According to research from Twitter, 60% of people expect this year’s holiday routines to change, but that doesn’t mean we won’t be celebrating. In fact, Twitter saw a 59% year-on-year increase in impressions for holiday-related tweets. Around the world, brands and individuals are going the extra mile to make this year special, whether it’s through virtual get-togethers, homemade decorations, meaningful gifts, or brand-new traditions.

The holidays will look different in 2020, and so will seasonal ad campaigns. While the holidays are always popular subjects in commercial stock photography, there are some important movements, trends, and themes to keep in mind this year. We’ve compiled this list of five timely ideas to incorporate into your Licensing sessions to make your images stand out to today’s buyers.


Gen Z consumers are driving an ongoing movement towards authenticity in advertising, with 79% saying they’ll trust a company more if the images its brand uses are not photoshopped and 84% saying the same if a brand uses actual customers in their ads. Marketers understand the demand for relatable commercial images; over on Getty Images, searches for keywords like “real family” and “authentic moments” rose by 678% and 122% in 2019.

This push for realness in marketing will continue throughout the holiday season; a survey from OnePoll suggests that three out of four people think brands shouldn’t produce their usual style of Christmas campaigns this year but instead focus on real people. Only 8% of respondents thought brands should cast actors rather than people telling their own stories.

The good news for commercial photographers is that you can create these kinds of sessions at home, on a limited budget, and with friends and family. Think of ways to capture that “homemade” feel in your own life by documenting your own traditions and experiences this season.


Realness and diversity go hand-in-hand. Today’s customers want to feel represented by the brands they support; new research from Getty Images shows that six in ten respondents say they prefer to buy from brands that are founded by or represent people like themselves.

Although holiday gatherings this year are likely to be smaller, people are still planning to celebrate with those closest to them, whether it’s immediate family or a chosen family of friends. In the past, holiday ads have struggled to represent people authentically, and critics have taken note.

The way we celebrate looks different for everyone, and more and more, brands want to reflect that. Earlier this year, for instance, Ritz released Where there’s love, there’s family, a powerful holiday campaign celebrating non-traditional families.

In 2019, Getty Images observed a 227% boost in searches for “Diverse Christmas.” For commercial photographers, this movement means more than going through the motions of including diverse people or acknowledging diversity; it also means tapping into real and relatable stories. The holidays are about family, and family can take many forms.

Start close to home by documenting your community, chosen family, and traditions, and think of ways to make your message more inclusive. Perhaps that means photographing your Kwanzaa traditions, Yalda Night rituals, or Hanukkah celebrations; if you’re based in the southern hemisphere, for instance, maybe it means capturing Christmas in the sun. Ask friends about how they plan to observe the holidays, and enlist their help in bringing those ideas to life.


Research from Getty Images shows that 92% of consumers surveyed across the world are deeply concerned about at least one environmental concern, and eight out of 10 expect businesses to be environmentally aware in all their advertising and communications. The sustainability movement is here to stay.

What does that mean for the holidays? Well, they look different this year. According to Google Trends, searches for “eco-friendly Christmas” have gone up by 150% in the last few years, and Better Homes & Gardens has named “recycled materials” as one of their top trends of the season. Etsy’s Holiday Trends report also reveals that shoppers are looking to minimize their impact on the environment.

Americans throw out 25 percent more trash than usual between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, accounting for an estimated million extra tons per week. Many are doing their part to reduce waste by switching to reusable wrapping paper, fabric, and cloth, and cutting down on gifts. Some are replacing plastics with compostable table settings, and others are going with energy-saving LED lights.

As a result, more brands are likely to steer clear of images with wasteful undertones, including plastic use. Last year, Getty Images noticed increases in searches for “sustainable Christmas,” “minimal Christmas,” and “Christmas recycle,” while terms like “Big Christmas,” “pile of Christmas presents,” and “Christmas Shopping retail,” decreased in popularity. “Whether capturing people exchanging reusable gifts, brown paper, or sustainable wrapping, homemade gifts or ornaments, or no gifts at all, there are many ways to work the theme of sustainability into your holiday shoots,” the 500px Content Team tells us.


Speaking of insights from Getty Images, they also observed a 253% increase in searches for “Veganism,” while searches for “Christmas Roast” and “Turkey carving” declined by 17% and 52%, respectively. Veganism ties back to the realness movement as well as the push toward diversity and sustainability.

Between 2014 and 2019, the number of vegans in the UK quadrupled, according to research, while Waitrose & Partners reported a 40% year-on-year increase in sales of vegan Christmas foods. Research from Tesco further revealed that one in five hosts would be serving vegan options in 2019, and one in twelve people would have an entirely vegetarian or vegan meal for Christmas.

As more people become aware of the harmful effects of the meat industry on our planet and animal welfare, brands are catching up by providing plant-based alternatives. In 2018, Zizzi became the first brand in the UK to feature a vegan Santa in one of their ads, while a year later, Ikea UK announced their first 100% Meat Free Christmas Menu. This is fertile ground for commercial photographers, whether they’re shooting lifestyle photos of vegan cookie baking or a spread of veggie dishes on the dinner table.

Commercial photography has come a long way since 2011, when a vegan magazine infamously went viral for using stock photos of meat on their website, and it’s never been easier to create mouthwatering visuals with real, fresh, plant-based ingredients. Almost every traditional holiday dish has a creative vegan alternative, so do some shopping and make a day of it.


Technology is reshaping the holiday season, from the way we shop to the way we connect with family. This year, Deloitte’s holiday retail survey revealed that 65% of customers prefer shopping online to avoid crowds. On top of that, 50% of Americans plan to switch their holiday celebrations from in-person to online, according to a survey from Morning Consult. According to Etsy’s Holiday Trends report, virtual toasts will also be in vogue this New Year.

Technology has been trending in commercial photography all year, but it’ll be a crucial element to consider in your holiday photoshoots. The newest devices will certainly be trendy gifts this year, but they’ll also be an integral part of how we celebrate and communicate this season.

Of course, people will also be spending time streaming holiday movies online, so be sure to grab some photos of the family snuggled up on the couch watching their favorite show. Seasonal selfies, virtual online shopping, and gift-opening parties are other shoot ideas to consider; perhaps you also photograph a friend cooking with a recipe on a tablet or chatting via FaceTime.

Remember to follow our tips for shooting technology for your Licensing portfolio, as tech devices often come with copyrighted buttons and logos that’ll have to be obscured or edited out. Keep in mind that technology doesn’t have to be the main subject of your images; it can also play a supporting role in lifestyle photos, showing how families are staying together even if they’re physically apart.

These five themes are broad and versatile, so consider them while brainstorming your next commercial photoshoot. Make them your own, and tailor them to your style and your community. Finally, don’t forget to tag these terms in your metadata; buyers will be searching for them, so add those keywords to ensure your photos surface for the right clients.

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