Christmas Photography Tips (with thanks from Exposure Guide)

It’s time to recharge our personal batteries and use our camera’s to the limit as we go into the Christmas Holidays. Here are a few tips for this festive season. Have fun and see you in 2020

1. Photograph Outdoors

Get out and take photo. Most neighborhoods have several families that nearly go overboard with their enthusiasm for the season and have decked out their homes with intricate lighting and prop arrangements – these make excellent backdrops for your photos – seek these out. You’ll want to use long shutter speeds – below 1/15 (which might require a tripod) – to get some spectacular shots of the lit-up houses and the sky.

2. Christmas Lights & Ornaments

Christmas lights and ornaments are the holiday decorations you’ll find in nearly every Christmastime photograph; they’re a staple, but they’re also a cliché staple. You’ll want to find ways to utilize them in inventive ways – extreme close ups or just having them dominate the frame where the “subjects”, the people, populate the background to give dimension and suggest depth. Don’t be afraid to unplug lights so they might be off directly behind your subject, but turned on in the opposite side of the frame… it’s a way to balance the composition and not add a distracting element. Another interesting and effective technique you can employ when photographing ornaments and Christmas tree lights is the Bokeh technique. With Bokeh, you use the blurred or soft focus part of an image (that’s just outside of the depth of field) as part of the image composition. One way to enhance the effect is to place a piece of black paperboard with a shape cut out of it in front of the lens, and the soft-focus/blurred light halos will take on the shape of what you cut into the paperboard. It’s a neat effect that can add character to your photographs.

3. Express Relationships

Holidays are days that highlight the importance of relationships, with Christmas being the granddaddy of them all. The stress and pressure of the passing year may wear on everyone, yet everyone is glad to relax and spend time with family. 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. Only Scrooge or a Grinch would object!

4. Capture the Preparation Stages

Families come together at holidays, but not just for the main event, they come to help decorate… and these are exciting, fun-filled moments, so they’re ripe with photographic opportunity! 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 – all of which need to be hung on the tree. Try to get people’s faces as they open the ornament boxes. Young children (who might not have remembered the last Christmas) are especially good subjects. When the tinsel goes on, you’re almost done, but there are two more shots to get – the first is when the star (or angel) is placed on the top of the tree; and the last shot is when everything is on the tree and the lights are plugged in for the first time.

5. Focus on the Eyes

All pictures of people soar when you focus in on your subject’s eyes, and that’s no different with Christmastime photos. It’s critical to compose the image with as little headroom and dead space on the sides as possible, so the image is more about the faces and the eyes than anything else. The rest of the décor will filter into the image on its own. In the photograph on the right all the eyes are in the same plane, and this is effective for this kind of photo as it shows a subtle unity among the family. You can use a flash with most indoor Christmas photos, but use a detachable flash (or an angled flash) and bounce the light off the ceiling. Remember, the ambient light levels will be raised by the Christmas lights (and possibly candles too), and you don’t want the vibrant colors washed out by the flash.

6. Take Group Portraits

Christmas photos can have dual uses – you take them for the memories/record-keeping and you can use them as your family’s Christmas card. Either way, you want to make sure that you, the photographer, are in some of the important family photos. You’ll want to position everyone by the Christmas tree and have some presents in the composition too. Use a tripod for this group shot, because you’ll want to use the camera’s timer so you can get in the photo too. Your camera’s timer is a nifty little feature that many people don’t use (enough) or even know about. It’s simple to work; you just set your exposure values (shutter, ISO and aperture), compose your frame, set the timer interval (between 3 – 10 seconds), then press the shutter.