Christmas for many means time with family and friends. Often it is the only time of year that everyone is together; the kids are excited and the house is decked out in festive cheer, what better way to celebrate the occasion than to take some photos!
Here are our top five tips for taking great photos this Christmas!
…You might use a small digital camera, a huge pro-level D-SLR, smart phone or even an old-school film camera, it doesn’t matter because the principles of photography are pretty similar regardless of the equipment.
1. Good lighting is essential
“All the lights are shining, So brightly everywhere… Baby all I want for Christmas is you
You!” – Mariah Carey
Photography is all about light. The word it’s self means writing (graph) with light (photo). If you don’t have decent light, you don’t have a decent photo. The number one tip for taking a great photo, whatever time of year, is to make sure you have good lighting!
If you are shooting indoors on Christmas day consider how the room is lit.
Fairy lights and candles may be festive – and they can make an awesome background – but they don’t provide a good light for your photos. Low light conditions don’t provide enough light for the camera to pick-up, resulting in photos that are dark and fuzzy. Turn on a few extra lights if you have too.
It is also possible to have too much light and it takes experience to arrive at a good balance.
If your photos look dark, don’t always rely on flash. The light from tiny on-camera flashes tends to be harsh, produces unsightly shadows and red eyes and it is rarely complimentary to your subjects. The better alternative is to find a spot with more light.
If that is not possible try defusing your flash by placing some tissue over so that it scatters the light for a softer effect, or bouncing it off of a wall or the ceiling so that the light hits your subject at a softer angle. Although this would usually require a separate flash gun as opposed to the small pop-up flash on your camera.
If you are shooting indoors and during the day, light your subjects with natural light by positioning them close to a window or open door. Natural light is much more complimentary to skin tones and will produce a beautifully lit photo.
2. Take your photos outdoors
“Do you wanna build a snowman? Come on lets go and play…” – Frozen
Daytime or nighttime you can shoot some wonderfully Christmas-y photos outdoors.
Wrap the kids up warm in hats and scarves and go for a walk on a crisp winter’s afternoon; a beautiful blue sky with snow on the ground, a background of fir trees and holly. You can keep you camera settings simple as the light reflecting off of the snow will be beautiful. Shoot some action shots as they build a snowman, have a snowball fight, make a snow angel and some rosy cheeked portraits as they take a rest.
Christmas lights make excellent subjects or backdrops to your evening photos. Try shooting them 20-30 minutes after sunset when there is still enough ambient light to capture some colour in the sky. You want that happy medium between enough darkness to bring our the vibrancy and colour of the lights and enough light to show the detail.
Don’t use your flash, it will have the opposite effect that you are aiming for and will simply wash your subject out and make the lights look dimmer. If your camera has manual controls try using a long shutter speed with your camera on a tripod to stop any camera shake. You may need to take several shots until you get the right settings – try starting at 1/30 second and see what happens – but when done right this will result in some spectacular photos of the lights!
The only time you may want to use your flash is if you are taking a photo of someone in front of lights. Still keeping your camera on the tripod with the slow shutter speed to bring our the colours of the house lights, add in a little fill-flash to light the foreground and your subject.
3. Keep the composition simple
Composition is all about how you frame the photo; where you shoot from, what you include in the shot and where you include it. So how should you compose your Christmas photos?
Try to compose your photos creatively and get in close – don’t just stand across the room and get lots of details in the photos that you don’t need. On Christmas morning there can be so much action that it’s tempting to zoom out to try and capture all of it in any given moment. The risk is that your photos will feel cluttered and lack any real subject.
Decide what your subject is, get in close and fill the frame! Focus on one subject at a time. It is generally a good idea to avoid placing your subject in the middle of the photo. Try dividing your image into thirds, both horizontally and vertically and position your subject in one third of the frame. Have you ever wondered why the camera screen on your iPhone has a grid on it splitting it into thirds…? Following the rule of thirds can create a more visually interesting photo.
By all means do shoot some wide images too to give some establishing shots to your Christmas Day story… Which moves us nicely onto tip number four…!
