yourself a good glass of Pinot Noir, play your favorite holiday playlist, and address those envelopes so that they're prepared for the post office in the AM.  You'll save crap tons of money, make some memories in the process, and be really glad you made you're own holiday cards this year!

Do you use a photographer?


  1. We don't have holiday photos at all here, my moma did not even take photos of me as a baby, I probably have about ten photos from two occasions in my childhood and that is it LOL And plus nobody sends postcards or greeting cards here anymore... I used to do it before, but not in a decade or two. Postage costs like hell here, it was cheaper before. I'm about to send my sweetest sister Theresa a Christmas package next week and I expect the postage will be about five times more expensive than the contents inside LOL Postage to America costs like one third of an average pension here, sadly. It is ridiculous.

    1. My grandfather was the photographer in my family, so we have plenty of pictures. The first year or so of Luciana's life, we didn't take much photos and it's one of my greatest regrets!! I have maybe 1 or 2 pictures of her before 6 months of age. That stinks about the postage! Hopefully she gets the package in time for Christmas. We sent my MIL a Christmas card to Cuba last year and she didn't get it until near Easter.

    2. I have to mail Dezzy's next week too or he won't get it until February. Customs likes to delay my stuff for some reason every year. And I agree about the postage costs being ridiculous to and from Europe. I swear it does cost more to ship than the contents are worth!

    3. I'm mailing yours on Monday, deary, I've stuffed it with sweets and I even found that Coffee Butter from Palmolive for you :) I imagine I will spend about an hour in the post filling in custom papers and such shit.

    4. I have one more thing for you, then it will be in the mail. I hope you're not in customs forever, too!

  2. We did our own photo cards for 24 years! It was just the kids, though. I remember it being VERY stressful before digital, when you had to develop the film and pray there was one good one! Also difficult to get 3 kids smiling at camera at once! Our best shots were always outdoors and using props.

    1. I remember that you shared your picture with me last year. :) I was so annoyed with last years experience, so hopefully we can have a good time doing it together this year. We got the camera for pennies on Cyber Monday so we're looking forward to trying it out for a real photo shoot this time. My only fear with the outdoors is that it looks like Autumn forever over here. Sometimes it doesn't look like Winter until just a few weeks before Christmas. Last year, it only snowed once, and it took til February!

    2. (I should knock on wood b/c now we'll get hit with 10 blizzards just b/c I said that. LOL)

  3. it looks really interesting:) follow:) hope U follow back:)

  4. I love that you do your own photos. That's awesome! What a great idea to throw your kid up in the air to get them to smile. I bet it's so much more relaxing and stress free to do them yourself than in a studio. Smart move!


    1. We've been doing them at JC Penny since I was a little kid. It's always a reasonable price and you get some great pictures. Last year was the final straw. The price was beyond ridiculous and the pictures sucked. Since then, we swore not to pay for them again. So we had "Santa" gift us a family gift of a good camera to do them ourselves. We took the camera with us on a trip and didn't get the best photos so we have to do a practice run with it since we clearly don't know how to work it well.

  5. Pffft timer. Uncle Pattie found a workaround for that and the kiddos like it too. hahaha

    Great tips indeed. And I'd rather do my own too. Snapfish has a great selection. Throwing one here in the air would freak him out lol the other would love it though.

    1. What is the work around?? This should be good.. lol!!

  6. I stopped doing professional photos when my oldest was like 2. I always hated staged photos. I do have a nice camera and do my friends and family pics for free. I set up the tripod for doing ours. You're right. Invest in a good camera instead of pro photos for a year or two and you've already made your money back!


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