How to Survive the Holiday Season Capturing Memories in Photography

August 16, 2023  •  Leave a Comment






People ask me all the time - how do you survive the holiday season? I'll admit... its rough, it's not easy, but it can be managed with planning. I have the most weddings all year long in fall, then we go straight into fall foliage portrait week (which is really like 2 weeks honestly), holiday sessions start Nov 1st, and I have a daughter with an early December birthday on top of that. If I can do it, anyone can. Here are my tips to surviving the holidays, making memories last through photos, and having fun while doing it all. 

My tips are more like a timeline. Follow along and I hope this helps bring some enjoyable memories to you and your family! 


Early September


Call your photographer to schedule an appointment for your family Christmas card. Start planning styles of clothing with your photog, based on what they suggest for their sets/locations they are offering this year. I suggest planning your photo shoot as soon after Halloween as possible. Your photographer will need time for post-processing, then delivery, and of course either he/she or you will need time to create your holiday card + order + write out envelopes and ship by early December.  I am a big fan of doing these in small batches, which you'll see more below. 


Once you have scheduled your photo shoot - Call to schedule your hair appointments for 2 weeks before your photo shoot.  Everyone in the family should be cut, trimmed, and color touched up if necessary.


Start shopping for Christmas gifts. 



Mid September 


Start ordering outfits for your family for your photo session, props for baking cookies (will explain more below), as well as jackets/coats/mittens/hats. 


Shop a little more for Christmas gifts!




Early to Mid October 


If you plan on doing your own Christmas card on a site like Mpix, Minted or Shutterfly - start looking at the templates now and pick a few you like. Narrow it down. This process can take a while and finding the template you want now can save you time later when its holiday crunch zone time. 


Have everyone try on their outfit for family photos to be sure it fits. If something doesn't look right, you have a little bit of time to scramble and find something new.


Shop a little more for Christmas gifts!  


Purchase your postage now for your holiday cards to break up the spending that is to come later in November! 


Order toe and hand warmers! You can buy them in stores usually starting in late fall, or can order online. I like to have these on hand for photo shoots (if doing outdoor), going to see holiday lights, and setting up Christmas lights in my yard.



Early November 


Put away your fall decor and start pulling out your Christmas decorations. In my house, we put them up over the course of a few days because if we wait for that one full day we are completely free - they'll never get put up. If you have a busy household, I think it's best to do it in parts. We have lots of decorations so we'll do strings of lights outside one day, then yard decor like our reindeer and light up moose on another day.  We also divide and conquer - my husband takes on certain parts and I'll do others.  We even break it down even more, such as one day we do nothing but get everything out of the garage, test light strands, and then set it aside ready to be put up the next day.  For us, small pockets of time work best. 


Your photo shoot will be taking place around now - or soon - so be sure you have everyone's haircuts completed. Manicures are a good idea, even if just DIY at home, for everyone. Be sure that kids nails are filed - dad too! 


Buy wrapping paper. It will be on the shelves Nov 1st, if not sooner.   Start wrapping!  But I do suggest putting post it notes on wrapped gifts, or making a list somewhere secure that no one will find.  If you wrap a lot of things you'll forget, and start guessing whether or not you have enough for certain people. 



Mid November


Everything Christmas related will be on the shelves in the store by now. If you need anything for your home decor, photos, props for photos, frames, etc - grab it now.  The one thing I usually get this time of November is everything to make our holiday cookies and gingerbread house (a kit is great!). Sometimes these things will sell out once December hits and I like to have my props ready to go.


Start marking off your calendar for a few dates that might work for your family to go see holiday lights. I like to make it a point to write "go see lights" on a few dates of my calendar, because its so easy to forget about it until late December and then suddenly its too busy and the lights are closed up for the year. 


Order your Christmas cards as soon as your photographer has delivered your photos. Either through your photographer's lab, or if you purchased digitals then through your choice website - like Mpix, Minted or Shutterfly.


Plan for light up night. There are many options for light up nights - local and in the big city too. We don't typically venture to Pittsburgh for theirs, but will definitely do so in the future when my daughter is a bit older. This past year we had a great time at the Westmoreland Museum Light Up night. It was local, they had outdoor firepits with marshmallows, hot chocolate, live music and scavenger hunts. Everything was free and we had a great time. 


Continue wrapping gifts! 




Late November


Address your holiday cards as soon as they arrive, take a few days to do it if you need to. Or put on a Christmas movie and finish it in under 90 minutes. Last year I found it helpful to have them out on the dining room table and each time I had 15 mins to spare, I did a handful of cards. I was done in a few days and I barely felt like it was a huge task at all. 

Holiday lights begin everywhere! Kennywood, Phipps, Overly's, Oglebay, you name it - the lights are up everywhere by Thanksgiving weekend (sometimes the week before).  Remember to bring cameras, dress warm, pack extra socks and layers! Photos with holiday lights are so much fun, so you may even want to inquire with your photographer if they are willing to do a photo shoot at one of these locations. 


I think its a good idea to order New Years Eve outfits around this time! Don't wait until too late! 



