Photobox’s resident gift guru, Matt James of Party-Ideas-by-a-Pro, is an award-winning party planner who’s produced birthdays, weddings, and events for A-list celebrities such as Stella McCartney, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Sir Elton John. He shares his inspirational ideas for using Photobox products to create thoughtful and meaningful Christmas gifts.


While family portraits are a tradition, the photo itself doesn’t have to be traditional. Thankfully, the days of the formal studio shot – all stiff poses in your Sunday best against a painted backdrop – are over.

Nor does it have to be one of those elaborate and over-engineered productions you see on Pinterest; the ones that make an Annie Leibovitz Vanity Fair cover look spontaneous and low key. And let’s face it, you already know any attempt at those is likely to go the same way as the last ‘looks so easy’ homemade Elsa cake; a candidate for the Nailed It! Pinterest Fail board of shame.

Fortunately, the new traditional forgoes the contrived and stagey in favour of natural settings and genuine expressions. You want to aim for a portrait that’s relaxed, informal, and above all else, authentic.

Sometimes, with Pinterest-envy pushing us to always try something creative, new and different, it’s easy to overlook the beauty in something simple and understated; particularly when it comes to family portraits. You don’t need gimmicky props and Photoshop magic, it’s the people that matter. So keep it real.

Now, I’m sure you’ve already got plenty of candid shots of the kids messing around on holiday or dad carrying them on his shoulders. So, this idea, Head to Head, is all about keeping your portrait natural but elevating it above the everyday, to create a modern family portrait – that’s still traditional enough that Nan can frame it for her mantlepiece.

1. How it works

To elevate this from an everyday family photo to a modern portrait calls for subtlety and a gentle touch. You’ll find that simply lying everyone down automatically creates more natural and relaxed poses. Then, by arranging everyone with their heads close together, encouraging genuine facial expressions, and photographing them from a less conventional angle, above, you can really capture a sense of intimacy and affection.

Experiment with different types of facial expressions too, such as smiling, laughing, or even some lighthearted reactions such as sticking their tongues out at the camera. Often it helps to prepare some prompts in advance that might help trigger a more natural reaction. Say something you know will make everyone laugh or ask them to recall a memory of when they felt a particular emotion.

You should also play around with poses that bring one or two hands into the shot; a gentle caress of the cheek between a mother and daughter, a hand cupping an ear as a secret is whispered between sisters, or a hand over the mouth suppressing a giggle from the mischievous youngest child. This can help bring the photo to life, let personalities shine and convey intimacy.

You really don’t need to over-complicate this type of photograph. It’s all about focusing on the people, capturing an intimate moment and celebrating relationships – all while photographing them in an unexpected way.

Check out my practical tips for taking photos from above at the end of this page.

2. Who it’s for

These Head to Head photos obviously lend themselves well to family portraits, and so would make a touching Christmas or birthday gift for a grandparent.

However, you don’t have to include the entire family for it to still make a thoughtful gift for a parent. Photographing just siblings together or one parent with their children, makes a beautiful surprise gift for Mother/Father’s Day.

Alternatively, if you do want to include everyone in the photo, focus on making the actual gift – a Photobox Canvas or a Timeless Framed Print – the surprise element. Get everyone together to take the photo well in advance (and try not to let them see the final image). Hopefully they’ll have forgotten about it by the time the special occasion comes around.

Of course, this idea isn’t just for family portraits. It’d work equally well with a group of friends, perhaps for an 18th, 21st, 30th, or 40th birthday gift. Or as a cunning gift for a boyfriend/girlfriend. You could secretly get all his lad mates or her besties together for a group shot that would make a great surprise when they opened it (and no doubt score you some major brownie points for all the effort you’d gone to!). If it’s a friend’s wedding anniversary, you could get all their bridesmaids/groomsmen back together to create a wonderfully nostalgic gift.

Alternatively, Head to Head would make a sentimental Christmas present for your own group of friends. While they’ll no doubt all want a copy of the photo following the shoot, instead, surprise them all by having it reproduced on one of Photobox’s many gift options, such as a canvas, throw cushion, phone case.

3. How to turn it into a gift

Head to Head is a novel way to capture a group of friends or family, resulting in classic yet contemporary portrait. So give it in the form of a gift that they can display or use in their everyday life. That way, they’ll get more pleasure out of seeing it often.

