Easy ways to shoot, print, and send your best holiday photos

Consumer Reports

This is the time to shoot and print a nice family photo to send out before the holidays kick into high gear. To help, we've answered some typical questions about getting ready for that shot.

How and where should I shoot?

First, consider how you want the photo to look. I avoid turning mine into greeting cards, so I don’t need to figure out a card design. But most image-editing software programs, apps, and photo services make it easy to select a card design from various templates. You'll also need to choose between a horizontal or vertical design.

Next, decide who you want to include and what kind of background you want. For example, I photograph only my kids, but some families like to have everyone represented, including the dog or cat. (Beware, though: including the family pet can dramatically lengthen your photo shoot!)

For the setting, I like to vary it from year to year. But if you're shooting outdoors, consider taking your photo on a cloudy or overcast day, so that you don’t get dark shadows on your subjects' faces. If you do shoot outside on a sunny day, try to shoot early in the morning or late in the afternoon, when the sun is lower in the sky and has a softer, more pleasing light.

Take lots of photos—particularly with younger children, since you’re never sure when you’ll get the perfect shot. 

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Looking for a camera to shoot your holiday photos? Check out our buying guide and Ratings for digital cameras.

Where should I print?

Before you get your photo printed, consider where and how you'll print it. All have advantages and disadvantages, whether you print online through a photo-service, at a kiosk in a local drugstore such as CVS, or on your home printer.

Online printing services: There are a variety of services available to print photos online. You'll first have to set up an account and upload your images to the site. But then it's usually easy to get them printed quickly. Here are a couple of the many popular online photo sharing and printing sites, and their typical turnaround times. (Other services include Snapfish, Mpix, Walgreens, Costco, and Walmart.) Just be aware that the more quickly you want photos delivered, the more you'll pay:
  • Shutterfly offers a variety of shipping services, although some delivery times aren't guaranteed. The cheapest is Economy delivery, which takes 6-10 business days but isn't guaranteed. Prints (4x6) cost $.10 each, but many other options are available.
  • AdoramaPix offers a variety of shipping services and rates. Cheapest is through the U.S. Postal Service, which takes 4-6 business days. The shipping cost is $3.00 for orders of 5x7, 4x5, 3.5x5, or 4x6 for up to 50 prints only. For other sizes and quantities, the shipping cost is $7.00. For a 4x6 print, the cost is $.24. Many other options are available.

During the holiday season, many of these sites offer discounts, such as free shipping on orders of $30 or more. Be sure to check out the deals in the special-offers section of the sites.

At a kiosk: If you take your digital photos into a drugstore to get them printed, you'll leave the store with photos in hand. But the quality of those prints can vary greatly. And you may pay more for the convenience of printing them immediately.

On your home printer: This is probably the most convenient method, but unlike using an online service or a kiosk, the quality of your prints rests in your hands. You need to know your inkjet printer and how to best calibrate it to ensure the best results. And you'll want to get good-quality glossy photo paper to print on. Finally, because printer ink can be pricey, you may spend more on printing your photo than if you had used one of the other options.

Who will I send the photo to and how will I do it?

Another time-consuming factor in shooting your holiday photos is mailing them out. Before you begin, have a system for keeping track of who you send your photos to. My wife and I (mostly my wife, who's more organized) keep a list of names and addresses in an Excel file, which we update each year before we mail out the photos. It's simple and helps us keep track of our photos each year.

—Terry Sullivan

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