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Tips & Tricks

10 Christmas Photography Ideas and Tips (Updated)

By Christopher Lin on December 24th 2018

Photography and Christmas seem to go hand in hand. With all of your family and friends together, you have a chance to create imagery that will be shared online, physically printed out, mailed across the globe and cherished for generations with the power of digital imaging. So, here are 10 Christmas Photography Tips to make sure those photos turn out great.

1) bump your ISO

Find the right ambient-to-flash balance, even if that means bumping the ISO to 1600, 3200 and even 6400 depending on your camera body.  On full frame professional cameras, like the Canon 5D Mark IV, Nikon D850, or Sony a9, don’t be afraid to go up to 6400.  On entry level cameras like the Canon Rebel or Sony a6500, keep your ISOs at 1600 and below to avoid too much image degradation.  The images below were taken at ISO 3200 on Canon 5D Mark IV.

2) Use Lower Apertures

Create beautiful bokeh in your Christmas background lights by dropping your apertures. The image below is shot on a Canon 5D Mark III with a canon 50mm f1.2 Lens at F2.0. Of course, you have to be very accurate with your focus at such shallow depth of fields, but if you can get your subjects sharp, the low apertures will really make your images pop and bring out those beautiful background Christmas lights. If your lens is capable, try staying at f2.8 or below.

christmas-photography

3) Use Natural Light (avoid flash)

If you’re looking to create natural, warm and moody images, make sure you turn off your flash for some (if not most) of your photos. This allows the ambient light of the Christmas lights or fireplace to show up in your images and allows parts of the scene to fall off into shadow.

christmas-photography-tips

Image Courtesy of Darryl Wong Photography.

4) Use Christmas Props

For Christmas portraits, consider including fun Christmas props like Santa hats and cute holiday outfits.  It’s tempting to lounge around in pajamas all day, but a little bit of extra planning will go a very long way.  The following image is from a Bokeh Overlay tutorial by Tanya Smith.

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5) Get Close

Putting the subject of your photo closer to the camera can help increase the amount of blur in the out-of-focus parts of the image, which works great for small details like Christmas ornaments. Be sure to keep your apertures low and consider using a macro lens to get in even closer while still being able to focus.  Again, consider turning off your flash to maintain the natural, moody feel.

christmas-bokeh-tips

Image Courtesy of Darryl Wong Photography.

6) Use Fun and Silly Poses

The Holiday season is a time of fun and cheer. Be sure to step away from those classic smile-into-the-camera poses and get silly.  As the photographer, whether you’re hired professionally to capture a holiday event or you’re simply photographing your family, it’s your job to get great reactions, smiles, and poses from your subjects.

christmas-tips

7) Consider a Photobooth

Photobooths are getting easier and easier to set up.  There are free Photobooth apps on your iPad as well as a variety of simple, inexpensive Photobooth Software.  For large holiday parties, these are a great addition to the festivities; and they even work well for small family gatherings.

christmas-photobooth

8) Stay Active and Ready for Great Reactions

Stay ready and actively anticipate smiles and laughs.  Keep your camera up as your family and friends open their gifts and snap away at the reactions. Some of your best shots from Christmas will be the non-posed, in-the-moment images.

christmas-photos

9) Consider Creating a GIF

GIFs are great for showing a series of events in a sequence.  Combining images from these moments can result in hilarious GIFs that your family will love. See the example below from our recent Lin and Jirsa Holiday Party.

10) Consider Creating a Collage

Rather than posting 10 individual photos, consider creating a collage. In our world of social media, it’s easier to Instagram, Facebook, and Tweet one picture that sums up the party than to clutter up newsfeeds and timelines with multiple images.

christmas-photography-collage

11) Use Advanced Techniques like Long Exposures and Composites

To create beautiful starry effects in the Christmas lights, consider using small apertures and long exposures. This conflicts with our first tip of dropping down your aperture, but this tip is used to create an entirely different look. With small apertures, you’re utilizing diffraction to create start bursts. If you’re including people or other moving subjects in your photo, consider merging multiple images in a composite. See this Christmas Composite Tutorial Here.

Fishbomb UNDFIND Holiday shoot

Christmas Photo Tips Conclusion

The most important rule for Christmas photos is to have fun. It’s a wonderful time to play with the bokeh of Christmas lights and utilize elaborate, festive sets. It’s also a great time to get meaningful family photos, as it seems harder and harder to get all of our loved ones in one place at one time. Be sure to take advantage of this wonderful time of year and please share your results with us below in the comments or over on our Facebook Page.

Please let us know what other tips you might have in the comments below.

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Co-Founder of SLR Lounge and Photographer with Lin and Jirsa Photography, I’m based in Southern California but you can find me traveling the world. Click here to connect on Google +

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Jim Lee

    Use constant lights 

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  2. Nick Osborne

    Hi, great article. I have a few Xmas parties to shoot this year where I’m selling prints on the night. I’d like the set-up to have a festive feel to it (and to move away from pure white) but have experimented with Xmas lights on the BG but they get blasted out by the studio lights (and I wouldn’t have the space to move the subjects a long way from the BG). Shooting on a really low f number is also not practical as I’ll be shooting groups of up to 10. Have you any suggestions to create a low-ish cost studio set up practical for up to 10 people? Thanks in advance

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  3. Basit Zargar

    Nice article.

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