10 Ways to be a Photography Grinch This Holiday Season

You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch. You really are a heel. But you don't have to spend the holidays being the green, toy-and-food stealing harrumph of Dr. Seuss fame. With a little graciousness, you can avoid being a Grinch photographer (or a Grinch non-photographer) this year.

You don't have to be a Who from Whoville to love Christmas. For photographers, the holidays have great colors and lights we don't see throughout the year. Presents wrapped up in all shapes and sizes. Wreaths, trees, elves on the shelves. We also gather together with family and friends that we don't see every day, giving us fresh subjects–in Santa hats, elf ears, and ugly Christmas sweaters.There's almost no end to this variety. It's no wonder that we take family pictures at Christmas more than any other time. If you can't find any good photography subjects at Christmas, you're not looking very hard.

And all of us–photographers and non-pohotogs alike–have expectations of the holiday season. Those expectations can be tricky to manage. You don't have to be a tiny-hearted Grinch to say just the wrong thing. But if that's your goal, you lime-skinned Whovillan, then own it. With apologies to the Dr. Seuss classic (and composer Albert Hague and singer Thurl Ravenscroft), here are tips for being the photographer who wants to ruin Christmas.

1. Always tell a beginner photographer what's wrong with her brand new kit lens.

Enthusiasm can be a delicate thing to manage. Every pro or serious hobbyist photographer started with more modest gear. Don't pretend like the day you decided you were interested in photography, the clouds parted and Moses came down from Mount Sinai and bestowed upon you the equipment you use today. Like everybody else, you started small.

So if you see someone open a Best Buy special, entry-level DSLR with a kit lens, be encouraging! That used to be you. If they ask you questions about it, be encouraging! That used to be you. If they want you to show them some pointers–even if they don't understand what they don't understand yet–be encouraging! That used to be you.

Or you could be a Grinch, lean over them, show them your super-fast lens and say, “You'll get tired of that basic gear soon. What you really need is one of these!” This wouldn't make you the go-to photographer for the holidays everybody wants to learn from. It would just make you a jerk.

You're as cuddly as a cactus, you're as charming as an eel, Mr. Grinch,
You're a bad banana with a greasy black peel!

Choose your Grinch: 1966 Animated Masterpiece (left), 2000 Jim Carey film (right)

2. Spend 45 minutes setting up the family Christmas portrait like an Annie Leibovitz Vogue spread.

Everybody shares at the holidays. We share time, gifts, food, fellowship, humor, games, and activities. Maybe peanut brittle isn't your favorite thing. But your grandmother loves to make it and it's not half bad. So unless you're allergic, you enjoy it because Grandma enjoys it. Perhaps playing charades is not what you would want to do every day for the rest of your life. But if your Cousin Terry wants it to be a tradition, then you should play along.

If photography is your hobby–even your profession–be prepared to use it in service of the holidays, not the other way around. Grandma and Cousin Terry aren't paid models willing to spend most of the evening waiting on you to create gallery-worthy art. Nobody is expecting a magazine photo-spread. Grandma wants a nice picture that she can place on the mantle, or on Facebook. So keep the setup brief, take a few pictures, and get back to sharing.

Or you could be a Grinch and have Terry spend all his charades time dragging in your portable studio from the car, adjusting a beauty dish, and holding a 5-in-1 reflector so you can realize your lifelong Christmas dream of making Grandma resemble a dignified-but-fiercely-defiant Helen Mirren in a lovely soft matte finish.

Your brain is full of spiders, you have garlic in your soul, Mr. Grinch,
I wouldn't touch you with a thirty-nine-and-a-half foot pole!

Santa Will Listen To Me!


3. Remember that everybody loves being in holiday pictures–especially when eating!

If aliens landed on earth, I'm convinced they would examine the  Halloween-Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Year's time frame and conclude that this was the season in the solar-based calendar when humans traditionally eat themselves to death. Candid shots at Christmas are fun, but remember: nobody likes to be photographed eating. It's strange when you think about it, because people are great subjects. And food is a great subject. But together? Not so much.

Or you could be a Grinch, and ensure that your brother's festive, hearty laugh and colorful Christmas sweater were overshadowed by his mandibles disgustingly smack-gnawing down on some half-devoured shrimp cocktail. There are some moments that just don't need to be frozen in time.

You have all the tender sweetness of a seasick crocodile, Mr. Grinch,
Given a choice between the two of you, I'd take the seasick crocodile!

4. For outdoor pictures of the family in a winter wonderland, make the family come outside first, then wait on you.

What if it's cold enough outside to make little Ralphie's friend's tongue stick to the flagpole? Certainly, outdoor winter photos can bring something special to remembering the season. But just because your shutter speed is fast enough to hide the shivering of your family and friends, doesn't mean that's the action shot you're looking for. Think about the light and location of the photo first. Get your tripod, check your settings. Then–and only then–ask folks to gather in the cold with the promise that the brief discomfort will be worth it in the final image.

Or you could be a Grinch and give the gift of hypothermia this season.

Your heart's a dead tomato splotched with moldy purple spots, Mr. Grinch,
You're a three decker sauerkraut and toadstool sandwich with arsenic sauce!

5.  Never stop dropping hints that the Sony A9 is probably what the baby Jesus would want you to have this year.

Unless you have a very understanding spouse, or a Secret Santa with an army of willing drug mules and no moral compass, then expecting a $4,000 camera for Christmas–even something as admittedly sweet as the Sony A9–is probably not realistic. It may be time to stop expecting the kind of specific, technical, and expensive photo gear you need want as a hobbyist or pro to come from the generosity of others. Even if you're fortunate enough to receive gifts in this price range, it might not be reasonable to expect the giver to know exactly what your needs are. Maybe they think you shoot Canon and you only shoot Nikon. Maybe they don't know you already have an ND filter, but you need a new circular polarizer. Unless you have other photographers in your gifting circles, then you may have forever journeyed into “he's hard to buy for” gift card land.

