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How to Capture Candid Moments This Christmas

Ever since I was a little kid with a 110 camera and little rolls of film, it’s the candid moments I love to capture.

At Christmas, that often meant the expression on someone’s face as they opened a gift. However, over the years I discovered that there is a lot more to Christmas than the excitement of opening gifts.

I’ll show you a few specific ingredients to use if you would like to better capture candid moments this Christmas.

1 - How to Capture Candid Moments This Christmas

Our living room window is a backdrop for candid moments to happen. Many times I have passed through the living room, only to stop and fumble for my camera to capture something interesting.

Why Candid Moments?

Taking candid photos is a fun challenge. You don’t get to direct the scene, and you have to take whatever the moment offers.

The benefit to this is that you really get to see what is going on. Many people complain that they miss out on a group or family experience because they’re always taking pictures. If you focus more on seeing than on clicking, you may find that you’re more in-tune to events than ever before.

“The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” – Dorothea Lange

Even though you’re not in control of the scene, you can still make the most of the moments given to you by:

  1. Understanding the type of moment
  2. Choosing the best angle
  3. Paying attention to your background
  4. Learning to write about your photos
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When our kids were young they always napped over the Christmas holidays. The days were packed with activities and they were exhausted by the afternoon. My little girl fell asleep with an LED lantern. I couldn’t help but sneak in for a photo. I pushed my camera to its limits with this low light photo. 56mm, f/1.2, 1/15th, ISO 6400.

1. What kind of moment is it?

This first question I ask about a candid moment is whether it’s an action moment or an emotional moment.

What inspired you to pick up the camera? Are you anticipating a burst of excited emotion? Is somebody about to do something?

Action vs emotion is a quick way to understand the nature of the moment that is about to happen. This becomes more intuitive over time so you won’t have to overthink it.

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I consider this to be an action moment. It is about my son playing with his model plane. Action is often about gesture. He is holding the plane precisely, and you can even see by the shape of his mouth that he is making the sound of the airplane. The plane is in focus so we likely look at it first, but then we’re led back to his face. His eyes are looking at the plane, so our focus is brought back to it as well. The more engaged a person is in an action moment, the more interesting the photo will be to you.


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This is more of an emotional moment. It’s not a high energy moment like laughter or tears, rather it’s soft and subtle. It’s among my favorite portraits of my daughter. The only thing that indicates Christmas in this photo is the paper crown from her Christmas cracker, a tradition carried on for at least four generations in my family.

2. What is the Best Angle to Use?

There are five main angles from which you can choose:

  • Bird’s eye view
  • High angle
  • Face to face
  • Low angle
  • Bug’s eye view

My favorite angles for candid moments are high-angle because it often makes the scene appear more dramatic, and face-to-face, because it’s such an engaging angle.

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This is an action moment. My son was playing with his new helicopter. I went for a low angle because I wanted to be looking up at the helicopter. Normally, we see helicopters in the sky, so let’s go for a more dramatic looking angle. In this action moment, you can even see him lifting his foot for balance. When kids play, they get right into it!


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High angles are great for looking over shoulders. Some moments are tough to define as simply action or emotion. Though my son is looking at the pictures in his new book, it’s not exactly what we think of as an action moment. We can’t see his face to detect any emotion. But this photo comes to life in my mind as I think of all the times I read him this book while he was tucked into bed or sitting on my lap. In that sense, I would call it an emotional moment.


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I jumped up on the coffee table to get this bird’s eye view angle of my son. He had just tried crawling for the first time and collapsed after using all his energy trying to reach a can a play dough!

3. Pay Attention to the Background

Backgrounds can be a distraction in your photo if they are messy or cluttered. But they can also add to the mood or story of your photo.

I try for one of two types of backgrounds:

  • Clean and simple
  • Scenic

You can see that the photos above either had a clean and simple background or something more scenic, but not cluttered.

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I love this humorous photo of my daughter, but the background is really cluttered and distracting. One thing I could have done while taking the picture is to get closer to her. That way she would appear larger and there would be less background. But another way to deal with a cluttered background is to crop it away!


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This face to face angle draws me right into this photo. The background is clean and simple with no distracting elements. I find that black and white often draws out the humanity and emotion of the moment.

4. Journal

Many photographers understand themselves to be creative people. Creative people are often compelled to write.

Take time this Christmas season to write about what is happening in your life. You can write about your kids, your parents, or your traditions. Think of it as a way of preserving some of your family history. Write about the moments of days gone by and the new moments happening around you.

Christmas can be a very difficult season for people who struggle with depression or anxiety. It can be a very sad time of year when you miss loved ones. Many people have found that writing helps you wrestle with and take control of what you’re struggling with.

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Inspired by photojournalists, take time to truly reflect this Christmas. Add words to your photos.

This Christmas

As you grab your camera to take candid photos this Christmas, think:

  • Is this an action or emotion moment?
  • Which angle would look best?
  • Is the background clean or scenic?
  • What will I write about?

I would be thrilled to see some of your favorite Christmas photos when you post them in the comments below!

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Mat Coker
Mat Coker

is a family photographer from Ontario, Canada. He teaches photography to parents and families, showing them how to document their life and adventures. You can get his free photography ebook, and learn more about taking creative photos.

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