Christmas is nearly here and the festivities are soon to begin. Are you ready to capture those wonderful moments with your trusty DSLR camera? Before you squeeze the shutter release there are a few things to keep in mind to get the best possible shots and make the most of the holiday season.
Good Lighting Is Key
Light is the essence of photography. In fact, the word photography means “to write with light” (in Greek, “phos” means “light” and “graphe” means “to write”). It follows, then, that the number one rule for taking a quality photo is to make sure you have proper lighting at all times.
Brighter is better. Low-light conditions don’t provide enough light for the camera to pick up, resulting in photos that are dark, fuzzy, or even smeared. On the other hand, it’s certainly possible to have too much light in a given scene. It takes experience to arrive at a good balance, but as a general rule, it’s better to have too much light than too little light.
For more on the basics of light exposure, check out these tips for newbie photographers. In the case of improper lighting, it may still be possible to fix overexposed photos and brighten dark photos with a tool like Photoshop.
Pay attention to white balance. Different sources of light produce different shades of light. The light from a fluorescent bulb is not the same color as light from an incandescent bulb, and both bulbs produce a different kind of light to natural sunlight. These light variations can shift the colors in a photo in undesirable ways.
Unlike human eyes, a camera isn’t very good at detecting the color of light in an environment. Most cameras come with an “auto white balance” function, but for best results, consider using one of the camera’s built-in white balance presets that match the light around you.
Turn your flash off. When a photo looks dark, your first instinct might be to try again using flash. Don’t do that! Camera flashes are notoriously harsh and end up washing most colors out of the shot, not to mention red eyes and unsightly shadows. The better alternative is to move and find a spot with more light.
If that’s not possible, however, then you have two options. You can bounce the flash off of a wall or the ceiling so that the light hits the subject from a not-as-harsh angle, though this typically requires a flexible mounted flash or a remote flash. The other option is to equip your flash with a diffuser that scatters the light for a softer effect.
Pick The Right Subjects
One of the difficulties in shooting the holidays is that there are so many potential subjects. The trick to getting a good shot is to plan it beforehand (or at least think about it before you start preparing for the actual shot) so you aren’t rushing around, constantly looking for good angles.
Start your shots early. If you’re taking pictures of an event, such as a family gathering or a Christmas play, don’t forget to take pictures of the preparation phases. Are people cooking food? Wrapping gifts? Hanging decorations? These pictures can be just as delightful — if not more so — than pictures of the main event.
Try to capture motion. Photos are most interesting when they have some kind of dynamic or emotional quality to them. Look for opportunities where subjects are in motion or full of energy. Examples include smiling, laughing, dancing, eating, playing games, hugging and so on.
As an extension to this advice, always be on the lookout for reaction shots. The obvious choice is the reaction of someone opening a gift, but what about the person giving the gift? Capturing a reaction can immortalize a wonderful moment.
Use burst or continuous mode. It can be tough to get the timing right for dynamic shots so don’t be afraid to enable your camera’s consecutive-photos-at-once feature. Not only does it give you more room for timing errors, but it also gives you a series of snapshots that tell a story.
Keep The Composition Simple
If lighting is the most important aspect of photography, then composition is next in line. Composition is all about framing the shot: what to include, where to include it, and which angle you want to use. There’s a lot to consider, so how should you compose your Christmas shots?
Focus on one subject. It can be tempting to want to zoom out and capture all of the action in any given moment. Resist that urge. The more you cram into a shot, the more cluttered it’s going to feel.
Instead, ask yourself: “When people look at this photo, what is the one thing they need to see?” That’s your subject. Focus on it and cut out anything that might distract from it. The paradox here is that as you reduce the number of subjects in a photo, the more interesting it becomes.
Fill the frame. Newbie photographers seem to have a fear of getting too close to a subject, that doing so will make the shot feel cramped, that they need to leave a margin around their subject. That’s not true. Unnecessary space in a photo can detract from the subject, so great rid of it.
It’s a simple but effective change that maximizes focus on the subject. Yes, at first it will feel weird to “zoom in” more than you’re used to, but the end results will speak for themselves. You can also do this in post by applying a tighter crop to your photo (if you notice yourself doing this a lot, you need to consider how you are composing your shots).
Use a macro lens for objects. Every photographer’s kit should include a macro photography lens – a specialized lens that’s designed for close-up pictures. One effect is that small objects appear much larger than they are.
Macro lenses are often used in nature photography for things like insects, plants, and dewdrops, but they can be used to highlight Christmas decorations, ornaments, and festive figurines. Experiment with it. You may be surprised by how it turns out.
This is just the beginning. There are many aspects of good composition — too many to cover in just a few paragraphs — but they’re worth learning if you want to kick your photography skills up a notch. Not sure where to start? These free online photography courses are great as starters.
Keep these details in mind and your Christmas photos should come out better than ever before. Make sure you get in some practice before the big day. While these tips are easy to apply, they can be hard to remember in the midst of photo-snapping chaos!
Most of all, don’t get so caught up in taking pictures that you forget to spend time with the folks around you. It’s okay to put down the camera every once in a while!
Do you have any special tips for photographing family and friends this Christmas?
Image Credits: Festive Decorations Via Shutterstock, Family Selfie Via Shutterstock, Umbrella Flash Via Shutterstock, Unwrapping Gifts Via Shutterstock, Decorating Tree Via Shutterstock, Christmas Ornament Via Shutterstock