Or you could be a Grinch and insist that your kids really only need 3 years to finish college anyway –any more than that and they lack commitment.

You're a crooked dirty jockey and you drive a crooked hoss, Mr. Grinch,
Your soul is an appalling dump heap overflowing with the most disgraceful assortment of rubbish imaginable mangled up in tangled up knots!


Those of us behind the lens aren't the only ones capable of being holiday Grinches. For every shutterbug curmudgeon, grouch, or Scrooge, there's a non-photographer version close by. If that’s you, read on. If that’s a spouse, friend, or loved one, encourage that person to take note.

You're capable of extinguishing the Christmas spirit in your photo-enthusiast friend or loved one, of spoiling the egg nog with your dour, cold, heartless actions.

So if you're looking forward to serving up a mug of bitter wassail this year, here are some tips for you to become the Grinch you've always wanted to be. Don't say you weren't warned.

1. If the picture is nice, always compliment the camera.

Dear non-photographers: seeing a pleasing image, with good light and composition, and saying to your photographer friend, “Wow. Great picture! You must have a nice camera,” is the mother of all backhanded compliments. Please don't do this.

This happens more than you might think. Most photographers won't take it personally, but stop and think about that for a minute. Do you really think that the quality of that image comes from how much money she spent on her camera? How many megapixels it has or how big the lens is? Perhaps it's the accessibility of DSLRs or the improvement in iPhone cameras in recent years that fuels this kind assumption. Maybe it's like the weekend duffer who is convinced that $2,500 on a set of golf clubs is the difference between him and the local pro. But more likely, it's meant simply as a compliment of the equipment–like being happy for a friend with a new car–not as a knock on the skill. But like most people who used specialized tools in an art, hobby, or business, they are more proud (perhaps, to be fair, a bit too proud) of their developed skills than their purchased tools.

Or you can be a Grinch. The next time you are in a nice restaurant and the chef comes to your table to ask, “How was the Duck a l'Orange, sir?” tell her, “It's magnificent–really delicious! You must have a great oven back there.”

2. Expensive cameras are built like tanks these days, so don't worry about getting cookie icing, hot chocolate, or Aunt Millie's special Irish eggnog on a camera.

Despite the rise of the GoPro and competing action cameras, most cameras aren't built to take a punishment. Photographers spend a great deal of time and money protecting them. From weather protections to military-grade carry-on containers, photographers actually give quite a bit of thought to protecting lenses, sensors, and camera bodies. If you don't believe me, Google “underwater camera case” some time and check out what it would cost to dunk your shutterbugging loved one's gear in the local watering hole. Some camera bodies are certainly more durable than others, with seals that are a bit more weather-resistant. But most of the time, they are still high-tech, relatively fragile items.

So be mindful of the cherished equipment that your photography friend might leave laying around.

Or, be a Grinch and put a permanent peppermint stain on a flawless, clean wide angle lens. Monster.

3. After standing for a group picture with the family for seven whole seconds, be sure to yell “Hurry up and take the picture! I've got plans for New Year's!” Because that's hilarious, man.

I know you're probably used to an incredibly short time frame from deciding to take a picture to admiring your handiwork on your phone. After all, how long can it take to click a picture? But pictures that are worth keeping–not the kind you delete in bulk when you need more space for all your TayTay songs–are worth a bit of prep time.

Or you could be a Grinch and rush a great family photograph so that you can hurry up and get back to cheating at Scategories. Hope you’re proud of yourself.

4. Start discussing all of the plot details in Star Wars: The Last Jedi without making sure everybody in the room has seen it.

No, this has nothing to do with photography.  Yes, it still makes you a horrible person.

5. Assume that a picture, like a fish out of water, will die if it's not uploaded to social media within seconds.

Your photographer friend or loved one is not being a prima donna by wanting to “post-process” the photograph a bit before he shows it to everyone. It doesn't mean that he's going to make the picture look fake. He's also not going to magically restore to Uncle Tim the hairline we last saw in 1994. But he might adjust the contrast, color, brightness, or any number of other settings, to help make the picture more pleasing.

Also, not every DSLR is equipped with WiFi or Bluetooth. So it might take something as old fashioned as a laptop computer to finalize the image. What's the hurry, anyway? All your Instagram friends are enjoying the holidays with their friends and family.

Or you could just be a Grinch, and demand that the purpose of any photo of you is to remind the friends you're spending time with that there are plenty of other friends waiting in the wings of Instagram to replace them on a moment's notice.

Your heart is full of unwashed socks, your soul is full of gunk, Mr. Grinch,
The three words that best describe you are as follows, and I quote, “Stink, stank, stunk”!

Finding Whoville

If you're a photographer, enjoy the “designated picture-taker” status without resorting to Grinchiness by encouraging new photographers, being gracious of others, and by not taking yourself too seriously. If you're not a photographer, don't discourage a hobby that brings joy to someone else. You might even get to share it.

And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!

“Maybe Christmas, ” he thought, “doesn't come from a store.

“Maybe Christmas . . . perhaps . . . means a little bit more!”


8 thoughts on “10 Ways to be a Photography Grinch This Holiday Season”

  1. Excellent article. Thank you for highlighting the faux pas that annoy us this season–on both sides of the camera.

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