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10 Tips for Holiday Photography

written by: digitaldan1•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 11/15/2012

The holidays are a mix of bright colors, parties and friends and family. This is a recipe for great photography, provided the photographer is prepared to take advantage of the opportunities the season presents. There are a number of things a photographer can do to get better shots.

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    How many great holiday photo moments have you missed over the years? Do you have trouble remembering the holidays? By the time it's over, it's a blur of unwrapped gift paper and eggnog. And, how about those expressions of joy and surprise? Wouldn't you love to relive some of those moments over and over?

    Preserve your memories this year by taking memorable photos of all your gatherings and family events. Here's 10 tips to take the best holiday photos possible. You may even be able to use pictures from this holiday season on next year's greeting cards.

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    Holiday lightsFamily momentsOpening presentsDecorations
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    10 Tips for Capturing the Best Holiday Photos

    1. Concentrate on emotions -- look for facial expressions and human interactions. Longer focal length lenses such as the 70 to 200 mm or 75 to 300 mm lens make it possible to create natural looking images from a little bit of a distance without being noticed. If shooting indoors, this may call for choosing a higher ISO or using an on-camera flash to avoid blur from camera shake at longer focal lengths. Don't forget aftermath shots where the people are napping or relaxing after eating dinner or opening presents.
    2. Get some detail shots -- close-ups of decorations, gifts and food present a different point of view and add some variety to the images. These shots are an important part of the story telling process too. While getting close, consider taking advantage of reflections in Christmas ornaments or mirrors for a very different perspective. Don't forget the aftermath shots here too. Pictures of piles of torn wrapping paper or empty plates are testimony to good times and good food.
    3. Vary the composition -- all too often, novice photographers shoot everything from the same perspective, same focal length and same orientation. Creating variety in the images from a shoot, makes for much more interesting photographs. Photographers should mix up horizontal and vertical compositions, shoot from high and low angles and mix up wide angle and telephoto images. It's also good to vary between close-ups and more distant shots. Look for photos of individuals, pairs and groups too.
    4. Look for layered images -- place elements in the foreground and background of the image. Shoot from partially behind the Christmas tree so it acts as a frame on the side of the photo while focusing on the subject. This will create a sense of depth to the photo. Another idea would be to photograph the set dinner table in the foreground with people standing around talking to each other in the background. Take multiple shots using shallow depth of field to make the foreground sharp in one photo and the background sharp in the other. The same effect can be done with gifts in the foreground and children in the background or vice versa.
    5. Take lots of photos -- the opportunity for great holiday photos only comes about a couple of times a year. It's all too easy to grab a few shots and then get caught up in having a good time. Unfortunately, this is a surefire way to miss some great shots. Keep the camera handy and ready to shoot and stay alert for those special moments such as the family sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner or the kids opening presents on Christmas day.
    6. Remember the rules of effective composition -- use the rule of thirds, framing and leading lines to help make better images. Framing visitors in an open doorway or through a Christmas wreath is a tried and true technique. So is using a line of holiday lights to lead the eye into the image.
    7. Take advantage of bright colors -- The holiday season is filled with a melange of bright colors. Red and green are complimentary colors (Colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel. Complimentary colors are colors that vibrate against each other.) People dress differently during the holidays too, wearing seasonal colors and jewelry.
    8. Photograph the food before eating it -- The holidays are filled with all sorts of goodies. Cakes and pies and cookies, big meals, full dinner tables are all part of the season. Take advantage of these scenes and get plenty of shots from a variety of angles and compositions.
    9. Look for interaction -- The holidays are a time for families and friends to get together. Look for people sharing moments and emotions.
    10. Look for somebody to take your picture -- It's easy to get so wrapped up in documenting the holiday that you forget to make it into some of the photos yourself. Remember to hand the camera to someone else every now and then and get into some of the images.