Love a good holiday photo of your family and your dog? I love seeing how all my friends and family’s Christmas cards bring the yuletide to life. And it’s easier than you think to take your own Christmas photos with some simple prep work.

It’s never too late or too early to take some great holiday photos with your dog. So many of us have crazy-busy schedules and it can seem overwhelming to know where to start. How do people get these Instagram-worthy holiday photos?

Woman holding a Christmas present opening a white door with her dog.
Woman wearing a red scarf holding a Christmas present in front of a brick building.

You’ve got choices and here are three of them:

  1. Schedule an in-studio photo session. Quick and easy; if you’ve a busy lifestyle, this might be the best option.
  2. Book a professional photographer to shoot on location. Everyone deserves to experience this luxury at least once. Promise me you’ll do this someday! Choose a photographer who also knows how to get the most out of your pets (and kids!)
  3. Ask a friend or relative to take photos for you. You do the legwork and set up, they make sure you’re in focus, help you adjust your pose and push the button.

OR…

Grab your camera, use a little ingenuity and take the photos yourself.

Yes, it can be done. With the right preparation, you’ll have photos that capture the real you and express your individuality.

You can use your cell phone, a point-and-shoot camera or your DSLR – and as long as you have a tripod and a remote shutter release and/or self-timer, you can join your dog in the photo.

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We’re not going to get into the technical aspects of photography or the post-process editing. Practice at home with your self-timer to get the feel of setting up a shot, focusing on the subject and then making the mad dash to get in the frame before the timer ends. Also be sure and set your camera to take multiple shots at intervals to give you time to readjust.

We’ll be focusing on choosing a great outdoor location and props (easier than you think) and giving you a cheat sheet to set up your photo shoot like a professional.

Why Outdoors?

Being in the great wide open is a natural for you and your dog. Lots of space gives you lots of freedom to try fun new options when it come to composing your photos. Lighting is not an issue. Plus you’ll have lots of area to spread out and stretch those legs in between shots.

Timing is Everything

Fall is a great backdrop for holiday photos. Tall grass, hay bales, falling leaves make beautiful images.

Couple with their two dogs in a fall scene.
Image courtesy of Music City Merles. Follow along on their Instagram!

But if you want things to look a bit more wintery, the last of November/early December gives just the right feel. Depending on where you live, the wait may be worth it if snow is in the forecast. Even with no snow, bare trees give a great wintery look.

Border collie in a pine forest
Border collie in  a snowy pine forest.
Images courtesy of the talented Ashton Bemis and Chess on Chairs.

Time of day is important. Early morning sunlight is fresh and cool. Late afternoon offers the Golden Hour for warmly lit outdoor portraits. Avoid sunny, bright days and the overhead sun. If a sunny day is your only option, try to photograph in the shade. Cloudy, overcast days are perfect and really lend the right atmosphere to Christmas photos.

It may not be an option, but try and schedule your photo shoot on a weekday to avoid crowds if you’re shooting in a public location.

Location, Location, Location

So many places! And you may not have to look further than your own backyard.

Take a day to scout for the perfect location. Visit during the time of day you plan to take the photos so you know what the lighting, shadows and crowd-level will be like. Remember, you’re not looking for epic scenery. You want a background that doesn’t distract from the focal point – you and your dog.

It’s easy to be tempted by a place to shoot with holiday decorations in the background. Be careful all those color and shapes don’t add too much busyness to a photo. Especially in a public location, you may be fighting the crowds to get a shot without other people in the background.

Try and keep your photo shoot close to home. If you’ve decided to hike to a location, make sure it’s not too far to cart your equipment, props and any changes of clothing.

Woman with her two huskies in plaid shirts holding paws in the woods
Woman and her two huskies in red plaid shirts.
Image courtesy of The Hiking Huskies

Look at public parks, historic markers, college campuses, Christmas tree farms, hiking trails, town squares. Some locations, like tree farms, may have a photography fee – even for amateur photographers. Be sure and call before you arrive to make sure you know the requirements. Many times, you may know of a perfect location that is privately owned. Be certain and contact the landowner for permission to enter their property. Most people are happy to oblige.

Great outdoor locations can include:

  • Walls and fences
  • Barns
  • Pine trees
  • Brick walls
  • Doors
  • VERY large Christmas trees
  • Historic buildings
  • Stairs
  • Porches
  • Snow fields
  • Stacked wood piles
  • Outdoor fireplaces
Dog in red Christmas sweater sitting on an antique tractor.
Photo courtesy of Abby Chesnut at The Chesnut Mutts
Woman with her wolfdog in front of a barn with mistletoe and bells
Image courtesy of Wilding Wanders

What if you want to do an epic shot of incredible scenery or a downtown shoot to showcase your city?

You can totally do that. Just make sure you have a friend or professional photographer along to take the photos – especially with your dog or children. You don’t want to be setting up a camera and then running to jump in the frame in heavily trafficked or potentially dangerous situations. Keep an eye on your camera and equipment if you’ve chosen a popular tourist location. My camera bag almost ‘walked off’ the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge in downtown Nashville while doing a photo shoot.

