Christmas is only 6 days away and marks the middle of the holiday season. It is also the most exciting time to take photographs for a variety of reasons – the natural elements, the captivating and imaginative decorations and the festive mood. With all of your family & friends together, you’ll have a chance to create imagery that will be shared and cherished for generations to come. Below are several Christmas photography tips to make sure you capture amazing holiday imagery.
Get out in the brisk air and take photos of the snow-covered homes and lawns in your area. Most neighborhoods have several families that have decked out their homes with intricate lighting and props – these make excellent backdrops for your photos. It also helps to shoot at night when the whiteness of the snow elevates the overall light level (like a natural reflector). You’ll want to use long shutter speeds – below 1/15, which might require a tripod – to get some spectacular shots of the illuminated houses and sky.
Christmas lights & ornaments
Lights and ornaments are the holiday decorations you’ll find in nearly every Christmas photograph. You’ll want to find ways to utilize them in inventive ways such as extreme close-ups or having them dominate the frame where the people populate the background to give dimension and suggest depth. Another interesting and effective technique you can employ when photographing ornaments and lights is the bokeh technique. With bokeh, you use the blurred or soft focus part of an image as part of the image composition.
The holiday season is the perfect time to highlight the importance of relationships. The stress and pressure of the passing year may wear on your family & friends, but everyone is glad to relax and spend time with family. As with Thanksgiving, you have a chance to take photographs that define emotional moments for years, if not decades to come. The joy of the “giving season” amplifies your subjects, so they’ll be more expressive when you ask them to pose together. Fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, brothers, sisters, husbands and wives will all be open to suggestions on how and where to stand to enable you to capture the bonds between them. Try to get them to smile and laugh; and suggest that couples stand beneath mistletoe for a holiday kiss. Also, stay ready to anticipate smiles and laughs; make sure to keep your camera up as your family & friends open their gifts and snap away at their reactions. Some of your best shots from Christmas will be the non-posed, in-the-moment images.
Capture the preparation stages
Families come together at holidays, but not just for the main event; they’ll come to help decorate, which leads to exciting, fun-filled moments! Trimming the tree is a special moment in creating the atmosphere of Christmas and most families have a cherished collection of ornaments, lights and stockings. Try to get people’s faces as they open the ornament boxes; young children are especially good subjects. Make sure to also capture when the star (or angel) is placed on the top of the tree and when everything is on the tree & the lights are plugged in for the first time.
Focus on the eyes
It’s critical to compose the image with as little headroom and open space on the sides as possible so the image is more about the faces and the eyes. The rest of the décor will filter into the image on its own. You can use a flash with most indoor Christmas photos, but use a detachable flash (or an angled flash) to bounce the light off the ceiling.
Take group portraits
Christmas photos can have dual uses – you take them for the memories and you can use them as your family’s Christmas card. Either way, you’ll want to make sure that you (the photographer) are in some of the important family photos. You can start by positioning everyone by the Christmas tree with some presents in the composition; then, use a tripod and the camera’s timer for the group shot so you can get in the photo too. Just set your exposure values (shutter, ISO and aperture), compose your frame, set the timer interval (between 3 – 10 seconds) then press the shutter. For Christmas portraits, consider including fun Christmas props like Santa hats and cute holiday outfits. It’s tempting to lounge around in pajamas all day, but a little bit of extra planning will add to the image.
Consider a photo booth
Photo booths are super simple to do; all you need is a tripod, a backdrop (like a curtain or streamers) and your camera & you’re good to go! There are free photo booth apps for Android & iOs along with a variety of simple, inexpensive photo booth software. They’re a great addition to large holiday parties and small family gatherings.
Settings & equipment
There’s usually going to be a lot of additional light sources on during Christmas and these will change the ambient light level, but not so much that you can shoot at ISO 100, so aim for ISO 200 – ISO 400. Shutter speeds should be between 1/30 and 1/1000 your aperture settings can be in the range of f/2 to f/5.6. You’ll get shallow to moderate depth of field at these settings which will add to the ambiance by keeping the illuminated background just out of focus. When choosing a lens, a fast zoom lens will work best; you’ll have a wide-angle for group portraits & decorated houses and you’ll also be able to grab intimate and inviting close-ups. Also, consider having your tripod available; it can be helpful for stabilizing the camera for high angle shots (which might be the best way to get everyone in a group shot). You should also consider using a flash with a tilt/swivel head to avoid having the flash fire head-on at your subjects; a head-on flash will wash out not only the skin tones, but the vibrant color cast from all the Christmas lights as well.
The Christmas holiday is a heavily photographed event, so it’s important to approach the subject with an eye for doing something different and compelling. Utilize the ornaments and the lights to spruce up the background elements of your shots (and remember to experiment with the bokeh technique), focus on your subject’s eyes and work to position your family in positions that emphasize their close relationships and the joy the season brings. It can become the gift that keeps on giving, year after year!