I’ll never forget the first time my husband and I tried to take a picture together to use for our holiday card. It was our first year as husband and wife and we spent far too long getting ready in our cramped little bathroom.

We trotted outside with our little bichon, Pablo, and calmly sat down on the porch glider. We set our iPhones to self-timer mode and grinned. Then, as one always does, we immediately turned the camera around to see what it had captured.

That’s when things began to go awry.

I should have known better than to wear my prettiest vintage dress. It’s also my scratchiest and by take number 25, I was about ready to peel it off and burn it. This was also in the middle of my husband’s bushy beard phase, and every angle he turned, it was either in my face or covering our dog. We spent more than 30 minutes out there in the cold trying to get a shot that flattered all three of us. The charade ended with me in tears and him slamming the door and poor Pablo running into the house totally over it, and ready for the warmth.

After that, we went a few years without even sending a Christmas card out. I’d post a sweet and sentimental Facebook message on December 24 and call it a day. After all, our friends and family are all on there anyway. Why torture ourselves if we didn’t have to?

Looking back on that debacle, I can’t help but laugh. How sweet we were to think that was the hardest photo shoot we’d do! Think two young newlyweds are difficult to pose? Try adding two babies under three to the mix!

When my daughter was born, we started taking family pictures more often, of course. I justified it by telling myself that no one was really looking at us anyway. They were staring at that eight-pound rump roast with her papa’s eyes. We even managed to pull off a seamless and (deceivingly) effortless family Christmas picture when she was six months old!

Then, there was a picture of the three of us in 2015, with me holding my big belly announcing our second. Last year, we skipped out because my son was just born. Funny how you get a free pass on some things like texting your friends back immediately, cooking dinner and yes—sending Christmas cards—after you push a baby out of your belly.

So this year, we’re trying again. My son is 18 months and my daughter is three and I’m already wrought with anxiety over the logistics of it all. Yet, if I really sit down and think about it, it’s likely easier than I believe to get that perfect shot. Here are some of my ideas about how we can all brave the lens and like what we see:

  1. Pose Naturally. Is dad hovering like a lurch in the back, with his arms awkwardly around your whole crew? Consider moving him to the side or even the front, where he looks more appropriate. Is little sister sitting uncomfortably on her knees, hands formally placed together on her knees at an 90-degree angle? Let her loosen up a bit and sit on her bottom, legs crossed instead. Chances are, you’ll be in these positions for a while. Make sure everyone’s feeling good and looking their best.
  2. Don’t Say “Cheese!” Does anyone ever look great when saying “cheese” before a picture? When I try it, the shutter always captures me in the middle of the “ch” part, with my teeth together and my lips pursed. This year, try asking the family to think about a funny or memorable experience you enjoyed this past year. Mention it a few seconds before you snap the picture, so everyone has a chance to react. Yelling “Remember that time mom tried to Snapchat us?” will get you a far happier reaction than any alternative.
  3. Don’t Stress over Packaging. Sure, you could hand-address all of your envelopes in your best calligraphy, but let’s be real. There are Hallmark holiday movies to watch and babies to take care of, and mama ain’t got time for that. When my daughter was born, I discovered that you could simply send family photos as real postcards and it totally changed my mailing game. Now, I don’t worry about printing pictures out and stuffing them in envelopes or searching through thousands of online templates to find a card design I like. Plus, everyone likes getting a postcard in the mail and you’ll stand out from the rest.
  4. Go with the Imperfections. Your crazy dad might always smile in that way that’s sort of weird. Your sister’s hair might blow in the wind even on the calmest day., and your infant son might scream his head off even if you stand on your head in front of him. You’ll never get a totally perfect shot, and that’s okay. Did you know there’s a hot collector’s market out there for broken antiques? People crave imperfection and the beauty of an honest life lived. Let them see your real side and don’t be afraid to highlight what makes you different. In fact, you may want to do a silly face photo shoot and just say the heck with poised presentation altogether!
  5. Consider Hiring a Photographer. For the most part, you probably employ a relative to take your family holiday photos. Or, if you’re like us, you flip your phone around and try the self-timer strategy. Yet, how many times have you had to remind aunt Janice to get her thumb out of the shot? How do you tell your well-meaning stepdad that he’s not using Portrait mode correctly? Working with family can leave you more stressed than you need to be, especially when you’re trying not to hurt anyone’s feelings. Instead, consider hiring a local photographer to make the shoot go a lot smoother. Many hold specials around this time of year, so do your research and look around to make sure you’re getting the best deal!

These tips are nothing revolutionary, but they’ve worked for us in the past and I’m praying they work this week when we attempt to take our fourth-ever family Christmas photo at our little cottage. Above anything, I just hope the picture captures the love between us all. If I have lipstick on my teeth or my son’s cowlick flares up, that’s no biggie. As long as the love’s there, everything else is gravy.

Featured Photo Courtesy: Noah Silliman via Unsplash