If you need or want to take your photos indoors, remember to get in close to your subjects. Try pajamas by the fireplace, overhead shot of kids and dogs on the floor surrounded by wrapped presents or place your dog far away from of the Christmas tree for those softly out-of-focus (bokeh) lights in the background. Nice article to help you make the most of Christmas lights photography.

Dog in front of outdoor Christmas tree

Who’s in the Photo?

Kids, partner, dogs? You’ll need to plan ahead depending on who you’ll be photographing.

Children are happiest to pose for photos when they are full of energy and full of food. On the opposite end of the scale is your dog. You want your doggo slightly tired so they’ll sit still for a photo and a bit hungry so yummy treats work to capture their attention.

Plan to photograph your kids first – by themselves and/or with the dog. Then add in the whole family. Next come the adults by themselves. Finally, focus on your best four-legged friend.

Wardrobe and Props

Ahh, the great Holiday Photo Debate: matching outfits or coordinated clothing choices for a great photo???

If matching is your thing – go for it! If not, consider your shooting location. Choose outfits that incorporate the feel of the background. Muted woodlands call for muted clothing scheme. For bolder geometric lines or solid color backgrounds, you can choose bolder colors. Stick with solid colors for the major pieces and layer with plaids and stripes, etc, for extra depth.

Don’t forget your dog! Holiday bandanas or colorful collars can add extra pop.

Dog in Santa costume
Image courtesy of SkyeBearK

Still concerned your photos won’t look Christmas-y enough? You can always add a prop or two to give your photos a holiday feel. Candy canes, wrapped presents, a clever painted sign, red hats and mittens, plaid blanket, etc. can easily bring out the yuletide spirit. A lightweight chair or child’s wagon always give you more options for poses.

Try placing your small dog in a stocking or gift box. If your larger dog will allow, have him don a Santa hat or scarf.

Shot List

One of the most essential things to ensure a great photo shoot is to put together a shot list. Professional photographers use these to help track and remember the poses and scenes they want to capture.

Taking a peek on Pinterest will inspire you with ideas for poses or scenes. Compile a checklist or spreadsheet to take with you on your shoot. Make note of what clothing and/or props are needed for each shot. Depending on where you live, you can plan for chilly, wintery snow scenes. Live somewhere warm and tropical? Make the most of it with holiday-inspired warm-weather clothes (on the beach, maybe?) geared to your part of the country.

Finally, set a time frame for the photo shoot. Limit yourself to an hour. Seriously. With a shot list and prep work, you can get a lot of photos in an hour’s time. If you go longer, you risk cranky kids, bored partners and dogs who just want to bug out and play.

To help you decide what is do-able, practice a few quick shots at home.

Think Outside the Photo Frame

Let your own individuality shine through. You don’t necessarily need to have posed, smile-at-the-camera photos for your holiday cards.

Set a scene.

Woman and her dog with a Christmas package walking in snowy grass by a brick building while taking her own Christmas photo

More importantly, let your dog’s personality show. Got an agility star on your hands? Try a photo of him jumping over a Christmas banner. Dog who likes to play? How about a shot of your dog tugging on a huge candy cane chew toy while you and the family tug back?

Australian Shepherd jumping over a sign that says Ho Ho Ho while taking your own Christmas photos

Your kids will probably come up with more ideas for photos than we could ever imagine. Round ‘em up, ask their advice and write down the possibilities.

Got Littles and Dogs? Don’t Expect Perfection!

Expect fun! Expect spontaneity! Expect ‘this is our life’ photos that tell the real story.

Girl with a red package and her dog both making mean faces while taking your own Christmas photos.
Grinches! Even outtakes are fun.

If you get the Holy Grail of Photos (all adults, kids and dog looking at the camera at the same time) I bow to your expertise!!

Be Prepared to Edit

It goes without saying, but you can take almost any photo and make it better with a crafty bit of editing. Not sure how to do it? See if you have a friend who’d love to help. Or consider hiring someone to edit your photos from a service like Fiverr.

Quick Tips:

  • If you’re using a self-timer, no one will be behind the camera to capture your dog’s attention. That can be okay… if you let it. Otherwise, you could download an app for your phone (like PetSnap) to generate an attention-getting noise. Set on top your camera.
  • Fix those closed eyes and forgotten smiles with the magic of editing. Make sure you take multiple images of the same shot so you have choices.
  • Keeping your dog and yourself on the same plane will allow for more crisp focus. The eyes are the focal point. Your dog’s eyes and yours should be equal distance from the camera. Yep, it doesn’t work well in group photos, but try and utilize that for your close-ups.
  • Do you wear makeup? Wear even MORE for photos. Cameras tend to wash us out.

Here’s our handy-dandy Cheat Sheet to help you plan for your Holiday photo shoot. Just download, print and take with you on location!

Remember – keeping it simple is the key to taking your own Christmas photos. Be easy and just let the joy and love shine through. It’s the Holiday Season.

Pin to your favorite Pinterest Board to keep these tips handy.

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