8 Tips for Memorable Christmas Photos

We look forward to it all year long and now Christmas is just a few short days away. Each year brings new precious memories, and as photographers, we enjoy preserving those memorable moments as best we can in photo. Our skills, techniques, and vision improve year over year, and I felt that these 8 tips would help to provide a solid base for capturing some great images this Christmas.

White Balance

Christmastime is one of the trickiest times for white balance control. If you’re outdoors shooting snowy landscapes, all of that white snow can play tricks with your camera’s metering and white balance. The best bet is to set a custom white balance as soon as you go outside to shoot. Alternatively, you can shoot in RAW and adjust the white balance in post process. We also have some great tips for snow shooting and white balance control in our December 2011 Edition of the PhotographyBB Magazine (Vol. 47).

If you’re not going to be braving the cold, there will be plenty of indoor moments to capture also. Take care to set your camera’s white balance based on the indoor lighting so that your images don’t come out looking too warm (although a little is nice this time of year).

Capture Moments, Not Faces!

It’s not always about getting everyone to sit still and pose with a big smile. Memorable moments are all about creative spontaneity. One way to capture such photos is to shoot the Christmas Day action without your subjects knowing. Try photographing your children from the back as they open a present. Look for ways to capture the festivities while purposefully not including faces. It can be challenging, but the results are worth it.

You’re on Candid Camera

As with the previous tip, make photos of your family/friends that are not posed. This time, look for expressions of wonder, excitement, laughter… In the beginning it can be difficult with everyone being aware of the camera, so keep shooting throughout the day. People become less aware and you’ll be able to grab some great shots of natural moments and pure expressions. Posed photos of loved ones are great, but candid shots that capture reality in a frame can be timeless. Shooting in burst mode with a fast lens is ideal in these situations.

Blur is Good, Bokeh is Better

We all love beautiful bokeh, but Christmastime has to be one of the best times of year to experiment. Throw your camera out of focus and aim for those Christmas lights. Indoor or out, a whole new world of creative opportunity opens when you bypass detail for shapes and colours. Set your camera/lens on manual focus and have a ball. This works great on lights, but try it out with some of your candid shots of people too.

Don’t be Too Flashy

When shooting indoors at Christmastime, flash can be a tricky thing to use. Too much flash and you’ll overpower any lights from your tree, and without a flash your portraits may wind up looking too dark. If you are shooting with a flash unit, aim it up towards the ceiling or facing a wall at a low power, and use the bounced light instead of directly flashing your subjects. You can also try using rear-curtain sync mode to capture some ambient light from the room. If you are shooting with a point-n-shoot camera, try using the “indoor” or “night mode” presets to work the flash while still grabbing some of the ambient room lighting. If the flash is too harsh, you can hold a small piece of tissue in front of it to diffuse the light further.

In many cases, simply increasing the ISO to around 800 will be enough to shoot without a flash. Flash is good for any posed family shots, while you’ll want to stay flash-less for those candid photos as it is less distracting, and produces more natural looking images. Again, in both cases (flash or no-flash), remember to set your white balance!

Creative Apertures

This is one of the coolest little tricks I’ve learned over the years. Craft stores sell hole-punchers in different shapes (such as hearts, stars, etc…). Get a thick piece of black construction paper, and punch out a shaped hole. Next, open your camera’s aperture as wide as it can go (shoot in Aperture Priority mode for this), while holding your punched out card over your lens. This allows light to enter through the shape you cut out, and the resulting bokeh takes on that shape. It’s a cool effect that can add some kick to those light-filled backgrounds.

On the subject of apertures… Shooting in Aperture Priority mode is a good bet on Christmas Day, so that you can keep adjusting as necessary. Wide apertures (such as f/2.8) are good for single subjects and even those up-close, detail shots. When shooting images with depth, such as a dinner table shot with family seated, you can close down the aperture to f/8 or even f/11 to widen the depth of field and keep everyone’s face (and all that delicious food) nice and sharp.

It’s All About the Details

There are plenty of great photo opportunities to be found in the details of Christmas Day. Get up close and personal with decorations, wrapping paper, and let’s not forget – food! Our loved-ones (and ourselves) work hard to put up decorations, strategically place ornaments, and cook that amazing food. It’s all about the details, so look for things like patterns, repetition, and textures. A few detail shots will add interest and life to your Christmas photo collection this year.

Beware the Background

When shooting indoors on Christmas Day, it’s important to be aware of the background whether you are shooting posed or candid shots. Backgrounds can be especially busy at this time of year, especially with all of the lights, decorations, wrapping paper, or even people (if there are many around). Great photos are ones that draw the eyes of your viewer to a particular subject (or point-of-interest). You can minimize distracting backgrounds and isolate your subjects by shooting with a wide aperture to play with the depth of field.

I hope you find these tips helpful to your Christmas Day shooting. As always, Happy Photographing. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas.

About the author

Dave Seeram is the Editor of PhotographyBB Magazine, photographer, Canucks fan, Lostie,  fanboy, Dad, blogger, entrepreneur, and part-time superhero. Dave is the owner of this blog, Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of the PhotographyBB Magazine and CLARITY: PHOTOGRAPHY BEYOND THE CAMERA

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