A How-To for the Holidays

Stockings! Tree! Lights! CHRISTMAS!!


YAY!! Christmas!! We all love Christmas, right?? (Except you Ebeneezer, and of course you, Grinch… But the rest of us do, so shut it!)

Ya know what I love about Christmas?? The massive amounts of opportunity for really embarassing pictures of friends and family. In the holiday season people who normally run a mile when you pull out your camera are suddenly happy to have their picture taken and show off that really horrible sweater Aunt Mavis bought them… Go figure…

Anyway, I thought I’d share some tips for taking those precious holiday pictures this year – pay attention, especially if someone loved you enough to buy you that DSLR you wanted… (Sorry compact users, this post ain’t for you… Besides, if you need help with a compact camera, you probably need more help than I can give!)

Socks, the ubiquitous Christmas gift...

So – first of all let’s talk settings. You don’t want to be so wrapped up in capturing images of Christmas morning that you actually MISS Christmas morning… So simplicity is key. I usually push for Full Manual at all times on here, but this is one of those occasions when using the other modes on your camera makes life so much easier, and lets you get involved whilst still capturing those precious faces as presents are unwrapped. Using the ‘fixed’ modes also allows you to hand off your camera, and appear in some shots yourself… like this…

Me. Unwrapped. A sight only my wife should see.

So, for simplicity and the ability to hand off, we’re gonna shoot in Aperture priority (that’s Av for Canon users, A for Nikon) and set it to f/8. This gives us a nice wide depth of field, which means that your subject, their gift, the tree AND the bratty sibling behind them making the bunny ears behind their head will all be in a similar focal range… However – at this focal length you’re gonna lose some of the ambient light, so to compensate we’re gonna set our ISO either in the mid-range (ISO 400) or high (ISO 800) depending on how much noise your camera throws out. Turning on your lights, opening the curtains and turning on the tree lights are all good ideas as well… the more light the better… Speaking of:

If you have a flash, slap it on the camera and bounce that sucker off the ceiling (point it straight up at the ceiling at all times) – not only will this give you a nice flat light across your whole shot, but it should also help compensate for that smaller aperture…

It's not Christmas without chocolate. And all the chocolate is mine.

So – you’ve got the flash, you’ve got the aperture, you’re shooting on Av/A, the cameras deciding what shutter speed you want, and your ISO is set. There’s one more thing to keep an eye on: Motion blur. Hopefully no-one out there lives in such a deep dark hole that motion blur will happen, but IF IT DOES… It’s simply because your camera has decided to slow the shutter speed down to a point where people’s movements cause them to be blurred (probably somewhere below 1/100 of a second).

Obviously, if you have kids, this is horrid. They’re zipping around like The Flash on steroids, so you need a high shutter speed to freeze their excited faces as they unwrap your carefully selected gifts… BUT, it’s a simple fix: You just need more light. HA! So either up your ISO setting, open your aperture towards the higher range (f/1.8 to f/3.5) or crank up the output on your flash. All of these should force that shutter speed up and eliminate the motion blur. In all honesty though, shooting in your living room shouldn’t need much more than a flash and about ISO 400… Unless you live in that deep dark hole we talked about earlier…

Time to get the party started! Cheers!

Okay – that should cover most people… But I just wanted to mention a couple of extra things you can try if you want to be IN some of these wonderful holiday memories, and happen to have a tripod and remote shutter release for your camera:

Set your tripod up in a corner or out of the way spot (flash still bouncing off the ceiling) and use your widest lens (for me that’s 18mm, which can capture most of the living room; tree, gifts, family and all). Crank that sucker wide, compose your shot, set your aperture and ISO (Again, somewhere around f/8 works best because we want as much of the shot in focus as possible!) and then switch to remote shutter release… Now you can walk away and enjoy Christmas morning, happily snapping shots remotely whenever the opportunity arises… and best of all YOU are in the shots… And second best of all you DON’T have a camera in your hand all Christmas morning (which can make unwrapping those gifts VERY difficult).

Yes, that's my wife. On a beach. At Christmas. We're awesome.

So there you have it… A quick little ‘How-To’ for those all-important holiday shots. I hope you find it useful, I hope you and your families have a great Christmas, and I hope you come by and visit again in the New Year…

Merry Christmas from me & mine, to you & yours! :-)

Happy Holidays to one & all! May your Christmas season be filled with laughter and happiness.




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