Looking to capture photos that portray the warmth, the spirit, and the festive cheer of Christmas? Christmas photography is a lot of fun, but there are a few simple techniques you can use to keep your photos looking crisp, bright, and beautiful!
In this article, I share 15 easy tips and ideas for breathtaking shots, including:
The best Christmas photo settings
How to choose the perfect subjects
How to prepare for a Christmas photoshoot
So if you’re ready to capture some amazing images this holiday season, then let’s dive right in!
1. Get ready in advance
Preparing to capture the Christmas festivities is key to a successful shoot. You should get yourself ready by making sure that:
You pack the camera (one year, I forgot mine in the rush to get the car ready to go)
Your batteries are charged and you have either backups or a recharger
You have extra memory cards (and all of the cards are empty and ready to go)
I also recommend thinking about a few location-related elements in advance. For instance, what will the lighting be like where you plan to celebrate Christmas? Will it be bright? Dim? Will you be outdoors? Inside? Will there be lots of window light? Will you need a flash? You can also check the weather; clouds and sun can make a big difference.
You might also consider enlisting a helper in advance – someone in the family who will help keep people focused and ready to go for photos when the time comes for group shots.
2. Carefully set your white balance
Here in Australia, we often celebrate Christmas outdoors, but many people around the world do it inside under artificial lighting.
If you’ll be working with artificial light, pay attention to the type of light you encounter and set your white balance accordingly. If you’re really serious, you can even set a custom white balance using a gray card!
(That said, if you set your camera to RAW and you don’t mind spending a bit of extra time at the computer, you can shoot away and set your white balance during post-processing.)
3. Set up a DIY photo booth
While most of us probably can’t afford to hire a photo booth for our Christmas parties, you can always set up a “portrait zone” of your own so you can take photos of guests.
I did this a few years ago; I set up a little place, and I asked everyone who came to the festivities to sit for me so that I could take a nice shot of them.
I photographed everyone as they came in. Then I left the camera (a point-and-shoot model) set up on a tripod so people could photograph themselves as the party continued. I made sure the camera was in a well-lit spot, and I even used a red velvet curtain-type background with a few Christmassy decorations around the edges. I also left a few Santa hats and tinsel for people to use as props.
In the end, the shots were great! People went back to my photo booth throughout the party, and the photos got crazier and crazier as time went on. Plus, everyone had a great time taking shots!
4. Capture the Christmas preparations
The actual Christmas meal or party is the best part of the day, but there are other photos worth taking, especially during those essential preparation stages. For instance, you can capture gorgeous shots of:
Food being made
Decorations being hung
Gifts being wrapped
Kids throwing tantrums as they’re dressed in Christmas outfits
Tables being set
The shots before the main event actually starts are often great because they show everything at its best before everyone descends on the party zone.
5. Take some before and after shots
Here’s another quick Christmas photography idea:
Arrive early to the location of the festivities, set up in advance, and capture some shots just before people walk in the door.
And then, once the party is over, take shots once again. For the best results, make sure you take the shots from the same position. That way, you can compare them side by side and see the exact effects of the party!
6. Try a time-lapse Christmas series
I have a friend who set up his computer with a webcam in the corner of the room. The camera looked down on the Christmas table, and it was set to go off every five minutes over the course of the day. He ended up with one of the most wonderful series of shots that I’ve seen in a long time!
So why not try to do the same? You don’t need to use a webcam; any camera will do, including a smartphone. Just set it up in advance to shoot images at regular intervals, then come back at the end of the event and grab it. I bet you’ll love the images!
7. Photograph the Christmas lights
Good Christmas light shots look incredible – but photographing Christmas lights isn’t the easiest. A few quick recommendations:
Make sure that the lights are well exposed (even if it means letting the background fall into darkness)
Experiment with different points of focus (try using your lens’s manual focus setting if you’re struggling)
8. Include a focal point in your photos
The problem with Christmas events is that there is so much color, lighting, and people that all the different subjects compete for attention. If you include too many elements, the viewer will be confused and the image just won’t work.
