1. Preparations are part of the celebration
Even before Christmas starts, there is a lot going on. Get busy capturing the motion that is put in place by the Christmas preparations – this is what Christmas Photography sometimes misses. Have a picture of the kids decorating the tree, the grandma baking the cookies and the wife setting the table. These are candid pictures, but you should not forget about composition rules while hunting the perfect moment. Try to fill the frame in order to have your subject free from distractions. Since we are talking about indoor pictures of people in motion, make sure to set the ISO sensitivity higher. Test a few shots to adjust your camera settings to a shutter speed that keeps motion blur away.
2. Photograph the indoor and outdoor Christmas lights
Decorations aren’t just in your tree. In fact, it’s quite possible that before you even started to put the globes in your evergreen tree, the city is already packed up for Christmas. Grab your camera, get out, and watch out for the leading lines of the garlands hanging from the lampposts. Or, if you live in the countryside and the houses are surrounded by lights, I suggest you shoot from a sideways perspective rather than a simple frontal one. A few extra-tips: look for reflections and symmetry, add the light trail of the passing cars, try a vertical composition.
Pay attention to exposure: because most of the scene is dark, your camera will try to increase the exposure time, and therefore, the areas around the lights will end up overexposed. You don’t want that to happen, so you need to forget about “auto” shooting mode and change to “program” or “shutter speed priority”. Use an exposure time that is fast enough to avoid camera shake, and if needed, adjust the exposure compensation in such a way that the interest areas of the photo will be the ones perfectly exposed.
3. Shooting macro photos of Christmas tree decorations
About this particular subject, I wrote an article back in 2009. You can read it here. To make a recap: “Program” Mode, rear flash, adjusted exposure (differs from scene to scene), tripod and remote control or 2 seconds shutter delay. If the flash light is still too bright even if you put it in rear mode and set its brightness to minimum, you can use a flash diffuser. For brighter scenes you can put the flash off and increase ISO. Additionally, if you don’t want your reflection to show on the globes, use a polarization filter. Try to shoot macro photos of the decorations in both these scenarios: with the tree lights on, with the tree lights off. The results are very different.
4. Keep it simple – photograph a simple scene without busy background
Most of the time, Christmas decorations are photographed as part of a busy scenery. However, modern photos show a single globe, or some one-colored arrangement of Christmas decorations, over a simple, blurred background, with no tree lights behind the subject. It doesn’t hurt to make a few pictures like these, and transform them into amazing self-made greeting cards that you can send over to your friends and family.
It doesn’t have to be a decoration. It can be a gift box with a pretty ribbon, a few candles, or even cookies.
5. Use a bokeh filter to capture dreamy images of Christmas lights
First of all, you can take great shots by creating simple round bokeh. The key is to have a front object (your main subject) at a considerable distance in front of the lights (may it be the tree lights or other indoor or outdoor ornaments), and focus on it, preferably in macro mode. It’s not like you can’t create bokeh without a main focused object, but I rather do so because it’s more interesting. A plain simple bokeh photo is only useful as texture or background for something else. But, it you want to know, here’s how you do it in the simplest way: frame your picture and keep it out of focus as much as you want – the more out of focus it is, the larger the round shapes.
You can use a filter to change to round shapes into something else, like hearts or stars. For this purpose, grab a piece of cardboard and cut it in such way that you can attach it to the lens. Then, before you put it in place on front of your camera, cut out the desired shape in the middle of the cardboard.
Here’s a tip I bet you haven’t thought of: use the zooming effect while shooting a picture of the tree (or the city lights). The result will be impressive: something similar to the third image below.
6. Capture emotions when presents are opened
Don’t get too excited about opening your own presents, even if you die to put your hands on those boxes and bags. First of all, take photos of everyone else opening their presents (even the dog – hehe). These will be the most cherished memories, the ones that your family members will want to have framed. Plus, this is when you can get some authentic emotions instead of directed family shots when people gather in front of the tree and smile only when you say “cheese!”. Keep in mind to have the action in a “golden” area of the frame, respecting the rule of thirds, and don’t center your subject (see the second pic as example: the front kid is one action, and the group of three is another action, in the opposite corner).
7. Create astonishing portraits while celebrating Christmas
Group shots are easy, but the picture is better if everyone is wearing a Santa hat. Everyone wants to have a picture in front of the tree, wearing the new winter sweater or holding the present. What most people often do wrong in this situation – the single portraits, is to photograph the person with the tree, disregarding the main subject. If you focus on the entire scene, it will be too distracting. For a good portrait in front of the tree, you have to tell your model to step away from the tree and closer to you, then frame the photo having your subject visible from the torso upwards, and the tree partially sideways. This way, you will be able to increase the DOF, obtaining a bokeh filled tree and a perfectly focused portrait-closeup.
8. Photograph the Christmas dinner table
Another moment of Christmas that everyone considers important, is the family dinner. It is important because everyone is finally gathered into one place, and eats delicious food. By saying this, I already gave you the main photography points of focus: capture the joy of the people and the food on the plates. This means that you need to grab everyone’s attention and have them look at you before you click the button, capturing the entire picture from afar. To capture both the food on the table, the tree from behind and the smiling people, get up with your feet on a chair and take a sort-of-birds-eye photo. Then, to photograph the food, take a close-up but keep a perspective that will tell everyone this shot was done on Christmas. To do so, crouch down with your eyes at the table level, and have the Christmas tree far off in the background.
9. Create a short animation of the Christmas Tree Lights going on and off
If you shoot in continuous mode for several seconds while having your camera still, you will get a number of pictures of the Christmas tree in which the Christmas lights are blinking on and off. A computer software will then stitch these photos into an animated GIF file that will remember everyone how beautiful the decorated tree was.
10. Outdoor daylight Christmas fun
The second day of Christmas is still full of events that require your attention (even if you would prefer to lay in bed, cozy settled with a cup of hot chocolate). There’s a lot you can photograph if there is snow. Kids creating snowmen, or snow angels, young people having a snowball fight, and older people drinking a hot cup of tea while watching them. With a fast shutter speed you can capture the snow up in the air (have your model blow it, for example).
In the evening, play around with white balance and capture the strong contrast of colors between the bluish tint of the snow and the yellow of the lights.
11. Be Creative!
This is a final tip, to show you some examples of what you can do with your camera, while shooting and while post-processing. Make a Christmas Photography exceptional album!