Ah, the annual photo holiday card. Beloved tradition/total pain in the butt—especially when it comes to getting a good photo of members of the family. Whether you’re going for a nice group portrait, or a more candid, fun shot of the clan or the kids, achieving an in-focus, well-lit photo in which everyone looks good can feel downright impossible. And for the design-challenged, creating the card is another headache. “Photo Op”, a new service from Minted can make all that hassle go away—and provide the holiday card you always wanted (but never had the skills to actually produce). We know, because we tried it.

Above, an example of a candid shot

Pick your look
Photo Op is currently available in the New York City tri-state area, the San Francisco Bay area, and Los Angeles and Orange County.

The process is blissfully simple and streamlined, and costs $100. (Cards are then priced according to options selected.)  First, you select the “style” of portrait you want: “candid” (very natural, not posed at all), “informal” (a portrait with a relaxed feel), or “classic” (the traditional group photo, all eyes on the camera).

Once you’ve done that, you can also elect to have black and white images or “overexposed” ones, the latter of which is a washed-out look that we didn’t realize is a thing but apparently it is. (We elected informal, color images.)

Pick your locale
A Minted Photo Op photographer will meet you at the locale of your choosing, and the service has lots of ideas for setting and style. Examples include “Home for the holidays” (in your house), “Neighborhood stroll” (out and about in your ‘hood), “Fun poses” (to mix it up with interesting perspectives/poses), “Photo book” (for a film strip or multi-photo card), and “Minimalist” (spare background, modern look). We picked “Home for the holidays” because we were wrangling a five-year-old and we’re busy/lazy.

Pick your design
One of the more stressful parts of creating a holiday card for us (aside from trying to get a good photo) is agonizing over all the many design options at various online card creation outlets. It’s a case of more choices not necessarily being better.

With Photo Op, after you’ve selected the above variables, you’re presented with 20 or so designs that fit with your choices, and you’re told to pick your three favorites. Those three designs will then be used by Minted’s design team to create a multiple card options that use the best pictures from your photo session, which are retouched and optimized to look extra good.

Above: A few of the unretouched images from our photo shoot.

The photo session
Next up, book your session online at the day and time of your choosing, and Minted will assign a pro photographer to come to you. (You can also peruse additional professional photographers, available for booking for rates they set, typically higher that Minted’s $100 fee.)

Our photographer Becca Alder arrived ready to shoot, cased our joint for the best light, and got to work. She humored us with some indoor shots (where the light was iffy), and then wisely recommended heading outside—where she got the photo we ultimately used.

In addition to taking photos well beyond the quality of those produce by our own DIY photo shoots in the past, Alder was also patient, persistent, and fun as she worked to coax a holiday card-worthy image from our inconsistent five-year-old model.

Suggested designs ready to be personalized. 

The final tweaks, and results
We received 10 retouched images, all our “outtakes” (a few dozen!) and four sample card designs the next day. (Average turnaround is two to three business days.) All of the images are for clients to download, keep, print, etc. (i.e., you could use one great shot for your holiday card, and print another for gifts for grandparents, etc.)

For the easiest, fastest card-making option, users can select one of the cards designed by Minted, personalize it with a greeting and information, opt for additional fancy details like foil printing, detailed edging, etc., and be done. (Cards are priced separately from the Photo Op services.)

We ended up opting for a different photo and using a another design from Minted’s extensive library of very classy card options, but it was just a personal taste thing.

The end results
Our cards have arrived, and they’re lovely. Not only is the photo clear and bright, it captures our five-year-old subject’s personality. Additionally, the card itself is hefty, quality card stock, and the gold foil printing (an extra cost) adds just the right touch of holiday pizazz.

Our verdict: if you’re looking to splurge a bit and want to make an extra special greeting (and have a mini professional photo shoot)—while also reducing holiday stress—Minted’s Photo Op is a great option. It’s definitely available through December 31, and may be offered by Minted going forward.

Cost: $100
Online: minted.com/photo-op

We were offered a free trial of Minted’s Photo Op, but all opinions expressed here belong to the writer.

Have you tried Minted’s Photo Op? Share your experience in the comments below!

—Mimi O’Connor