It’s the festive season once again — time for celebrating and for taking lots of family holiday photos. Whether you want to send a quick holiday card (or a photo gift), share cheer with friends on social media, or just preserve memories you’ll cherish forever, we’ve got you covered. 

This year, capture better, more relaxed, and joyful pictures with these quick and simple tips from Boulder, Colo.-based photographer Cary Jobe.

1. Grab a photo-savvy friend — or set up a tripod.

If you have a willing friend who’s available for your shoot, that’s wonderful. Otherwise, a simple tripod is a useful tool to get great group pictures. This affordable model comes with a bluetooth remote for cameras, iPhones, and Android phones. If you have a digital camera, use it. But your phone camera is more than good enough. Take full advantage of whatever equipment you’re comfortable working with.


2. Use your phone’s portrait mode, or shallow depth of field on your camera.

If you’re shooting one person at a time (or a pet, holiday decorations, or cookies), Portrait mode is a game changer. Available on iPhones and most Android phones, Portrait mode works partly by softening focus in the background — mimicking a shallow depth of field (low aperture setting) in cameras — to highlight people and faces.

Portrait mode has cool lighting features you can play with, or add during the photo-editing process to make your best shots look even more professional. Here’s how to use iPhones’ Natural Light, Studio Light, and Contour Light modes.


3. Take advantage of natural light.

Outdoor settings: The best time of day to take photos outdoors is during the morning or late afternoon. The so-called `golden hour’ (the first hour after sunrise and the last hour of light before sunset) earned its reputation for a reason. Avoid midday (anything close to noon) at all costs. 

Position your subjects in the shade, with no sneaky rays of sunshine or shadow hitting awkwardly across anyone’s body or face, Jobe recommends. The sun should be in front of the people you’re shooting, not lighting them from behind. To avoid squinting expressions, ask your group to angle their bodies slightly away from the direct sunlight.

And if there’s no sun on photo day, no problem. You may be surprised to learn that overcast weather is actually the most reliably flattering light for photos.

Taking photos inside? Schedule your session during the daytime and set up the tripod or position the photographer in front of a window. Position your family members in front of the camera or photographer, facing the window. Natural light is always better than trying to set up a makeshift studio lighting in your living room, says Jobe.

Shooting photos at a holiday gathering with a camera? Keep your flash balanced with the ambient light of your surroundings, recommends Daniel J. Cox, a renowned nature photographer, cofounder of Natural Exposures photo tours, and longtime Mylio user. I typically use ISO400 with a shutter speed of about 1/15th of a second with the flash attached and set for long exposure. The flash will stop any movement in your subjects or from your camera but the slower shutter speed allows you to capture the beautiful, warm ambient light.”


“Capturing family moments like this of my sister Suzy on the right and her dear friend Lisa on the left, are always more pleasing with light that isn’t harsh like a normal flash,” he said.

4. Coordinate your look: Solid colors, casual or fancy dress.

Though your people may complain, it’s wise to decide beforehand what everyone will be wearing. After all, this special occasion gathering will be immortalized forever, so it’s worth some effort to be in sync. If everyone’s planning to wear a certain color (red, green, neutrals), solids are best; avoid stripes or patterns. You can also specify dressing up or down.

5. Pay attention to the camera angle.

The angle you choose can make or break any photo. If you’re shooting one or two people at a time, hold your phone or camera higher up for more flattering pictures — goodbye double chin! For group photos, straight-on, eye-level shooting can have the most powerful effect.

6. Get creative with poses and have fun!

Experiment with having your group sit and stand, then have some people do each. You can even play with depth of field, asking one or two to be closer to your lens.

Here’s a great ice breaker: Set your camera to take 20 photos every 3-5 seconds. There are also self-timer apps (here’s one for iPhones), or you can use a wireless remote with your tripod. Then, prompt everyone to smile or mug or strike silly poses or stare at each other or touch or hug each other each time the shutter clicks. The most candid moments sometimes end up being the best of the bunch.

Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by the massive number of photos you’ve taken over the years? Mylio is the only photo manager where you can edit, organize, sync, and protect a lifetime of photos and videos – keeping your files private on all of your own devices. Try it for free today – download the app.