Christmas goes by in the blink of an eye. But taking photos helps us to savour the moments long after the tree is gone and the kids are grown up. When you follow these 5 tips, you’ll have better and more meaningful photos this year.
1. Don’t Get Caught Off Guard
The first step to photographing an upcoming event like Christmas is to do a little planning. Start by considering the traditions and moments that you want to look back on in photos. Write an actual list so that you don’t forget what’s on it.
When you’re finished writing out your list, do this exercise to help you figure out what is truly meaningful about those moments. When you do this exercise, you’ll be able to capture deeper themes in your photos.
Take each moment and ask yourself, “What about this moment is important to me?”
For example, you might put “opening presents on Christmas morning” on your list. That’s an obvious one. But ask yourself, “What about the kids opening presents is important to me?” Perhaps the answer is something like, “seeing the look of delight on their faces.”
But don’t stop there; you’ve only gone a little bit below the surface. Now ask yourself, “What about seeing the look of delight on their face is important to me?” Maybe the answer is, “I remember what it was like as a kid and I want to pass that magic and excitement on to my kids.”
Now you’re getting somewhere! But you can still keep asking that question until you get right to the bottom. What about “passing on magic and excitement” to your kids is important to you? “Well, this is such a short time in their life. Soon they’ll be grown up and stressed out like me. I just want to slow that down and make their childhood good.”
You’re finally getting deep, so ask the question one more time. “What about slowing down and making their childhood a good one is important to me?” Maybe the answer is that “these are the most formative years of their life. If their childhood goes well, they’ll likely grow up and become good and strong adults themselves.”
By asking the question, “what about this moment is important to me,” you will discover the deeper themes in your photos. Now you can look for those themes in other moments too. Where else do you find the magic and excitement of growing up?
Get in touch with the things that will shape your children as they grow and the things you care most about.
Instead of a few random snapshots of Christmas morning chaos, you can photograph all sorts of meaningful moments to look back on.
2. Prepare for the Light
You’ve got your list of moments to photograph and you’ve checked it twice! Now you need to consider the type of light in which you will be photographing. When you’re able to handle the light, your photos will look better.
Go ahead and use the flash on your camera (or phone) if you have to. It’s better to have a photo lit with flash than a dark and blurry photo that isn’t worth looking at.
If you have a DSLR camera and you’re going to use flash, consider using an external flash called a speedlight. When you use an external flash you can bounce the light and your photos will look far better than the little pop-up flash on your camera.
But whenever possible, use natural light. When you’re taking indoor photos, one of the best sources of natural light during the day is a large window. Many of your holiday events will happen in the living room, and most living rooms have a large window which lets in lots of light.
Place your Christmas tree beside the window instead of in front of it and allow the window to become a large, soft light source, making your photos look beautiful.
When the sun goes down, and you don’t want to use flash, try using lots of lamplight in your photos. The lower placement of lamps simulates the position that the sun is in during golden hour or sunset. The lampshade diffuses the light making soft sidelight for your photos.
3. How to Make Your Photos Look More Exciting
There is a secret that will instantly make your photos look more exciting. Use a low angle! It sounds simple and it is. Just crouch down a little bit and look up at the person you’re photographing. If it’s an exciting moment then use a low angle to make it look exciting in the photo.
You should take note that low angles are not generally good for formal portraits. A low angle exaggerates a person’s size and adults don’t usually like that. But, if it’s a portrait of an athlete or rock star then a low camera angle is a must.
4. Tell a Story With Your Photos
As you’re photographing your most important moments, in beautiful light, from interesting angles, be mindful of the fact that you’re photographing a story. Your story is filled with characters (your friends and family), with an emotional plot that takes place in many settings (around the dinner table, the Christmas tree, at church, in front of the fireplace).
Photograph the unique personality of each character. Take more than one photo of each moment and link them together to show the plot-line. Make sure to include the background as part of the setting for your character’s story.
The photos below illustrate a story being told over time.
It’s exciting when we bring our kids into our traditions. Something as simple as filling out a gift tag is a huge step in their growth and part of a bigger story.
5. Practice Before Christmas Day
Christmas isn’t just about what happens on December 25th. For most families, Christmas has a month-long lead up. So work on your list of things to photograph, but remember to start photographing Christmas before it even gets here.
Practice looking for deeper moments in beautiful natural light (or using your external flash). You’ll be far more confident when the big day arrives and you don’t have time to over think the photos you’re taking.
Listen to Your Heart
When your heart tells you to pick up your camera and snap a photo, do it. Don’t hesitate, just take the photo. It may not turn out to be the perfect moment or the best angle. But at least you’ve got a photo.
The photo above is my daughter and my grandma. It was just a fun little moment that they were having together. My camera is never out of arm’s reach at Christmas time. I saw this moment and clicked a few photos. I didn’t know then that these would be the last photos I would take of my grandma. My little girl won’t remember this moment, but she will always be able to look back and see the love that her great-grandma had for her.
Your Checklist for Deeper Christmas Photos Than You’ve Ever Taken Before
- Make your list of important moments
- Look for beautiful light and have your external flash ready
- Use low angles to make exciting events actually look exciting in your photos
- Tell a story with your photos
- Practice before Christmas day