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 the trend for formal studio portraits might be over, browsing through Pinterest, you’d be forgiven for thinking that all family photos nowadays must involve cheesy colour-coordinated clothing, peering through empty picture frames, or ‘we’re so crazy’ parents dangling the kids upside down from their ankles. Not to mention the elaborately-styled retro spoofs with 80’s mullets, frizzy perms and double denim, or the Photoshop wizardry that has everybody riding a super-sized version of the family’s chocolate labradoodle.

As a professional party planner, I’m usually the last person to advocate for a restrained ‘less is more’ approach to anything (no to practical champagne flutes, yes to fiddly mason jar cocktails adorned with raffia-tied monogrammed tags, sprigs of fresh autumn berries and hand-shattered shards of ice made from distilled water). But if your plans for a family portrait start resembling a Kardashian family Christmas card, you might want to dial it down just a smidge.

I think there’s a middle ground between traditional and kooky that works for family portraits because you want to create something timeless. You can easily add some creativity to your photos simply by experimenting with different angles and positions. Not all portraits need to have everyone smiling straight at the camera.

These profile portraits are a great example of how you can highlight the similarities between family members, emphasize the different generations or portray the close-knit relationship between a group of friends – simply by photographing everyone from a less conventional angle. There’s no need for gimmicks or props, just some subtle art direction and what you end up with is a beautiful portrait that’s classic yet contemporary. And when it comes to gift-giving, I’d always recommend going for something tasteful and timeless over a novelty or fad.

1. How it works

If you’re only photographing two people, such as siblings, best friends or partners, you have the option of shooting each person facing in different directions, as in the example above. This overlapping of faces creates a striking and unusual image, which in the case of siblings, is a great way to highlight physical similarities.

For larger groups, it works best to line everyone up facing in the same direction. Keep in mind, the more people you have in the photo, the further away some are going to be from the lens. Therefore, depending on where you place the focus, some faces might be sharp, while others might be a little soft. Traditionally, you want everyone in a portrait to be equally sharp, but as this is a more creative and stylised image, I wouldn’t worry too much about traditional rules. Just play around with different depths of field and camera angles so see what works best.

In terms of how you arrange the group, there are also no set rules. If you prefer a more stylised family portrait it makes sense to arrange in order of age, from oldest to youngest, whereas if you’re creating a more relaxed, informal photo – perhaps of a mum with her daughters as a gift for dad – then you can also try placing the parent in the middle.

Be sure to experiment with different facial expressions too. While smiling or laughing might be the more natural choice, sometimes still, neutral faces can draw the viewer in and ultimately create a more artistic image.

Check out my other tips for creating the best photo at the end of this page.

2. Who it’s for

These types of shots lend themselves perfectly to family portraits but if you want the entire family involved, it obviously can’t be a complete surprise. In this case, focus on making the actual gift – a Photobox Canvas or 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.

Alternatively, you don’t have to include the entire family. A profile portrait of a group of siblings makes a wonderful birthday, Christmas or Mother/Father’s Day gift for their parents, as would a shot of just one parent with the kids as a surprise for the other. Similarly, you could get your immediate family together to create a touching gift for a grandparent.

Of course, this idea isn’t just limited to family portraits. It would 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 or 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!). Or if it’s a friend’s wedding anniversary, you could reassemble all their bridesmaids / groomsmen for a nostalgic and sentimental gift.

It’s a versatile idea that you can tailor to many different occasions.

1. How to turn it into a gift

This is such an unusual and artistic way to capture a group of friends or family, so I recommend giving 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.

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 gift 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: indoor or outdoor lighting has a huge impact on how your image will look. With outdoor lighting, such as the example below left, you often end up with a more natural looking portrait. Whereas with indoor lighting, you have more scope to play around with how the light hits the subject’s faces from different directions, which can create a more stylised and artistic portrait.
  • Background:Think about what will be in the background of your shot. If it’s outdoor it might be a view of the sea or some trees. If indoor, you might choose a plain wall or something more textured, such as brick. Either way, I’d avoid anything busy or patterned. Often you see this type of portrait shot in a studio where the photographer has used a black backdrop– which you could replicate yourself by taping some paper or fabric to the wall. The advantage of a black background is that if you, or someone you know, is familiar with any photo-editing tools, you can play around with the brightness to darken out the surrounding areas and place more emphasis on just the faces – which can create a more artistic and professional-looking portrait.
  • Clothes: 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? Try to avoid a colour-coordinated matchy-matchy approach, it just looks contrived.
  • Expressions: play around with several different facial expressions, such as laughing, smiling, mouths open/mouths closed, neutral faces etc to see what looks best. Don’t forget to tell everyone where their eyes should look too.
  • Orientation: even if you’re planning to create a square portrait, take the photo in landscape mode, allowing plenty of empty background on either side of the group and above. This will give you more options when you come to crop later. I’d also suggest you include their upper bodies in the shot, like the example below left, so you can decide later exactly where to crop the image if you just want it to be headshots.

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

Collage Canvas

Illustrations, layouts, background colours… Let your creativity run wild with a Collage Canvas.

Photo Coasters

Relive your best moments every time you have a drink – cheers!

Simple Mug

Put one of your favourite photos on a mug – plain and simple.

Collage posters

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

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.

Aluminium Mounted Prints

Get your photos printed directly onto aluminium for a modern alternative to a traditional print.