7 Tips to Improve Your Holiday Photographs


All of us get a little more excited about taking photographs when the Holidays approach. Who doesn't want to create beautiful images of their celebration: a golden turkey, a stack of colorful presents, family members we haven't seen in years, or a dramatic kiss on New Year's Eve. These moments provide a plethora of subject matter.

We would like to give you some thoughts, and ideas, on how to turn your holiday picture taking into a more advanced creative process: something that goes beyond a snapshot of the kids ripping open a present on Christmas morning. These ideas don't require a lot of extra equipment – They just require a little planning, thought, and readiness.

Here are some photographs, and ideas, to take your Holiday pictures to the next level.

1. Show Your Destination

Many of us travel to different locations to celebrate the Holidays. Perhaps, we have family living in a foreign country, or our family is spread out across our own country. One year we might spend Christmas in the desert and the next in a snowy mountain retreat. Think up some creative ways to establish place and time. This will give special meaning to those photographs!

Driving home for Christmas by Bert Kaufmann, on Flickr

The photographer applied some great rules of composition to create a memorable shot of the driveway leading up to a relative's home. Don't be afraid to get out of the car and try something new!

If you're traveling to an exotic location, a little thought pre-planning might lead to some fun and original images.

2. Use Props

Another great way to memorialize the Holidays is to establish a date, a message, or a time-frame using props and family members. Some interesting ways to do this could be unusual light sources, hand-written signs, painting with light, or drawings in the snow.

Happy New Year 2010! by F. Montino, on Flickr

This is a fun idea. Dream up an interesting self-portrait and print out as gift tags. This kind of personal touch will make a lasting memory for years to come.

See Santa, I am a nice girl…..I just dress naughty sometimes!! 365.80 by JJ & Special K, on Flickr

3. Be As Creative As You Can

The Holidays are filled with special decorations, unique foods, and colorful lights. Use these items as a playground! Take some time to experiment. Try photographing the Christmas tree while lying on your back. Let your creativity soar. This is a fun idea- Write down 12 photographic techniques that you've always wanted to try. Throw them into a hat. Starting 12 days before Christmas, pull out one slip of paper each day and create a photograph using that technique. During the next year's Holidays you could use the pictures for a card!

Wanted: Reindeer, must fly by kevin dooley, on Flickr

Holiday lights afford many opportunities for creativity. Get those standard images out of the way and then begin experimenting with out-of-focus, movement, and zoom effects!

– Coral de Natal by Juliana Coutinho, on Flickr

If you're doing the 12 Days of Christmas experiment, don't be afraid to really go outside the box in your thinking; this is a time to relax and play before the frantic holiday.

4. Shoot Candid Photos of Family and Friends

No discussion of Holiday photographs could be complete without talking about the most important subject of all: the family and friends that will gather together. We all take the photographs of the kids opening their presents, or friends arriving at a New year's Eve party. But don't forget the behind the scenes activities. These are often the most memorable. When shooting candid photographs at events, it's important to keep your camera ready. We suggest using an ISO of 400 and a shutter priority setting. You will often find yourself in cramped quarters with low light. Set your shutter speed to 1/60th of a second and use a wide angle lens. This will minimize the possibility of unexpected camera shake. If you don't already have an external flash unit, we might suggest you self-gift one immediately. Buy a flash with a head that swivels for bounce flash. Bounce flash is a quick and simple technique that will take your candid photography to the next level.

my kids know how to cook everything* by woodleywonderworks, on Flickr

Behind the scenes activities such as your kids helping to cook a Holiday meal are precious moments that pass by quickly; you must be ready for the action.

family hike by woodleywonderworks, on Flickr

Families often participate in group activities during the Holidays, activities that overlooked during the rest of the year. Keep your camera ready and your eyes open for a unique family portrait.

5. Look for Street Photography Opportunities

If you plan to attend some Holiday events, they often offer up numerous possibilities especially if you like street photography. Keep your eyes open for a juxtaposition of unusual objects and anticipate action. You don't want to miss a child bursting with joy, or a cop being run down by a cartoon character!

shrek balloon by joiseyshowaa, on Flickr

Odd juxtapositions always make for interesting Holiday pictures.

confrontation by joiseyshowaa, on Flickr

You must have your camera settings ready for the next photo opportunity. Outdoors, be especially mindful of changing light conditions. If it's cold, keep an extra set of batteries in an inside pocket.

6. Try a Different Angle

We've already talked a bit about being experimental. This doesn't mean you have to go crazy with the concept. Many of us are extremely busy and simply don't have the time to buy props, or dream up grand ideas. For you folks, we encourage you to simply try a new angle. Don't photograph the dinner table by just standing there and snapping a picture of it: get on your knees, get on a step-stool, shoot from a mirror, simply try something new.

Simple steps can lead to interesting photographs. Try isolating a detail such as this Lithuanian Apple Cake. Use unusual framing. Go for a high key, or a low key, effect.

The “Haft Sin” (7S) by Hamed Saber, on Flickr

Don't shoot the Holiday table from eye level: get low, get high, give a unique perspective.

7. Give Yourself An Assignment

For those of you that are feeling really inspired, here is a challenge. Come up with a photo assignment. Something that expresses your thoughts about the holiday.

This photographer developed a cool plan for depicting the Holidays. This kind of project takes some thought and energy. We encourage you to create your own vision for the Holidays.

Have a wonderful Holiday Season!

About Author

Kent is an occasional writer at our place, and also handles the weekly “Picture of the Week” contest. He has been involved with photography since 1974 and you can get to know him better here.

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