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 – in a way you’d want to put in a family photo album!
Use natural light
For better looking photographs, I always recommend switching off your flash and using sunlight or ambient light instead. Because seriously, that itty-bitty pop up flash on your DSRL, or the smartphone’s built-in flash are not really going to help you much. But they will turn your children into red-eyed vampires – so, just don’t.
“But how else can I photograph in the dark without a flash?” I hear you asking.
Indeed, winter days 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 tricks 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 an 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 an artsy mood to your pictures. On most cameras, you can start off my switching to P mode and Googling how to change your ISO for your particular camera model – trust me just that one thing will dramatically improve your ability to get better photos in less than ideal lighting scenarios.
- 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.
By using just these two simple tricks you can improve your composition and make your photos look way better than an average snapshot.
- 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!
- 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 – all without having to miss a precious moment.
Photograph the preparations
Does your family have Christmas traditions? Something that you do every year? Do you go to a local Christmas market, pick a perfect tree together, visit Winter Wonderland in London, or get grandma over to help decorate the tree? Do you bake cookies or make Christmas decorations – even a pre-Christmas trip to IKEA could be IT.
Photograph it all, it’s part of your family history and your children will be so thankful to have those images to look back on when they are older.
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 being renovated and I wanted to cut out all the unseemly bits.
Don’t say cheese – embrace the imperfection!
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 to sit still for the photograph was the fact that cameras just couldn’t cope with movement, so everyone had to sit very, very still – there was just no other way to do it! 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.
I’m Antonina Mamzenko – a natural light newborn, baby and family photographer based between London and Surrey. I specialize in creating candid, natural family photographs with zero cheese and no posing. I work all over London and Surrey, including Cobham, Esher, Thames Ditton, Richmond upon Thames, St Margarets, Twickenham, Teddington, Hampton, Kingston upon Thames, Surbiton, Kew, Chiswick, Putney, Fulham, Wimbledon, Holland Park, Kensington, St John’s Wood and Hampstead. Find more information about my photography sessions or get in touch to check availability and book your family photoshoot.