Christmas Photo Tips and Ideas
I’m teaching again. Kinda :) I have a photography class these days which inspires me right along with students. My students requested Christmas photography tips and ideas. I wanted to make the ideas relevant to any camera, even cameras on phones or tablets, because everyone uses different cameras once they go home. I even told them to borrow cameras if they could :)
Once I had the slides for our discussion, I thought the tips and ideas could be helpful for anyone looking for ways to simplify and enjoy Christmas photography. Let’s make documenting Christmas more fun :)
Changing perspectives can keep me as a photographer entertained. And, with digital, it’s easy to tell a story with different perspectives. My advice to the kids is shoot the expected, instinctive view- which is usually photographer’s eye level looking forward. Then try a few other ways to show the same scene. My easy-to-remember inspiration is from above and from below, because that gets me as a photographer engaged with moving the camera for different perspectives.
Getting organized before anyone steps in front of the camera helps my sanity. I often bring my most patient model (my daughter) to the spot where we plan to take the official portraits (usually in front of the tree). I take photos with her, evaluate, and adjust settings before calling the bigger groups to get in place. This way I don’t get groans while I say, “Just one more. One more. This time one more,” while making sure that the image isn’t too dark or blurry.
I also take photos of our gifts and tree the day before celebrating. This, again, gives me the space to pay attention to my own goals without a celebration happening simultaneously. I also get to play with long exposures or very high apertures to get starbursts from the lights (as high as possible, around 22). You can also photograph baked goods or decor that doesn’t change on Christmas day, giving you more time to celebrate the holiday day.
My students and I have been practicing aperture-priority, which is usually the A on the camera dial. A lower aperture numbers lets in more light and gives more background blur, while higher numbers like over 16 will show more in focus and may give Christmas lights a starburst effect.
Just as many movies start with the wide shot sharing the town or street, then zooming in towards the main character and significant details, Show the room. Show the medium shots, such as the tree, then get down to the details, like wrapping paper. This creates storytelling to look back on in coming years.
Take official portraits, especially if families cooperate, with everyone in front of the tree. And take candids where people don’t need to notice the camera every five seconds. Children, especially, get camera fatigue on the holidays. I am mindful to ask for a few “look at the camera” moments, then the rest of the day I simply document as the celebration happens. Everyone appreciates relaxed documenting :)
Of course, if a child is super-excited about a gift, it can be fun to have them pose with the gift. Just make it count in ways that doesn't lead to heavy sighs and eye rolling when you ask :)
Also, if you remember, document the counters and products around the celebration. The tree remains pretty much the same over the years. But labels and packaging changes. And kids love to see old things in their personal history. I tend to tidy up before photos, hide cans or snacks. Yet a few that include those items bring that time all back in a rush. I’m going to try and be more open to documenting the “messes” of the day :)
Reflections take a photo from ordinary to extraordinary. You can find them in dark windows. A table or countertop can be reflective. Or anything shiny, such as the bows on these gifts. The practice of look, look-again is helpful for me noticing reflections. Look behind or under your subject and you may be surprised to see more lights than apparent at first glance.
If you find yourself enjoying a scavenger hunt style of photography, choosing a quest or two may give you more purpose during a celebration. I have given myself themes in past years of Connection, Surprise, or Feasting, to show different aspects of our celebration. You can also choose a color like red or green. You may be surprised how many different times you find an idea like green or Santa hat.
One of the challenges with Christmas eve or evening is that light goes quickly. What then? If you don’t have a tripod, you can prop the camera on a stack of books (safely) or table. We’ve taken family portraits before by putting the camera on a self-timer, then stacking books on a table and using a stuffed animal to hold up the lens :)
The above photo was taken by a camera on the floor. I probably used a soft item under the lens to prop it towards the tree. For tree photos, which I take the day before Christmas, I use the timer option so the camera doesn’t shake when I press the shutter. I use a two second delay so that I press the button, then the camera takes the actual photo while being still. When the dog happens to be sleeping in front of the tree, I can use longer shutter speeds while the camera is propped and still :)
For ornaments, or late night treats, I sometimes use a flashlight or the flashlight on my phone to illuminate my subject. This gives the dreamy low-light look while letting the details of the subject be clear. If I have a helper, they may hold the flashlight, but I’ve also done it while holding the light in one hand and the camera with my other hand.
Be creative! This is my favorite part of the holidays. Try new things. For the first image, we draped lights around my daughter and then I held one end of the lights towards me and the camera which made the lights progressively softer. For out of focus trees, I either use manual focus on my big camera. On my phone, I’ll aim at something close, then tap and hold to lock focus, then aim the camera at a tree farther away. Images that play with focus and perception are especially fun around the holidays with lights, reflections, and opportunities to try new ideas.
Last, and certainly the MOST important, is have fun! Enjoy your celebration. Let kids be kids. Document their silliness. Invite all the chaos into your storytelling. Let go of micromanaging for the perfect holiday moment. Instead, document the moments that are real. Embrace the mess. Because the future will thank you for making the effort to photograph your holiday celebrations. Delight in the ordinary. Because, one day, it will all feel extraordinary :)