Even in a world of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, lots of people like to send and receive an actual Christmas card. If you are one of those people, you probably spend a fair amount of time thinking about the image you will circulate in your holiday photo cards as the season approaches, especially since they become decoration in other people's homes, are sometimes the only photo people see of you all year and will become part of your family's history. But there's no reason to panic. Whether you decide to take your own photos or have your family pose for a professional, there are ways to ensure the image you share comes out picture perfect.

Haul out the Holly
For many folks the holiday season brings to mind snow, Christmas lights, ski slopes and hot cocoa. So how can you get the best photo cards when you live where there is eternal summer or where the leaves have just started to turn? You could wait until the snow flies if you live where it eventually will. After all, many of the best photo card sites can have your finished product to you in two days. You can afford to have your photo taken pretty late in the year.

If you want to get a jump start, you can inject holiday cheer by breaking out the artificial tree or other decorations. There is no shame in pilfering ideas from the web. I've seen darling photos of people holding a cardboard "Merry Christmas" sign or decorating an artificial tree or forming a heart with two candy canes. The artificial tree was being decorated in the middle of a field that was still green, but there were just enough holiday elements to make it seem seasonal but not overdone.

One and Done
You need only one holiday prop per photo to make the whole thing seem festive. No need for everyone in the photo to be in head-to-toe red and green. That can actually ruin the photo. You could also just put a Christmas wreath around the family pet's neck and gather the family around it.

If you have a baby in the family, you really just need one red and white or green and white item – a lollypop, hat or other prop – and the photo is guaranteed to be both adorable and brimming with holiday cheer. I just saw great holiday photo of a baby lying on Christmas wrapping paper, shot from above. It looked adorable and Christmas-y without being too much.

Time Honored
You do not have to invoke the holidays at all. The best photo cards can be just a nice shot of your entire family, in any season of the year. Christmas cards on the beach can be a lot of fun, and the photo card services we reviewed have such vast libraries of templates there is always one that can combine well with your particular photo.

Follow the Rules
Do not forget the basics of great photography – review the rule of thirds, look for natural but not overly bright lighting and make sure nothing in the background is at an angle that it will appear to be growing out of anyone's head.

A good holiday photo card starts with a good photo and there are many ways to achieve that, even in the heat of summer. If you are having a good time shooting the photo with your family, chances are it will turn out great.

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