5 Tips for Creating the Perfect Family Portraits

Sending holiday cards is one of my favorite seasonal activities, and creating a complementary palette is half the fun when it comes to that perfect family portrait.

Growing up, I used to be in charge of sending out our family cards (okay, probably a task I assigned to myself, but still…), and it’s one that I’ve continued since Arnie and I got married (three!) years ago. He admitted that he actually looks forward to having our pictures taken (it helps that our friends at Adliv are so much fun) each year.

This year, we were able to get everyone together for a family portrait while on our vacation to Deep Creek, and I thought I would share a few shots, along with 5 tips for creating the perfect holiday portrait.

Whether you’re hiring a professional, setting up a tripod, or just enlisting the help of a friend, taking a beautiful family photo does not have to be a stressful occasion. And who doesn’t love receiving a festive card this time of year?

All you need to do is..

Determine a Color Palette.

As much as my siblings want to kill me when I send out the “approved” color palette, it makes the biggest difference in terms of how well the final product looks.

I have a few general rules when it comes to determining a palette, the first of which is to consider your background. If you’re taking photos outdoors, or in the summertime, odds are there will be a lot of greenery around you. When that is the case, I recommend avoiding color palettes that include the color green. What tends to happen is people blend into the background, and the photo ends up looking flat.

In general, and especially for holiday cards, I opt for photos with neutral or deep reds. The red will pop against any greenery, and most everyone has greys, tans, and browns in their wardrobe.

Color palettes with blues is usually a good option because it invites in denim as an acceptable option (and who doesn’t want to wear jeans?!).

Coming up with a color palette on your own can be tricky, unless you have an eye for design. I usually take the easy way out and just search Pinterest for “holiday color palette” or “fall color palette,” and choose a pre-selected set of colors.

(The color palette for our family’s holiday photos.)

Coordinate Outfits Between Families and/or Couples

Once you’ve determined the established color palette, the next step is to coordinate within each family or couple.

If you’re taking an extended family portrait, then odds are you’ll also want photos with just your immediate family, too (might as well take advantage of getting all dressed up), so it’s important to coordinate each family member’s outfit together.

Generally, you want to create balance: don’t place two people wearing a navy shirt next to each other, do pair a plaid next to a solid, do place a lighter color beside a darker color.

Every outfit should be intentional and thought out. I recommend laying the outfits on the bed next to each other to get a visual of whether the looks work well together. As long as you’re in the same color palette, and maintain balance between each family member, you’re halfway to creating the perfect portrait before you ever step in front of the camera!

Don’t Over Do It

When it comes to accessorizing in a large family portrait, simple is best. Avoid layering too much jewelry, or adding a ton of scarves, boots or hair accessories. Layer a few flatting clothing items, and go minimal on other accessories. If he’s wearing a scarf, give her a small necklace, or if she’s wearing statement earrings, avoid other chunky necklaces/scarves or hair accessories.

Bottom line: you want the family to be the focal point, not the accessories!

Place Family Members According to Height

Once the day comes for your family portrait, the biggest task will be placing each individual or family.

Here’s my general outline for placing families:

  • Place mom/dad, grandma/grandpa in the middle of the photo.
  • Place the family with the tallest male (or the tallest individual) immediately next to the parents.
  • Place husbands/men in the back row and women in the front row.
  • Have moms hold younger babies.
  • Have dads hold older children/babies.
  • Have children who are hip-height or taller stand in front of their tallest parent.

Keep Hands Busy!

No one wants to get their family photo back and realize they are the person standing there, hands to their side, looking awkward and uncomfortable. Once of the easiest ways to create a natural looking photo, is to occupy everyone’s hands.

For her: hold on to her husband’s arm, or have him wrap his arms around her with her hand on his hands.

For him: have him put his hands in his pockets, around her waist, or holding hands with little ones. (I made my brother’s put their arms around each other here, so we all really look like we like each other. 🙂 )

For little ones: hold mom or dad’s hands, fold their hands in their lap/behind their back, or hold onto a coat or jacket.

And that’s that. Those are my 5 go-to tips when having my own photos taken, or when I’m the photographer on the other side of the lens (I’m sharing my holiday mini sessions over here on instagram, in case you missed them. And if you’re a Pittsburgh native looking for a photographer, you can contact me here for sessions!)

What are your go-to tips for creating the perfect holiday portrait?


I'm Lauren, a wife, mom, and corporate manager turned entrepreneur. I'm obsessed with organization, love a great vintage mid-century find, and only cook no-fuss meals that take under 30 minutes. In a world of excess, I'm doing what I can to have less and enjoy the simple parts of life. If you're a modern woman who wants a simplified, yet beautiful, life, you have come to the right place. This blog is meant to inspire you, the modern woman, to have a "fewer, better" mentality, and to live with style in all areas of your life.

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