It’s that time of the year—messages of season’s greetings fill up our boxes and feeds with photos of family portraits and everything red and green. Are you tired of the same ole’ holiday photos and looking for a new approach? If so, here are some useful tips on capturing joyful and festive images that stand apart from everyone else’s.

1. Use Christmas lights as a backdrop.

All you’ll need is a white sheet or wall, Christmas lights and any other add-ins that you deem of use, depending on how creative you want to get. For a studio setup, portrait photographer Lizvette Wreath recommends using painting canvases as reflectors, a big aperture such as f/1.8 and natural lighting. See her DIY photography project below that has gone viral on Pinterest:

5 Ways to Make Your Holiday Photos Stand Out(courtesy of Lizvette Wreath Photography)

Make your holiday party more fun with a custom made photo booth. We love the homemade backdrop and props used by The Little Style File (printer-friendly cutout props included).

5 Ways to Make Your Holiday Photos Stand Out(courtesy of The Little Style File)

2. Create custom bokeh.     

5 Ways to Make Your Holiday Photos Stand OutBokeh is Japanese for “blur” and is defined by the aesthetic quality of the out of focus lighting. To create bokeh orbs you will want your subject to be at a distance from the background. A large aperture around f/1.2-f/2.8 is desired (shoot in either manual or aperture priority mode).

While the shape of the orb is a result of the diaphragm blades in your lens, the size will vary depending on how far the subject is from the background and how open your aperture is.  If you experience trouble creating the effect, switch your lens from autofocus to manual to automatically make the light source out of focus.

For custom shaped bokeh:

Supplies you’ll need include black paper, tape, scissors and an X-acto knife (paper punchers work too). Trace around your lens to create a cutout that can be attached to your lens with tape or rubber bands. This is a great video that demonstrates how to accomplish the skill: How to: Shaped Bokeh

3. Opt for candid poses and natural lighting.

5 Ways to Make Your Holiday Photos Stand Out“Most family photo albums are a form of propaganda, where the family looks perfect and everyone is smiling: we try to create fabrications about who we are,” explains British documentary photographer and photojournalist, Martin Parr.

For portraiture, think about whether you want an action shot or for the subject to be posed. Be sure to take many shots to obtain a variety of images. “You have to overcome the feeling that it isn’t the right time to take a photograph if you want to get away from this version of the perfect, harmonious family. I would argue that the more valuable document is the honest one,” declares Parr

As for lighting, don’t use a flash indoors. Flashes will make the subject matter harsh, adding unwanted shadows to objects and often, red-eye to portraits.  Instead, shoot near a window where there’s natural sunlight. If it’s night time, illuminate the room by turning on certain lamps, candles and other mood lighting. When shooting outdoors you might find it appropriate to use a flash, however don’t forget to use a tripod for a sharper image!

4. Make photos look their best with image editing tools.

5 Ways to Make Your Holiday Photos Stand Out

  • Add a starburst or glow to Christmas lights with Topaz Star Effects.
  • Correct under or overexposed images with Topaz Adjust.
  • Use Topaz Clean to smooth out skin and remove blemishes.
  • For dull images, use the HSL feature in Topaz Clarity for selective color enhancements.
  • Add a stylized, color filter to your image with Topaz ReStyle. 
  • Use a bit of Topaz Detail for selective, creative and output sharpening.

5. Finalize your holiday photo with a custom made design.

Still haven’t sent out your holiday card to family and friends yet? It’s not too late! Rather than using a pre-made layout, optimize your holiday card with a homemade design by hand-picking the font from a variety of sources such as DaFont and Font Squirrel. Here’s our top 10 favorite holiday fonts, all free and available for download:

5 Ways to Make Your Holiday Photos Stand Out

  1. Peace on Earth  2.Candy Cane 3. Snowflakes 4. Peppermint  5. Happy Holidays 6. Sleigh Bells 7. Let it Snow 8. Happy New Year 9. Sparkling Wine 10. Gingerbread

See this tutorial on creating a holiday card in Ps to spark your creative flow. You can even construct your own drawing and scan it into your computer to create a graphic. In my case, my scanner was not functioning properly so I took a photo of the drawing and it worked just as well.

5 Ways to Make Your Holiday Photos Stand OutFor turning your drawing into a graphic, see here for one of my favorite tutorials: Tip: Turning Scanned Pencil Sketches into Digital Paintings.

5 Ways to Make Your Holiday Photos Stand OutWe hope that this information has provided some photography inspiration for the upcoming holidays! Share your own images with as at

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