How to Shoot Hot Cocoa Mini Sessions

Christmas Mini Sessions

How to Shoot Hot Cocoa Photo Sessions

The most magical time of the year is almost here and after the long and difficult year we've all had, a little magic is what we all need, am I right?

This is the time of year I try to ignite as much magic as I can into my kids, family, friends and clients.  There's nothing better than seeing the love and sparkle that comes from deep within them.

Every year, I like to come up with a magical and fun Christmas mini session idea that will spark interest in my clients and community.

So this year, I decided to try my own Hot Cocoa Mini Sessions!

Snow Overlays Photoshop


This is the first time I tried a Hot Cocoa Photo Session, so I thought I would start out by practicing with my two children - first up was my 3 year old son!

I started by purchasing a beautiful holiday backdrop.  But this wasn't your typical hot cocoa stand backdrop or little gingerbread cottage backdrop that you see quite often.  It was a 96"x60" backrop from Fancy Fabric & Props called "Twinkle Winter Wonderland" and thats exactly what it was.  It radiates PURE HOLIDAY MAGIC and when you look at it, it makes you feel like you are actually in a Winter Wonderland!

I knew it would be perfect for my Hot Cocoa holiday mini sessions!

Christmas Mini Session Idea

Setup & Props

Next, I started gathering & creating props for my Hot Cocoa photo sessions.

To create the white floor, I used two white wall panels that I purchased from Lowes.  After I hung my winter wonderland backdrop on my backdrop stand, I needed to blend it in with the floor, so I added some buffalo snow at the bottom of the backdrop where the floor and backdrop meet and also added some twinkle lights to the snow.

It looked amazing!

To create the giant hot cocoa cup that my kids would sit in, I purchased a large planter (also from Lowes) - one that you would normally use for flowers or plants.  The exact planter I found was made by Style Selections and was 20" wide by 17.4" tall.  It came in a beige color off the shelf, but I wanted a white one, so my husband spray painted it for me and it turned out even better than I imagined!

The planter also didn't have any holes in the bottom, so I didnt have to worry about any water leaking out.  But make sure to check for holes when you are choosing your own.

Holiday Mini Sessions

To create the hot cocoa straw, I bought a 3 foot long piece of 1" white PVC pipe from my local hardware store.  It didn't come in a 3 foot length, but they were kind enough to cut it to size when I asked.  For the red part of the straw, I used red tape made by Scotch, that I also purchased the same hardware store.

Now, for the really fun part - HOT COCOA!

There are a couple different ways to simulate hot cocoa.  For my kids, I filled up the cup with about 15 gallons of warm water - holy moly!  That was a lot and took awhile, but I wanted to make sure that it was filled up enough so that when I was shooting, I would be able to see the water in the photos.

Next, I added a bit of milk to the water to give it the "cloudy" look that Hot Cocoa has.  And if you don't want to use actual milk, you can also use powdered milk.

Then, I added about 1 1/2 packs of ACTUAL hot cocoa mix.  I made sure to mix it really well, so there were no clumps of the powder in the water.  If you don't want to use actual hot cocoa powder, food coloring can also work.

Finally, I added some JUMBO CAMPFIRE Marshmallows which I purchased from my local grocery store.  The bags that I bought came with about 12 HUGE marshmallows in them so I purchased two bags.  I pute some inside the cup  and then also added some on the floor around the cup.  It was PERFECT!

When my setup was finally ready to go, my son hopped into the cup and had the time of his life.  I had him put on a cute little Santa hat and let him munch on a few marshmallows.  He couldn't stop smiling!

Christmas Mini Photo Session

Then a week later, my daughter decided she wanted to do the same shoot.  She's a bit older than my son and I wasn't sure how I wanted to capture this moment with her and make it age appropriate.  So decided to buy her a fun winter hat that was red with a faux fur ball on top and a bathing suit that looked like a candy cane that I found on Amazon.

I followed the same setup I described above and it turned out just as magical!!

Camera Settings

When I shoot, I shoot natural light.  So I kept my F-stop between 2.5 and 2.8, my shutter speed at 1/250th and my ISO between 400-800.

Editing Tips

After I finished each shoot, I couldn't wait to edit my photos!  I had a visualized in my mind exactly how I wanted them to look and began to think about how to edit them to achieve what I had in mind.

I edit mostly in Lightroom, so I thought the presets from the Pretty Presets & Actions new Clean and Colorful Millennium Collection would be a perfect fit for these photos.

Clean & Colorful Lightroom Presets

Once I uploaded my images into Lightroom, I played around with the different presets in the Clean and Colorful Collection.  For these images, I used the Crystal Springs preset - it was perfect and there was not much else I needed to change after I applied it. 

I did make a few small adjustments to the exposure, contrast, temp and orange saturation settings.  I also sharpened the photo and upped the noise reduction a little.

After completing my Lightroom edits, I saved my photo and opened it in Photoshop to add some extra little magical touches like snow from the Pretty Presets & Actions "Let it Snow" Collection for Photoshop to make it look like it was actually snowing and steam coming from the cup to enhance the hot cocoa effect.

Christmas Photo Session


After seeing how in LOVE I was with these photos and the magic that radiated from my children, I knew I had to offer them to clients.  Shooting my children with this set up brought me so much joy and happiness and I knew deep down in my heart, that this would be an amazing memory so many families would love to have.

Photography brings me a joy like no other.  It warms my heart that I am able to capture incredible memories for others that they will be able to cherish for a lifetime.

I hope that you can use this guide to help create some magical holiday photos for your own family, friends and clients.  Come join me in the Pretty Presets & Actions Facebook group -- I can't wait to see what kind of magic you can create with this fun holiday setup!

Until next time, best wishes and holiday kisses!

Christmas Photography Sessions

Do you have any questions or comments about Hot Cocoa Photo Sessions?  Just leave us a comment below - we would LOVE to hear from you!  And PLEASE SHARE this post using the social sharing buttons (we really appreciate it)!

Holiday Bokeh Overlays