How To Style Your Holiday Portraits

The History Behind Our Portraits

As you probably know, Jake and I really, really love to dress up. And by “Jake and I” I mean I love any excuse to dress up and Jake is a great sport and therefore a perfect partner for me.

Three times now, we’ve styled Christmas portraits that are a little untraditional and a lot off-the-wall. They’re a hit every time and they’re incredibly fun for us to do.

Jake and I are not serious people. We make a lot of inappropriate jokes and we never take our photos taken — in fact, we almost didn’t have a photographer at our wedding because it just wasn’t a thing we cared about. Whether it’s because we only capture the distinctly memorable moments or we just don’t care enough to remember to snap photos, I could not tell you. But for some reason, we’ve really latched onto the idea of cheesy Christmas portraits.

It started in 2013 when I worked at a Sephora inside JCPenney and I happened upon a Groupon for the JCPenney portrait studio. We always admired indie rock duo Matt and Kim’s band portraits mimicking awkward family photos, so that’s the look we channeled. And obviously we had some help from two amazing holiday sweaters we scored from Goodwill for ten dollars (each, which seems pricey for the thrift store). Jake’s had shoulder pads and crocheted lace details and real bells that jingled.

And thus, our tradition was born.

We skipped a few years. I no longer worked in close proximity to a JCPenney portrait studio, and I figured getting portraits taken would be way too expensive. Remember, we never get photos taken, so… just not a priority.

Cue 2018: the year we revived the tradition. A five-year hiatus was too much, plus we skipped Halloween this year and I was itching to dress up as someone who was not me.

One of our best friends, Seiji Inouye, is an incredibly talented photographer. He captures the light and mood in a way that feels more like art and less like posed portraits, so we booked a session with him.

Tips for Styling Christmas Portraits

Choose a concept! Our first few years were based around the idea of awkward family photos. In 2013 and 2018, we didn’t plan them out too much and brought whatever we could think of, but they turned out great anyway. In 2019, our concept evolved into “Howdy Christmas!” and we paid a lot more attention to detail.

Source wardrobe. This part takes a little bit of careful attention: what backdrop color is your photographer using, or what color is available? Do you want to contrast or emphasize the backdrop? Are you going for a classic, dramatic, or silly look? For me, I try and source everything secondhand from thrift stores or borrow from friends.

Gather props. This part is actually super important if you’re wanting the portraits to tell a story. Your outfits can surely act as a prop if you want them to, especially if the vibe you’re going for is nonchalant and goofy and you show up in gaudy holiday sweaters. For us this year and in 2018, I gathered our string lights. In 2018, I also brought headbands and glasses for us to wear and a sweater for Jet.

Convey your vision to your photographer. This is where it gets really personal, and having a photographer you trust and whose style you admire will be super beneficial. Seiji understood exactly what look we were going for when he snapped our photos in 2018, seen above, and that’s why he chose to backlight us in a yellow-gold light. It gives off more of the outdated, dramatic vintage look.

This year, he nailed it once more. He and I came up with the Howdy Christmas! concept together. We brainstormed wardrobe and setting ideas, and landed on mostly-red for everything. I don’t think many photographers would recommend using red-on-red-on-red but that’s what I mean about working with a photographer who understands you and your vision, and Seiji got it.

Customize your outfits however you see fit. Add, tailor, embellish. I added the faux pockets to Jake’s shirt and added the trim to the front and the collar to mimic western dress wear. My dress, shoes, Jake’s shirt, Jet’s handkerchief and my vest were all thrifted. The actual western wear (hats, tie, necklace, belt buckle) were all borrowed from a friend.

As for getting a dog or another pet to pose, just remember they’re in a place they’re unfamiliar with, so bring treats and try not to get upset with them if they get scared or don’t act the way you want them to.

I’m already dreaming up our future holiday portrait concepts. I feel like we really elevated the game this year and it has me feeling super inspired to knock it out of the park again next year.

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