10 Creative Tips for Capturing Memorable Holiday Photos

FROM JIM: This is a guest post by a friend of the website, Jeff Cable.  You may remember Jeff from his previous articles on Creative uses of fisheye lenses, or How to photograph your loved ones,  or How to take pictures of water drops, and several others.  If you haven't stopped by Jeff's photo blog, you're missing out on great tutorials and shoot reports.  Here's Jeff…

As Christmas, Hanukkah, and other holidays approach, it can be easy to focus so much on the normal holiday hustle and bustle so much that we forget to prepare for taking great photos of our family and the Christmas season.  Great photography often takes careful planning in order to be successful.   To make sure you make the most of the photographic opportunities before you, here are some tips to help you take memorable pictures this Christmas season:

1) Set up your camera before the action begins

There is nothing worse than grabbing your camera to take that once-in-a-lifetime shot and the battery is dead. Or, just as disappointing, there is no memory card in the camera. Make sure your battery is fully charged and your memory cards are formatted and ready to go. If you are using an external flash, be sure to charge those batteries, too. Once your camera is ready to go, put it somewhere easily accessible so you can grab it when a “photo op” presents itself.

A girl gets her photo taken on her new bike
Getting photos of the gifts being used is SOO much more fun to see than just looking at dozens of pictures of the kids opening the presents.

2) Photograph the gifts in action

It can be easy for photographers to set down the camera after Christmas morning when all the presents are unwrapped.  Even after the gifts are opened and wrapping paper fills your living room, there are many more photographic opportunities to be captured throughout the day.

One opportunity you should not forget is to take pictures of the kids not only opening their gifts, but playing with their new presents throughout the day.   This could be your son riding a new bike (like in the picture to the left) or your dad modeling his new sweater.

3) Remember to photograph traditions

Menorah picture at Christmas
Photographer capturing the lighting of a Menorah

Every family has traditions during the holidays.  While no photographer would ever miss the picture of a family member opening presents, it can be easy to forget capturing the little family traditions that make the holiday special to you.

If you capture these moments now, you'll remember them for many years in the future.  Putting up the Christmas tree, lighting candles in the menorah, reading the Bible, baking cookies with the kids, or “Santa” eating the cookies and milk can all be fun photos to remember.  And if the kids are all in matching PJ's, snap that, too.  Don't miss the little things!

Christmas photography
I love the motion blur in this photo that shows the excitement of opening the gifts

4) Capture the excitement

Like it or not, the giving and receiving of gifts is a huge part of the holidays. For little ones, this is the most magical time of the year.  Thinking of ways to capture the excitement can make for your best Christmas photos.

One way to show the excitement is to use a slightly slower shutter speed (like in the image at the left) so you can show the excitement and anticipation of opening gifts.

Make sure to take pictures of them opening their presents and capture the look of anticipation on their faces. Get down low and focus on eyes and face as much as the gift itself.

5) Remember the table shot

If it is part of your family tradition to set a formal table, you might want to capture some photos of the table before everyone sits down. This is a good time to get shots of the centerpiece, the carefully prepared dishes, and the colorful décor.

NOTE FROM JIM: Forget the table shot at your own peril.  My wife is known to become quite irritated if I forget the all-important table shot (not really).

6) Create art

Defocused Christmas Tree picture
Defocused Christmas tree

For more advanced photographers, or if you just want to try new photo techniques, you can create art from the sites and scenes of Christmas.  Like the defocused image of the Christmas tree on the right, you can see that the scenes of Christmas can be beautiful if you think about capturing them in a different way than normal.

If you want to make something creative, turn off the flash and use only the ambient light from lit candles on the menorah or the Christmas tree lights, or even the Christmas lights on the outside of the house. To get a shot like this, you'll need to increase the ISO on your camera to let in enough light that you can shoot with a fast enough shutter speed that the picture won't be blurry.

If you have a situation where kids are ripping open presents or running around at a frantic pace, you could also try to slow down the shutter of your camera, which will show motion blur in your subjects. If you set your camera to shoot images at less than 1/100 sec, you will see the motion of their hands as they open their gifts.

Christmas lights

7) Get out!

As you drive around your neighborhood this season, you will likely see decorated houses. Maybe you even decorated your own place! Take your camera outside in the evening and capture images of the decorations. Once again, it is best to use a tripod to keep your camera steady during the long exposure. Even if you have not decorated your home, you might have a nice view into your home from an outside window. This could make for a creative shot of your decorated table.

8) Shoot candid

There is nothing better than capturing a real smile on a person’s face. Nope. Not that canned smile that happens when someone poses for a picture. The real thing! For the best “real” photos, try to take photos as the action unfolds, but don’t always feel the need to direct the subject. Try to capture real emotions as they unfold, and then ask your subject to look at you and get the posed image. This way, you will have both the real image and the set-up shot.

9) Put it all together

Now that you have captured the “story of the day,” you might want to put all of those images into a nice photo book. There are many services that offer reasonably priced photo books, giving you the opportunity to create your own family keepsake. Try all these tips to help you capture and celebrate the holidays in a more creative way.
Happy holidays!

If you haven't yet checked out Jeff’s bloghis website, and liked him on Facebook, then you’re really missing out on some great photography inspiration!

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