On the other hand, if you identify a single focal point and exclude any potential distractions, the final image will look far better! In my view, all good shots have a focal point that holds the attention of the viewer. So work hard to declutter your images. Figure out the item you want to emphasize, and then compose the entire shot with it in mind.
9. Take group photos at the beginning
Group photos are a Christmas photography classic! However, these shots are usually taken at the end of the day or late in the evening when everyone is at their worst.
Instead, for a fresher shot, take the group photos as soon as everyone arrives. Also, think beforehand about how you might pose everyone and where you might take the shot.
10. Shoot in Burst mode as needed
There are certain moments during a Christmas gathering that are filled with photographic opportunities. When people are opening gifts, for instance, you’re generally faced with an array of emotions and facial expressions (especially if kids are involved).
So instead of trying to time your shots just right, switch your camera to Burst mode (also known as continuous shooting mode) and take lots of images when the excitement begins. That way, you can capture everything: The anticipation of getting the wrapped gift, the fun of unwrapping, and the joy (or occasionally disappointment) of seeing what’s inside.
(Don’t forget to shoot the reactions of those who give the gift, as well.)
11. Fill the frame
It’s one of the most common Christmas photography mistakes: People photograph from across the room, so they end up portraying their subjects off in the distance with lots of space around them. The resulting images lack impact – but they could easily be so much better if the photographer just filled the frame!
So use your zoom or physically move yourself closer, then fill the frame with your subject. This is one of the simplest tips I can give, but it’s one that can have a seriously profound impact on your shots.
12. Diffuse or bounce your flash
If you live in a colder area, Christmas gatherings will be taking place indoors, and you’ll be tempted to use a flash to brighten up the dark interiors. However, if you do use a flash, you risk creating shots that are so bright that the subjects look like rabbits in a spotlight (with harsh shadows in the background).
Fortunately, you can get around this by using a flash diffuser or reflector. Another option – if you have an external flash – is to bounce it off the walls or the ceiling.
If you’re struggling to get good shots while using your flash, however, you can always put it away, adjust your lens’s aperture to its widest setting, and raise your camera’s ISO until you get a good exposure. You do risk adding unwanted noise to your images, but modern-day cameras produce minimal noise even at ISO 1600 and beyond.
13. Try going macro
Many lenses can focus fairly close, so why not try zooming on in and photographing the smaller items around your party?
Ornaments on the tree, table decorations, sweets in the bowl on the table, a nativity scene on the mantlepiece, holly above the doorway; sometimes it’s these small things that are the real money shots!
14. Watch your aperture
I often shoot in Aperture Priority mode during Christmas events, and I’m constantly changing the aperture depending on my subject.
For example, when taking shots of a Christmas decoration on the tree, I’ll select a large aperture (e.g., f/2.8) to throw the background out of focus and create a beautiful blur effect.
However, when I’m photographing everyone eating at the table, I’ll choose a small aperture (e.g., f/11) to keep everyone in focus.
And I’d encourage you to do the same! Don’t just set your lens aperture and forget about it; instead, spend time adjusting the aperture to suit the subject. (If you’re not sure what aperture to choose, just experiment! There’s nothing wrong with trying out a few different values to see what you get.)
15. Explore your neighborhood
If your neighborhood is anything like mine, then you have a near-unlimited number of photographic opportunities all around you! Christmas carolers, houses covered in Christmas decorations, shopping malls filled with festive cheer; it all makes for great photos.
So get out there with your camera and capture the fun. Christmas really is a wonderful time of year to spend time behind the camera!
Christmas photography tips: final words
Well, there you have it:
15 tips to improve your Christmas photos! So grab your camera, do a bit of preparation, and enjoy your Christmas gatherings!
Now over to you:
Which of these techniques do you plan to use first? Do you have any other tips that I missed? Share your thoughts in the comments below!