I love the idea of doing holiday portraits, but the thought alone sends me into an anxiety-ridden tailspin. I have to get three kids dressed in holiday attire, do their hair, and get them to the portrait studio on time. Then I pray we get a photographer who takes their time and makes sure we have several shots to choose from. This means photos without blinking, super cheesy grins (my son Jayden’s favorite smile) or too much head tilt (Hannah and I are notorious head-tilters).

Then there is the really hard task of getting the toddler to both look at the camera and smile, which is no easy feat especially when dealing with a photographer she doesn’t know. So, when my neighbor and best friend Allison offered to do a holiday photo shoot at her house, I was like, “Yeah, sign me up.”

If you want to create some rocking holiday cards this year, you can save some money and stress by doing it yourself. Here are 5 easy steps.

1. Set The Stage – Create your own portrait studio by setting up a backdrop. My friend Allison draped a simple white sheet from her back sliding glass door and put three small stools underneath the bottom half. Presto, instant studio. You can even get out your holiday decorations and throw some props in the shot or have your kids hold a wrapped present.

My friend and neighbor Allison was the photographer for our holiday photo shoot. I returned the favor for her family.

My friend and neighbor Allison was the photographer for our holiday photo shoot. I returned the favor for her family.

2. Get A Photographer – If you just want your kids in the shot, you can take your own holiday portrait, but if you want the whole family have a friend or family member come over to help you. You just need a steady hand, a decent digital camera and the patience to take a lot of shots. You want plenty to choose from.Get creative and experiment with different camera angles and position family members in different ways to get a variety of shots. Be sure to take some funny shots in between to both lighten the mood and get it out of your kids systems so they can focus on nice smiles for the other pictures.My friend Allison photographed my family and I did hers. It worked out great.screenshot-2016-11-21-11-44-02
3. Do Some Basic Photo Editing
– Free photo editing websites like picmonkey make it super easy to do basic editing like resizing, cropping and even red eye reduction. If you’re feeling creative, you can play around with different features like adding text, overlays and fun holiday inspired themes.

I played around with some of the features on picmonkey and created a whimsical card for my family.

The whimsical holiday card I created using pickmonkey.
4. Pick A Card
– If you want to do less photo editing, you can just pick a ready-made design on sites like Shutterfly or and add your photo to it. Then pick your size, quantity and pay. No muss, no fuss.

5. Print It – If you design the holiday card yourself, you can simply print them at home on nice photo paper. The other option is to upload it to your favorite retailer that does photo printing like Walmart, Target or Walgreens.If your best friend is a photographer a DIY holiday card is a no-brainer, but honestly anyone can take a good photo.Remember the cardinal rule of portrait photography – aim for faces, not spaces. So zoom in when you can, but don’t worry if there’s still a lot of white space. You can always crop it. My favorite part of creating my own holiday card this year was that it’s practically free except for the cost of printing and mailing the cards. It also was so much less stressful than heading to a portrait studio. We literally waited for my toddler to get up from her afternoon nap, got everyone dressed and drove two seconds to my neighbor’s house. It was fun because everyone was relaxed and we got to create memories with our friends. We even did some fun group shots at the end.

So rock your holiday card this year. You got this!

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama is the author of “So, You’re Broke? 18 Drama-Free Steps To A Richer Life.” She can be found writing for The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent when she’s not busy caring for her three adorable kiddos. Her work can also be found on The Huffington Post, Money Saving Mom, Mamapedia and Worshipful Living.