Some of my happiest childhood memories took place Christmas morning. I’d always wake up super early and sneaking down to the family room to see if Santa had left us presents.

I wanted to re-create some of that magic, maybe you do too. So here are some ideas for creating a Christmas morning scene for family photos.

Creating your scene

Using something like this amazing printed Christmas backdrop from Kate Backdrop is a terrific place to start. You can hang from rod pocket onto a free-standing backdrop stand (make sure it’s securely weighted) or clip to a mounted backdrop hanger (I added some clips to weigh the bottom down).

They are so easy to look after — wash and tumble dry, a light steam and you’re ready to shoot.

Then add a big fluffy fur rug, some hobby fill, a few Christmas ornaments and lights and a big comfy chair. Of course, you could set the scene however you wish.

Kate Backdrop Chrtismas scene

Camera gear and lights

Just as important as staging your scene is to light it. I used a three-light setup. I had a 36″ Octobox on a Godox AD400Pro, then a 9″ x 35″ Strip Box (also on a Godox AD400Pro). Then I lit the actual backdrop itself with a Godox AD200 and a diffuser.

Be sure to test with a stand-in, before the kids arrive. Another fourth light would have been beneficial at the front as well, for when the kids passed the front light.

I was shooting with my Sony a7R III and the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 G2 lens. I also had my 5.5″ 4K LED Mini Monitor setup.

So that it was well lit and everyone was in focus, I shot at f/9. The rest of the camera settings were ISO 200 and 1/125s. My lights were on full power (strip box), 1/8 (octobox) and 1/32 (speedlight).

Grab some props

As the girls in this studio session were young, we kept it pretty simple, but even a kid understands presents! Grab some boxes and wrap them in Christmas paper, remind the older ones it’s all pretend, but offer them a cookie or something as a reward for a job well done. The younger ones … they just love ripping up paper, they don’t care what’s in it!

Make some memories

Now that the scene is set and the gear is ready, it’s time to make some memories or recapture some past ones. Work out ahead of time wardrobe choices (kids in pajamas is surely a must). Then work out the type of shots you wish to capture. Remember to be age-appropriate — kids under four need a little coaxing and a lot of patience. Here are some ideas:

  • Kids sneaking down to the tree, hand in hand
  • Kids on floor listening for Santa
  • Snuggling on the fur rug in front of fire
  • Kids opening a “magical” present
  • Mum and dad watching kids open presents, maybe with a hot chocolate in hand
  • Kids sitting on chair with large presents

Don’t forget to move around within your image, not just capture larger overall shots. Kids sparkle when excited, so try to capture that.

I also took some individual shots of the kids as well as family shots. Be prepared for an occasional head swap and remember not everything always goes to plan! A little Photoshop magic doesn’t go astray to add to the whimsical charm of these family photos.

Not everything always goes to plan!

Keep it light and bright

When dealing with littlies, not everything is going to always go to plan. Keep things, light and bright and short! When the kids start to fuss, stop … either they have had enough or they are getting bored.

Get mum and dad to bring some drinks and snacks to help keep them entertained, but nothing messy. Keep session times short as possible and reward the kids (with permission) on a job well done. I had Christmas cookies.

Photos used with parental permission.