Getting a great family photo often feels like a Sisyphean undertaking. You need to get everyone smiling, looking the same way, with their eyes open. Simple right? I hate to admit it, but there have been a few times where a photoshop face swap had to be done (getting a great photo of my 4-month old-twins and 2-and-a-half-year-old was just not happening). It almost convinces you to find a photo-free card and call it a day. But let’s be honest, you’re not going to do that. Instead, here are the most important things you need to know to get a holiday photo you truly love.

If You’re Hiring a Pro

1. Try to schedule the shoot as soon as possible. Photographers are notoriously slammed shooting and editing family holiday photos from September through December, many even have a cut off date at the end of November to guarantee a perfect pic in time for holiday cards. If you missed this window , don’t stress. You can find a trusted community of photographers who are ready to go at a moment’s notice—or at least 24 hours—with new on-demand photography services that make taking a family photo easy and less expensive. Search for “photography on demand.”

2. Timing is everything. The hour of day you schedule the shoot for is crucial, especially if you’re trying to keep everyone in good spirits. If you have young children, think about when your kids are in the best mood, says photographer Christie Adams, who specializes in newborn and family portraits. Are they happiest first thing in the morning or after their nap? “I prefer to shoot in the morning when there is the most natural light and everyone, parents, too, are the freshest,” says Adams. And, as addicted as you may be to coffee, don’t drink too much before hard. Your nervous energy might come across on film.

3. Consider hiring a photographer on your vacation. Plenty of free time + beautiful new places + calm, relaxed family = the perfect time for a photo shoot. If you’ve given up on getting a great photo for this year’s holiday card, there is always the option of sending a card over New Years or even Valentine’s Day.  Travel photography services like Flytographer and Shoot my Travel make it easy to hire a photographer when you are on vacation – giving you beautiful shots for your card and also plenty of photos to remind you of your family trip.  

If You’re Shooting It Yourself

1.Don’t discount candid photos. “Getting everyone to look at the camera is really hard,” agrees Erin Brooks, iPhone photography expert and mother of a two kids ages 2 and 4. Instead, Brooks recommends capturing your kids in the moment of doing quintessential holiday things, like decorating the tree or holding strings of lights. “Get down on their level and close to their little faces. You will get the best emotion and candid photos end up having the most feeling.”

2. Learn how to use camera features. “iPhones can take really incredible photos,” says Brooks. If you know how to use it right. She loves the new lighting and portrait features of the iPhone7 Plus, but older models can produce great results, too. You know when you’re about to take a photo and that yellowish square appears on your subject? “Tap on that square and drop the exposure down a bit to the darkest setting,” says Brooks. “Make sure nothing is blown out and then tap—you will be amazed by the results.”

3. When all else fails, use filters. There are hundreds of photo editing apps in the store. To find the best one for you, think about how you want the final product to look. There are apps that create a softness that feels more like a film photo; others add a retro sepia tone. And still others that promise to make you look ten years younger. Well not really, but filters can add an artsy touch and enhance an otherwise basic photo.