5 steps to picture-perfect christmas morning photos

(While still being in the moment)

If you have ever struggled to take good pictures on Christmas morning, you are in the right place.  This is far and away my favorite way to photograph our family on Christmas morning.  It allows me to get great pictures of our whole morning, as well as any key exciting moments, while still being right in the middle of the action and present for my kids.

The key is a little set up time.  I always do this the night before (because my brain is not functioning yet when my kids wake us up for Christmas morning!) to make sure I get it right.

Photograph of young boy opening presents on Christmas morning

1.  find your angle

Step one is to find the best angle to capture the most action. Walk around the spot where you will be opening presents Christmas morning, and pick the angle from which you are most likely to get to see people’s faces. 

A few tips for this… kids are most likely to be sitting in front of the tree, but facing away from it to open gifts and/or show parents and family what they have discovered. 

I’ve tried a number of different angles, and found the best one is a view that points right between where my husband and I curl up on the couch, and the kids sit on the floor in front of the tree.  If you and your kids typically face each other (more or less, let’s face it they move A LOT!), shooting straight through the gap is usually a good bet for great pictures.

1.  secure spot for your camera

Once you know from what direction you want to shoot, you can set up your camera there.  If you have a tripod, this is the time to pull it out.  If not, find any piece of furniture in your home that is stable, preferably with a small footprint so it less likely to be in the way. 

Things that work well include bar stools, kitchen counters, or shelves of nearby bookcases or built-ins.

3.  lighting

Your best bet for good shots really is great lighting. Plan to make your room as bright and cheerful as possible.  This will give your camera the best chance at being able to use a fast enough shutter speed to catch your quickly moving kids.

“The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree:  the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.”

-Burton Hills

4.  camera settings

If you have the ability to set your camera settings, here’s a starting place I recommend:

  • Aperture (also f/stop): Set to between 5-8, depending on how bright your room is.  Higher if your room is bright enough… more of your image will be in focus, as opposed to a lower aperture.
  • ISO: I generally set this about half as high as it goes on my camera, but at least ISO 400 to let in a little more light.
  • Shutterspeed: To keep your kids from looking blurry from motion, you will want to be around 1/250th of a second (you camera might just say “250”).


Once you’ve set all that, take a test shot from your chosen angle, with all the lights on that you will use Christmas morning, and see if your image is lit correctly.  If not, you will need to change one of four things:

  • Add or move actual lighting in the room, for example turn on some table lamps or relocate a floor lamp to better light the “action zone.”
  • Aperture: Higher number for darker, lower number for brighter.
  • Shutter Speed: Higher number for darker, Lower number for brighter.

1.  go remote!

You are read for your last step: set your camera to take pictures remotely!

  • Using a Remote: If you have one, this is the best option in my opinion.  If you do not have a remote shutter release, check and see if your camera has a smart phone app that will let you take pictures on it through your phone.  If not, try the next option…
  • Timed Interval Setting:  While not all cameras have this option, it works great if yours does.  Set the timing for the camera to automatically release the shutter every 30-60 seconds (err on the side of smaller time gap if you are not sure).  Then just enjoy your morning and know your camera has your back!
  • Timer:  This is my least favorite, just because it requires you hit the shutter occasionally.  Which means you have to get up and walk over to the camera… not nearly as hands-off.  But in a pinch, this works too.  I recommend setting it for a 10-second delay, so you have time after you hit the shutter to get back in the picture.  Just don’t foget to hop up and hit it occasionally!

And that is it.  That is my formula for perfect Christmas pictures, while still being engaged and involved with your family.  Prepare to enjoy the best of both worlds… being present and in the moment with your family, AND having great pictures to look back at and remember it by.  Good luck, and I would love to hear how it goes.  You can contact me below with questions or to share your results!

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