Ideas And Inpsiration For Great Holiday Photography

As a stock photographer, I frequently use holidays as inspiration for my photos.  After all, there are countless iconic imageries that represent each special day.  And while many of us think of the Big 4 when it comes to the holiday season (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve), there are scores of fun and festive days to celebrate through out the year – think Cinco de Mayo, Oktoberfest, and Grandparent’s Day.

Copyright Karen Foley |

The challenge I find is to not continually reproduce the same image that has been done over and over again.  To try to keep my photos fresh, I like to start by thinking how a holiday image might be used and then work my way back from there.

Greeting Cards

Greeting cards are probably to biggest consumer of holiday imagery around.  According to these Hallmark statistics, we send 1.5 billion (with a B) Christmas cards each year.  While this far exceeds the other holidays (Valentines Day 151 million, Mother’s Day 141 million, Father’s Day 93 million, Easter 57 million, Halloween 19 million, Thanksgiving 12 million and St Patrick’s Day at 7 million), it is easy to see that there is a strong demand for imagery suitable for all holidays, a these numbers don’t include the growing popularity of Do-It-Yourself print and ecard offerings available today.

Copyright Karen Foley |

So what makes a good greeting card image?  EVERYTHING related to a holiday!  Demand for holiday images is as diverse as the people sending them.  Think still life, nature, humor, people interacting, holiday icons, etc.  The list is only limited by your imagination.  The important factor to take into consideration when shooting greeting card images is the variety of card dimensions where they may be used.  Be sure to consider several cropping options when compositing the image (or better still, try composing the same image to accommodate different aspect ratios), and be sure to include some whitespace or copy space where greetings and glad tidings can be added.


The next area that springs to mind around the holiday seasons is parties.  For these types of images you want to compose with a party central theme in mind.  A child’s Easter egg hunt versus an adult New Year’s Eve part require completely different types of images.  Here it is essential to leave lots of blank spaces for the Who, What, When, Where and Why of the party. 


What is a holiday without food?  There are a host of uses for good quality stock images revolving around food.  Restaurants offering holiday specials, websites selling holiday cooking gear, blogs focused on the how to’s of holiday treats.  I like to set my camera up in my kitchen and create a photo journal that shows everything from the ingredients, creation of the treat through all stages of cooking, obviously highlighting the finished product and ending with people enjoying the treat.  This can be anything from making traditional Christmas dinners to creating regionally specific treats highlighting a local tradition.

Copyright Karen Foley |


Which naturally brings us to the topic of blogs.  Bloggers love the holidays as much as photographers for finding inspiration.  Nothing lends itself better to an online How To than Traditions and Projects. This can be anything you and your family do around the holidays;  pumpkin carving, Easter egg dyes, or building a gingerbread house.  As with cooking a meal, it is best to capture every unique stage of the product in addition to highlighting the finished result.  This is also a great excuse to try something new.  Gingerbread houses had always amazed and intimidated me until I rolled my sleeves one day and created one as a photo project.  They’ll never intimidate me again!

Copyright Karen Foley |


Twelve-month calendars are another great usage for holiday images.  You can approach these two ways.  The first is to highlight the traditional holiday image for each month.  The second is to have some fun with holiday icons by placing them into non-traditional scenes (i.e. do a Santa series placing him on the beach in summer, or a skeleton at a fireworks display over the 4th of July).  Think first of the format you are shooting for.  Calendar images can be long and thin to go across a page – where you’ll need whitespace for text  - or full page in a fold out format.  Look around your community and around the world for holidays to inspire you all year long.

And a note on a few other areas you might want to think about

Catalogues -  Local businesses and multinational corporations use the holiday’s to increase sales.  While it’s not likely you’ll be asked to do the next Bed, Bath and Beyond catalogue shoot, think about the types of images smaller companies might need to promote their seasonal inventory.  Keep it as generic as possible to appeal to a wide range of businesses.

Copyright Karen Foley |

Non-ProfitsHolidays are an active time for non-profits.  School projects, church programs, military observations all need imagery to promote their activity.  This is also a critical fund raising season where eye-popping imagery can enhance the materials used to solicit funds.  If you are in a position to donate some of your time or images to a cause near and dear to you, holiday seasons make a great time for giving as well.

Gifts from Businesses – Speaking of gifts, the holidays are also a time of year that local businesses like to give loyal customers a gift as a way of thanking them for their patronage and generating future revenue.  Calendars, refrigerator magnets, notepads, coffee mugs are just a few of the items popular with small businesses.  Think of creating images with TONS of whitespace for business names, logos, messages, contact information, etc.

Copyright Karen Foley |

If you are intending on selling your fabulous new holiday images through a stock photography agency, you will be competing for attention with the myriad of other images available.  It is extremely important to keyword your photos correctly to get them noticed.  Including words highlighting the intended use of the image (party, invitation, holiday, Halloween, whitespace, copy space) along with the descriptive keywords of the image will help a buyer find you.

On a final note, I am sure some of you will ask about online resources for producing your own holiday cards and items.  While there are lots of options available, my favorite print resources are adoramapix and vista print.  While my favorite eCard site is smilebox.  These are strictly personal preferences I’ve included here for your convenience.

Hope you enjoy all your Holiday’s!

About the Author

Karen Foley is a freelance stock photographer who contributes her work exclusively to Dreamstime Stock Photography. Look for her blogs about photography and portfolio of work here.