Dec 23, 2004

Photographing the Holidays

Lynne Eodice, December 2002
Holidays provide many types of photo opportunities, ranging from candids of your family and friends enjoying seasonal activities to holiday parades and decorative displays. Keep your camera handy and loaded with a memory card so you won't miss anything.

This intentionally out-of-focus
Christmas tree becomes a colorful
abstract. Photo by Phyllis Tutterow


When photographing your loved ones during the holidays, use the wide-angle setting on your built-in lens to encompass the entire group. Zooming out to the telephoto setting will eliminate background distractions, and can be used to isolate people's faces. If your compact camera is equipped with only a fixed-focal-length lens, move in closer to your subjects. Use your camera's fill-flash, or utilize the warm, ambient light indoors by turning on lamps and holiday lights. If you can turn your flash on, use it outdoors to fill in shadows on people's faces.

Shoot pictures that tell a story of your holiday gathering. For example, photograph grandpa teaching little Jimmy how to carve the Thanksgiving turkey, or people whose faces are illuminated by Hanukkah candles. Take pictures of your guests seated around a holiday table (preferably before the meal begins), and even the aftermath of the event. Make prints of the best photos and send—or e-mail—them to your relatives. They'll treasure these pictures for years to come.

When shooting pictures of a living room that's decked out for the holidays, avoid making your photos too busy. You may want to shoot a few pictures of the entire scene, but then move in closer and isolate a few of the most interesting details through your viewfinder. You may find that these more intimate viewpoints will result in stronger photos.

Taking photos of nighttime holiday scenes and colorful lights is a lot of fun. Remember that many of your best nighttime photo opportunities occur at dusk, before the sky is completely dark. Sunset skies and Christmas lights can result in some beautiful holiday images. It's a good idea to stake out some great locations ahead of time, as your actual shooting time is limited when working with diminishing light.

You can get some great photos on snowy days. A blanket of white turns the landscape into pristine beauty. Just bundle up so that you'll be comfortable in these cool temperatures. Many picture opportunities may present themselves in low-light situations, especially during a snowfall. If your camera has an auto-flash, turn it off (if you can) to avoid photographing snowflakes that can look like big white blobs when illuminated by flash.

And speaking of the cold, sub-zero temperatures can temporarily drain batteries of their power. Carry plenty of spares and swap them when your camera starts to act sluggish. Keep your point-and-shoot camera (and your spare batteries) inside your coat pocket so that your body heat will keep them warm. If it's very wet outside, use plastic baggies to keep your camera and batteries dry.

If you have children, have your camera loaded and ready on Christmas day, when the kids first come into the living room to see what Santa has brought them. For occasions like this, it's best to use moderately fast ISO (400+) and your camera's fill-flash so you can free yourself to move around and capture people's expressions.

When flash isn't available, use faster ISO (such as 400-800) for your indoor holiday photography, as faster ISO's requires less light for a proper exposure but keep an eye on the noise levels.

Some other links to sites which also have tips for photographing holiday lights.