4. Tell the story
“Rocking around the Christmas tree, At the Christmas party hop, Mistletoe hung where you can see, Every couple tries to stop, Rocking around the Christmas tree, Let the Christmas spirit ring, Later we’ll have some pumpkin pie, And we’ll do some caroling.”
Don’t just shoot posed photos, shoot some of the action to capture the day as it happens!
The children running down the stairs early in the morning excited to see what Father Christmas has left under the tree; the opening of gifts is filled with an array of emotions, facial expressions and excitement. Try using rapid fire to shoot the whole sequence of events.
Try capturing the preparation stages, the bustle of the kitchen as the Christmas put is being lit, potatoes chopped and the turkey (or nut roast…!) going into the oven!
The trick to a great photo story is to plan it beforehand and to include establishing shots; perhaps the whole room as everyone is sitting down for Christmas dinner; detailed image, think close up photos of the decorations, the food or the presents wrapped up under the tree, and action photos.
Shoot people as they are talking, laughing, dancing, playing games, eating. Grandpa asleep in in the corner, the two-year old’s tears, the tipsy aunt who has had one two many glasses of sherry! Look for action and reaction shots, presents being opened, crackers pulled, carols sung, wine poured…
Christmas photos are about more than the family in a line smiling forced smiles at the camera – the best Christmas photos capture the memories of the whole day!
5. Make sure everyone is in the photos!
Christmas time is a time when whole families get together, but often there is one person missing from the photos – the photographer! You want to make sure that you are in some of the important family photos.
Get the kids to take some shots, it will be fun to see their perspective of the day, or pop the camera on a tripod or stable surface, set the self timer mode & jump into some of the photos.
Christmas decorations make fabulous backgrounds for your group shots. Experiment with the aperture on your camera; try using a wide aperture when positioning people in front of the tree as this will make the lights fall out of focus and give a lovely soft background.
Some tips for taking group photos at Christmas
- Focus on the eyes and try and get in close – Photos of people are instantly improved when you focus in on your subject’s eyes and the closer you can get, the more detail you’ll have in their faces
- Take multiple shots, just in case Grandma blinks at the wrong moment but also after the first couple of shots people tend to relax and you will achieve more natural smiles and expressions.
- Make sure no one is hidden! (Yes, I am that person who always hides at the back of group photos!) Remember, taller people should go to the back and short people to the front or sides. At the same time, to dramatically improve the composition, get people’s heads on different levels.
- Try not to make a group photo too ‘deep’ (ie keep the distance between the people at the front and the people at the back as small as you can). This will help keep everyone in focus.
- Remember tip number one – Good lighting is essential!
- Let the group come together naturally, aka have fun,! This will provide the most natural smiles and expressions
- Keep your shutter speed at least 1/125 to make sure your photos aren’t blurry.
What will you do with your photos after Christmas?
“Oh, I wish it could be Christmas, every day… Let the bells ring out for Christmas!”
You now have a wonderful visual story of your family Christmas. Don’t just hide the photos away on your computer. Here are a few ideas of things to do with them:
Make your photos glow!
There is lots of image editing software available that you can use to give your photos a boost, and best of all, some of it is free! Two of the best I’ve come across are:
Digital photos are great, but prints you can frame and hang on the wall to see everyday, not just when you open the photos app on your computer, are even better!
For personal use, I’ve always been really happy with prints from Photobox.
Also check out their options for photo books and wall art to turn your Christmas photos into a truly bespoke piece of artwork!
Show then off!
How about using one of your awesome festive family photos to make a personalised Christmas card for next year! Moo are great for making cards and you can even use a different photo for each card in the pack!
Want to get a little more creative?
Check out ‘Be Funky’ for making a collage of all your festive photos!
We’d love to see some of your Christmas photos and what you’ve done with them afterwards, send your favourite to us and let us know how you got on with our hints & tips to firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: I don’t have children and at our family Christmases I am often the youngest person in the room so I have had to borrow photos from other people! All used with permission.