Thanksgiving Weekend


I like to put up my tree on Thanksgiving weekend, and gives us a really great break from being super busy to take two days to complete the interior of the house if necessary. One thing that I always decorate my mantles with are past Christmas photos of my daughter. She has had four Christmas's to the date of writing this blog, and I absolutely love having all of those different holiday sessions displayed in one spot. I pick up a few new holiday frames each year for the new photos around this time.  I also know some clients who frame their Christmas cards every year and those become decorations every year thereafter. 



Here are my tips for photographing your children decorating the tree! 

1. Enjoy the process of decorating, don't photograph too much. Put the camera down most of the time. 

2. Start decorating in daylight, so you can capture some great natural lighting in your photos.

3.  As you finish the tree,  it will likely be dark outside and you can get some great glow to the images as well. 

4. Capture details - like your children's hands on the ornaments, their expressions when you open the ornament box, a mug of hot chocolate on the table next to a family heirloom like the tree topper. 



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If it snows... 


GO outside! grab any images you can of your children in the fresh falling snow.


Don't assume that darkness means you can't capture any more photos. Try using your car headlights to illuminate the kiddos.


If its daylight, try capturing them right at dusk when its light enough to see their faces, but dark enough to capture your Christmas lights in the yard. 


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First week of December 


Mail your holiday cards. Also, order any last minute photography gifts. Canvas, prints, calendars, blankets, mugs - are all wonderful gifts for grandparents! 


Finish wrapping gifts if you are all done shopping. 


Find out about local events or Santa visits! For example, our local fire department comes through our neighborhood with Santa on a firetruck passing out treat bags every year, so I make sure to contact them around the first of December to ask what date they will be doing it this year. I add it to my calendar so we remember to stay home that day. 


I like to make holiday cookies a few times throughout December. We do it just for fun, but also to have some homemade sweets throughout the whole month, rather than an overload of TOO MANY cookies all at once the week of Christmas.  You can freeze them as you make them, saving them for the holidays when you start visiting too.  I also love to photograph the process of baking cookies.  Here are my tips for DIY cookie making photos.  

1. Remember to have fun, and let your kids enjoy the process without making it all about the photos.  

2. Have towels handy because you'll be switching from messy flour hands to handling your camera a lot. 

3. clean your camera or phone really good before you start, so you don't transfer germs from phone to cookie dough! 

4. Pick the time of day when the sun is most bright in the room you plan to make the cookies. If using your dining room and the window faces east, plan on morning.  If you prefer to do afternoon but the light is best in your living room then, consider moving a table into there if its not too much hassle.  You can even use your Christmas tree as a wonderful background for lights.

5. Capture several angles - down as low as you can go to the table, directly overhead looking down, and details of their hands alone. 

6. Photograph the whole process. So grab some photos right at the start, then midway kneading dough, then cutting out shapes, and after they have come out of the oven and ready to decorate - and don't forget the best part, a photo of your children eating them! 

7. Let them get messy!! 

8. Use your timer and get photos of yourself with your kids too.

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There are tons of great at-home activities that we love to do starting early in December, other than just baking. All of these things are great opportunities for capturing amazing photo memories. 

- Set up a train under your tree 

- Turn sugar ice cream cones upside down, paint them with green icing and decorate with candy and sprinkles to look like Christmas trees. You can make an entire tree farm! 

- Build and decorate a gingerbread house 

- Make a Christmas chain with 25 links made of paper. Hang it up and start ripping them off one a day til Christmas. I think making the last 7 in blue/white/silver is fun so you can continue the fun until New Years.




Second week of December

Make holiday plans. Talk to family and decide where and when everything will go down!  I also think its a good idea to plan your food that you'll be cooking now. If you are hosting or not - likely at some point you'll be making a dish for dinner.  I suggest buying your non-perishable items (or long shelf life stuff) at this time like spices, baking ingredients or canned goods that you'll need in your recipes.   If you wait to buy a can of pumpkin until Dec 23rd, you probably will be bringing a cherry pie instead to family dinner.  Make your list for the fresh ingredients you'll need and mark your calendar for Dec 23rd now to get those items. 


START TO enjoy the season's festivities.  Plan family nights out to do everything you can that is happening around Pittsburgh. Here are some ideas...

- Outdoor ice skating downtown Pittsburgh

- Visit Santa 

- Mall shopping 

- Outdoor lights (Kennywood, Phipps, Overly's etc) 

- Charity events such as volunteering for Toys for Tots 

You can also make up your own events... 

- Cook a meal and deliver it to someone in need 

- Take a neighborhood walk to see all of the lights around your own house. Pack a wagon with hot chocolate in a thermos, snacks, blankets, extra mittens and hats, a bluetooth speaker playing holiday music - and your dog too! :) 





Third week of December


Remember to start making your New Years plans and buying props like hats, noisemakers and outfits now! 

ENJOY THE HOLIDAY!!! Don't stress over the things that didn't get done, or that you should have bought more presents. Whatever you did was perfect, and more than enough. 



Fourth week of December 


If you haven't gotten a chance to go to see any holiday lights, go this week!

Have a fun New Years Eve!










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