Five Tips for Better Holiday Photos

If you’re like me, you get a lot of questions from friends and family during the holiday season about photography. This is not only the busiest time of year for shopping, after all; it’s also the busiest for family picture-taking.

Here are five tips for capturing holiday memories that I always offer those who ask.

1. Remember, your camera is not as smart as you are.

The human eye and brain are amazing things. From across a room, they enable you see the interaction of two people, interpret their expressions and understand what they are doing. But the camera only sees the room. To capture the story you see, you must focus in on just the people. If you photograph the whole room, the people will get lost in the background clutter, and the subject you found interesting will be lost. Always remember that a camera is not as discerning as your eyes; it simply records what you tell it to. Fill the frame with your subject, and your photos will be easy to read.

2. Pay attention to backgrounds.

We’ve all seen family photos where our loved ones seem to have odd things sticking up from the back of their heads; we tend to tune such clutter out when we are taking pictures, so we have to make a special point to be aware of it. Be careful about bright light sources in the background, too. These can create bright spots in your photos and draw the viewer’s eye away from the intended subject. If there are objects with bright colors in the background, they also can distract the viewer. When using a flash, watch out for mirrors, windows or other reflective surfaces. These will bounce the flash back at you and can interfere with the proper metering of your camera’s auto flash functions, leading to underexposed images.

3. Don’t stop the action.

When you are photographing your kids playing that new game, don’t ask them to stop and smile for the camera. Allow them to keep playing and capture their interactions with the game and each other. Asking them to stop and smile for the camera ruins the moment and turns an active image into a static image. Similarly, take candid photos at holiday parties and other events, waiting for those special moments. Document the action as it occurs; don’t try to dictate it.

4. Get on your subject’s level.

Too often we make photos from a standing position. If you are photographing your children and they are playing on the floor, get down there with them and shoot them from that angle. You will be surprised how much better the image works when you are on your subject’s level. Also, remember to occasionally turn the camera to a vertical orientation. For many images, a vertical composition is better than a horizontal one.

5. Be patient, and you will be rewarded.

A big part of taking good photos is waiting — particularly when trying to capture genuine, spontaneous emotion. A sudden smile as a Christmas gift is opened is not something that can be recreated by asking the subject to smile for the camera. Instead, be patient, watch the action through your camera, and be ready to snap the photo just when the smile hits. This is the kind of holiday picture that families treasure most.

2 Responses to “Five Tips for Better Holiday Photos”

  1. Harrison,
    Thanks for the reminders.
    tom oakley

  2. These basic steps are the ones that should be taught in elementary schools along with numbers and letters I think.

    Photos have even more and more space in our lives (think of Flickr, Picasa, Facebook etc galleries and the countless mobile phones with cameras) but without the minimum knowledge and desire for quality they all become industrial garbage collectors....and the lack of desire for quality can kill quality and business related to quality.

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