It’s the most wonderful time of the year – are you ready to capture it all, the joy, the wonder, the excitement and even the boredom?! Here are some of my favourite tips to help you move beyond the snapshot and document this year’s Christmas – from preparations to opening the presents!
Use natural light
For better pictures, I always recommend switching off your flash and using sunlight or ambient light instead. Because seriously, unless you have a professional flash set up so that at the very minimum it allows you to bounce flash off the ceiling and not direct it right in your kids faces, all you’re going to get is red-eyed vampires in your pictures.
That said, winter days in the UK are short, and there isn’t much natural light available after about 4pm. So you need to get smart about the light and how you can use it to your advantage. Here are some simple strategies to help you with that.
- If you can, take the important pictures during the daylight hours. Take advantage of the soft winter light outdoors and photograph the extended family in the garden.
- When photographing indoors, open all curtains and blinds, position yourself near the window and photograph into the room. This applies for both DSLRs and phone cameras. That way you’ll get evenly lit scene without having to know what “exposure compensation” means.
- When it’s getting dark, and you know how to shoot off Auto mode, increase your camera’s ISO and use lower aperture to let more light into your camera (go as low as your lens will let you, not everything needs to be in focus). Don’t be afraid of grain – most modern cameras have noise-reducing capabilities, and in any case grain can add quite a bit of mood to your pictures.
- If you have to switch the lights on, do it. It might result in your photographs having a yellow tint to them – compensate for that either by changing your white balance settings to “bulb”, or turn it to black and white if you have software such as Lightroom, iPhoto or online editing tools such as BeFunky – or, indeed, your favourite Instagram filters.
P.S. If the last couple of paragraph sounded like complete and utter gibberish to you, and you’d like to learn how to get off Auto mode, drop me a line to schedule one-to-one photography training or to get on the waiting list for my next group training in London.
A thoughtful composition will help you produce more engaging images that go beyond the snapshot. Here are a few simple things to keep in mind:
- Photograph at your subjects eye level or looking directly down at them. With kids, it means you often have to crouch or sit on the floor to get the shot. Do it! I often joke that I don’t need gym membership as I’m constantly doing squats during photoshoots! Also, don’t forget to move around and photograph the same scene from different angles, you’ll be surprised!
- Be mindful of the background: check out for annoying things like ugly plastic bags, bins, etc. If you spot anything you don’t want to be in the picture, just move yourself slightly and re-frame. In most cases, by moving just a few inches to the left or to the right you’ll be able to either hide the unsightly thing behind your main subject, or cut it out of the picture entirely.
Photograph the preparations
What are your pre-Christmas traditions that you do every year? Do you go to a local Christmas market, or Winter Wonderland, or Kew Gardens? Do you bake cookies for all the neighbors? Do you make Christmas decorations together? Photograph it all, it’s part of your family history!
Capture the details
Don’t forget to capture all the little details that make Christmas in your house special. Are there any new decorations your child make this year? Photograph them on the tree. Take pictures of the table set up, the presents your kids open, the letters to Santa, the Christmas stockings, etc.
You can even take this approach and photograph some of the activities, such as opening the presents and really zoom in, focusing on your child’s hands or the expression on their faces. This is especially handy if you want to cut off the background mess without having to clean up! This is the technique I used for these photographs of my son opening his presents while our house was still in the state of permanent renovation.
Don’t say cheese!
The days of children having to sit still and freeze and put on an artificial smile for the camera should be long behind us (after all, historically, the only reason for those pictures was the fact that cameras just couldn’t cope with movement, so everyone had to sit very, very still!). Yet we still often insist that the kids sit nicely and fake a smile “for grandma”.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a mother myself and I understand the intention. But I’m telling you, it’s far better to capture authentic emotions, even if it doesn’t involve an actual smile (a quiet moment of introspection, an inquisitive look, a grumpy face, a look of wonder, a big toothless grin – it’s all good!), because it’s those pictures that you will cherish as the time goes by.
So don’t ask your kids to say cheese. In fact, tell them straight out they don’t need to smile for the camera. Not now, not ever. Watch them, observe, and capture real, imperfect moments of what your life looks like in this moment.