Guide To Fantastic Holiday Photos

There are only a few more days until Christmas, and by now you’re sick of shopping, traffic, commercials, and all of the other bull that has become a necessary hazard of the season. Seriously? It’s time to relax and start to enjoy ourselves.

Time to do something fun and learn something new that doesn’t involve a mall or any major roads for that matter. For me, that means I’m going to pick up my camera. Haven’t you always wanted to have an awesome Christmas album that doesn’t just consist of photos like this?

I wanted to compile a list of photographic ideas that will keep you from a box of photos like that one and full of photos that remind you of everything great about the holidays. So the next time you get back from the mall in December and you want to burn the Christmas tree to the ground, you have photos that will keep you in the spirit.

1. Turn Off The Flash – Your camera’s flash ruined Christmas. And it’s your fault – unless you turn it off. Think about it – there is nothing in existence that photographs *well* with a pop-up flash. It’s too harsh! Those photos of your tree and the softly lit front porch just won’t be as effective with a harsh flash.

So get out your tripod and set your camera for a longer exposure to capture the kind of light that reflects the Christmas spirit. Be sure to use available light, like the light reflected from windows, snow on the ground, overhead lights, and soft Christmas lights. Be sure to adjust your white balance to compensate for your environment!

2. Ornament Bokeh – Get all up on your tree and focus in on some of your favorite ornaments. These kind of shots are great for family albums and scrapbooks, or even framed art that you can hang during the Christmas season. Not to mention they are a ton of fun to play around with. Just release the creativity in you, the woman artist. Ideally, you would want a lens with a wide aperture to achieve this kind of shot.

I have a 35mm f/1.8, which I found worked GREAT for this! Use the widest aperture possible and adjust your exposure so the lights aren’t too bright.  Turn on an overhead light to help yourself out with this. Here is a couple from our tree:

Even if you don’t have a fancy lens with a wide aperture try using distance to achieve this shot (or use macro mode!) – get close to the ornament or decoration you want to photograph and focus on it while placing bunches of Christmas lights a few feet behind your subject. The depth of field should make your lights turn into soft dreamy orbs behind your subject.

3. Oh, the Weather Outside Is Weather – I know it might be a bit cold where you are…but you were dreaming of white Christmas, so why not have proof that your wishes came true? Layer up and step outside to capture all the fluffy white goodness. Here’s my handy guide to photographing in the snow for those who are interested.

It will provide some tips on how to correctly expose snow and all the technical aspects. Otherwise, look for the delicacies of winter – an icy branch, a light dusting on the edge of your porch, or a pet’s footprints instead of just photographing your car to show how buried it is.

4. Document the Christmas Feast – What characterizes Christmas more than Christmas dinner? Whether that’s a giant repeat of Thanksgiving or an outing to the local Chinese buffet, bring your camera to the table and you’ll be surprised what you might see!

Try different perspectives like placing your camera on the table and taking a shot down the length of it. Take photos of not only the finished product but the preparation as well! Just don’t get in the way of the chef or you’ll likely be relinquished the kid’s table again this year with your annoying 8-year-old nephew.

5. A Candid Christmas Morning – No Posing Required. I don’t know about you, but I hate photos of everyone awkwardly smiling at the camera sitting on the couch on Christmas morning. It’s so much more interesting to capture the expressions of your family members as they are opening their gifts than their fake smiles while they hold up their brand new sweater.

For a different perspective on this, try standing on a step stool or on the stairs to get a bird’s eye view of the unwrapping ceremonies. I’ll emphasize again to TURN OFF your flash and open the blinds to let in all the light on Christmas morning. Using your flash doesn’t help you be any more unobtrusive when trying to get a great candid shot. This way you can quietly document Christmas morning in a completely different way. Check out also this collection of portraits of women scientists to see how turning off your flash can lead to the best results.

6. Lights, Lights, Lights – Everyone loves to drive around during the Christmas season and find the best light displays in town.  Whether that’s the house around the corner with 8 million lighted lawn ornaments or the fantastic million-dollar display at a place like the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, you want to remember the lights just as beautifully as you saw them. Problem is, most people wait until way too late to photograph Christmas lights!

The best time to go is right when the sun goes down and there’s still a bit of light left in the sky. The Christmas lights have just come on and it’s not so dark that you lose all other details. Oh, and if you didn’t remember, this is another case where your flash will probably fail you.

Make sure you bring your tripod for these shots because that’s the BEST way to get great exposure! To get enough light and detail in your shots you’ll need to use a slow shutter speed so a tripod is the most important tool for nighttime Christmas Light Photo Bonanzas. (Bonanza?)

7. Evidence of the Season – What else reminds you of Christmas? For us, it is our Christmannukah mantle where Santa and the menorah are engaged in an epic battle.  For you, it might be baking cookies or the frosting fest that follows. Maybe it’s wrapping gifts. For any other decoration or activity that reminds you of Christmas, don’t forget to bring your camera!

Often times, people forget their cameras until Christmas morning, but there is SO much else to photograph! Let Christmas be a time where you are able to try something you haven’t ever done before with photography. You might learn to see with a new perspective, and that’s the best kind of gift.