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8 Ideas for Awesome Christmas Photos without Santa

A couple years ago I decided to let go of the traditional “kid with Santa” photo. I know, I know, it’s still right there on my Christmas bucket list, but we had already chatted with the big guy on the Polar Express Train. I have this one grainy iPhone photo…rather like a blurry image of the elusive Bigfoot.

I decided this one crappy photo would be enough because it really captured a great memory.

But it wasn’t exactly something I could frame and give to Grandma.

Polar Express St. Louis

We needed a better Christmas photo. But without Santa.

Creative Alternatives to the Christmas Santa Photo

You might have other reasons you need to skip the Mall Santa. Maybe you have one of those kids who never trusted the big guy. For such a jolly old elf, he sure does scare the crap out kids in person.

Or maybe it’s just 2021 and you’re not that ready to sit next to a stranger.

Don’t worry! You can still grab a festive holiday photo of your kids without Santa. Here’s a few ideas!

~This post also contains affiliate links (including links to Amazon) which may reward me in the event of a sale.~

Photo with the Christmas Tree

A classic photo with your Christmas tree is a no brainer! Get a candid shot of your kid(s) decorating the tree and holding our ornaments. Or for something more Christmas Card worthy, dress up and stand near the tree. Get creative! Put the kids under the tree or peeking through the branches.

Remember the tree isn’t the focal point of the photo — your kids are! So it’s ok if they tree is out of focus in the background.

brothers in matching christmas zombie sweaters by a Christmas tree

Photo with a LIT Box

Capture the magic of the season with a lit box for a prop! Wrap a box and stash some battery powered lights inside, then have your child look into the box for the photo. You may need to dim the lights in the house for this photo to look it’s best.

girl opening gift with light inside

Photo Inside a (big) Gift Box

We’ve all got Amazon boxes laying around this time of year — why not wrap one up and put your child inside? I mean, don’t tape it closed or anything! This shot gets trickier the larger your kid gets, but it’s definitely worth it.

small boy sitting inside cardboard box with an ipad and blanket
This would be so much better if I wrapped the box!

Baking Cookies Photo

Bake cookies with the kids and have your camera handy! Get extra and have them wear a chef’s hat or aprons. This is a wonderful way to mulittask for the holidays — the kids have fun, everyone gets cookies and mom gets a wonder memory on (digital) film.

two brothers baking cookies

Outdoor Photo with Christmas Lights

Take your kid’s outside! Find a holiday light display that looks great in the daytime for natural light, or practice your night time photography at a walkable light event. In my hometown the Botanical Gardens and Zoo are decked out for the holidays and have a lot of great backgrounds for your photo.

Kid in winter coat with twinkle lights, holding a sparkler.

Christmas Concert Photo

Here’s one for the band kids — the concert photo! Grab a photo by the tree before (or after) your school’s annual Holiday Concert and remember those wonder times making music. Don’t they clean up nice?

Kid in school polo with brass baritone horn in from of a Christmas tree.

Reading a Book Photo

Stage a photo of your child reading a book by themselves, with siblings, with a parents or heck, even reading to the family pet. Bonus points if it’s The Night Before Christmas. This one is easier to pull off with smaller kids because no one needs to be hamming it up for the photo…they can just read.

Man and child reading a book by a Christmas tree. Kid is wearing holiday pajamas.

Photo with a Tangle of Twinkle Lights

Here’s another low light shot that brings out the Christmas magic! Have your kid hold a tangle of twinkle lights–battery operated are best– close to their face and take the photo. Make sure the rest of the room lights are off or dim for full effect.

portrait of person holding twinkle lights to face

Top Tips for Photographing Kids

My best advice is to let your kids be kids. Don’t dress them up in stuffy shirts if this is the only time you see them like that! Ok, maybe ditch the Minecraft shirt with the ketchup stains, but let them be natural.

  • Get down on their level.
  • Don’t say cheese! Unless you want a cheesy smile. Get the kids talking about something funny, and keep snapping!
  • Include yourself! Don’t be the “mom behind the curtain”! Use your timer, a self stick or grandparent and get in that shot with the kids!
Christmas photos without scary Santa