Wall Art

Frame it, supersize it, or print it onto canvas, this idea lends itself perfectly to a range of Photobox’s wall art gifts. There are lots of different options available – from a traditional Canvas and Timeless Framed Print, to stylish aluminum mounted or Wooden Wall Prints that’ll ensure your recipient keeps this special gift proudly on display.

Desktop gifts

Alternatively, there are many desktop gifts, such as a Wooden Desk Print, freestanding Photo Block, or Mugs, that let them see it every day at home or work. Check out all the options here.

Everyday gifts

Photobox has numerous other small gifts, such as Phone/iPad Cases, Cushions, Personalised Beach Towels, Jigsaws and more – all of which you could customise with your Head to Head portrait. Which one would they appreciate most?

Christmas cards

Finally, you could also use your Heart and Sole portrait to create a unique family Christmas cards to send out for the festive season.


Here are some of my pro tips for creating your Heart and Sole portrait.

1. Choose the gift

Before you set about creating the photograph, think about which gift from the Photobox range you want to apply it to. This might influence whether the portrait would work best as a square or landscape image, which in turn might affect how many people you include in your portrait.

For example, if it’s just two people in your portrait, this often works best as a square image. Whereas, for larger groups you often need the space you get from a landscape.

2. Photography tips

Be sure to consider the following points:

  • Lighting: the simplicity of this type of photograph means it lends itself well to shooting outside in natural light. However, if you are shooting inside, you might want to consider using window light, which is typically soft and therefore perfect for portraits. Just Google ‘photography window light’ for lots of useful tips.
  • Background:if you’re shooting outside, grass or autumnal leaves make a simple and easy background to add some texture. Alternatively, if indoors, a clean, plain coloured floor or carpet will work equally well – just avoid patterns.
  • Clothes: be clear on what type of clothes everyone should wear. Do you want people to dress smart or are you happy with more casual jeans and t-shirts. Avoid a colour-coordinated, matchy-matchy approach – it just looks contrived.
  • Shooting from above: if you’re shooting outside, see if you can find a location where everyone can lie beneath a window, then you can shoot down from a floor above (just be careful!). Otherwise, you’ll need to get in close and stand over them using a step ladder. If you’re shooting indoors, check out this hack by Sina from Happy Grey Lucky. When shooting for above, she creates a makeshift little shelf for her smartphone out of an old cardboard box, tapes it to the ceiling with strong tape and uses her cameraphone’s timer function to get the shot. Genuis!
  • Expressions: play around with several different facial expressions, such as laughing, smiling, sticking tongues out etc, to see what looks best. Don’t forget to tell everyone where their eyes should look too. Sometimes looking away from the camera results in a more artistic photo.
  • Poses: experiment with different poses that bring one or two hands into the shot; a gentle caress of the cheek, a hand cupping an ear whispering a secret, or a hand over the mouth suppressing a giggle. It’s these sorts of touches that can bring a photo to life.
  • Positions: you don’t need to have everyone lying in a rigid line either. You could try arranging everyone head to head in a circle or just play around with more random, loose configurations.

Once you’re happy with your portrait, upload the image to Photobox and apply to your chosen gift.

Simple Canvas

Print your photo edge-to-edge on your Canvas Print and let your picture do all the talking.

Square Prints

Don’t leave your Insta shots on your feed, put them on a Square Print – they’re already in the right format!

Retro Prints

Go for a 70s style with these vintage-inspired prints. You can even add a caption or write on them with marker pens later.

Collage posters

Put up all of your favourite shots in the spotlight with a supersized collage poster.

Framed Magnet Collage

Change your photo collage in a flash with a set of photo magnets and frame.

Little Moments Photo Book

Tell your story in a flash with this small 25-photos book.

Standard & Large Photo Diaries

Admire your favourite shots while getting organised with a photo diary.

Square Magnets

Turn your fridge into wall art with your set of 9 photo magnets.

Box Framed Prints

Add depth to your creation with a 48 mm deep frame and make your snap take centre stage.

Wooden Photo Panels

Turn your best snaps into wooden works of art.

Acrylic Prints

Give your photos some serious wow-factor with an acrylic print that makes colours truly pop.

A4 & A3 Personalised Wall Calendars

Opt for a traditional look with our classic Wall Calendar.