Photo of girl in green pullover decorating the Christmas tree and Christmas decorations

I love Christmas and I love telling our family’s Christmas story through images. I’ve always found capturing Christmas with family a fun, but challenging task. You have a low-light situation with artificial lights everywhere, and there are a lot of distractions that can result in “messy” pictures.

So how can you avoid chaos in your Christmas photos and achieve interesting and good images? I’ve put together this guide with 14 tips for capturing Christmas and achieving better pictures and I hope it can help you capture some memories that you and your family will treasure for years to come.

1) Make a list

Think about how you would like to tell YOUR Christmas story. Which traditions, details, and moments are important to you and should be on your “must-take” shot list? Thinking this through beforehand will help you get the shots you want and simplify the process of capturing Christmas as YOU see it.

Don’t know where to start? Scroll down for some inspiration.

2) Be prepared

Make sure your camera equipment is ready and at hand. Have your batteries charged, memory cards formatted, and your lenses cleaned and ready.

Mobile tip: Plan to have some fun with the self-timer so you can be a part of the images? Make sure your tripod is ready. If you don’t own a tripod, see my Pinterest board DIY tripods for some great ideas.

3) Find the light

Take a minute to check out the lighting situation before the party starts. Find out where the best light is and utilize this when photographing whenever possible.

4) Get the color temperature right – set the white balance

The lighting is always a challenge when photographing indoors because you’ll have multiple light sources and color temperatures. If you’re shooting during the day, simply turn off the lights and use the natural light as much as possible.

If you’re shooting at night, adjust the white balance setting to avoid getting yellow pictures. If you’re shooting with a camera, find the white balance settings and put it in “light bulb” mode, which means artificial indoor light. This mode will remove the yellow from the pictures and help you get more natural-looking pictures.

Pro tip 1: Use Kelvin to adjust the white balance.

Pro tip 2: You’ll get the best results at correcting white balance in post-processing if you shoot in RAW.

Mobile tip: You can correct the white balance in post-processing in most photo editing apps. Use the “warmth” tool to adjust the yellow and blue.

People singing Christmas carols in front of a Christmas tree

5) Don’t use flash if you can avoid it

Using flash mostly results in washed out and blown out faces with weird coloring. Flash CAN be a good tool in low-light situations, but only if you know how to use it – it’s especially important to know how to diffuse the light.

When shooting in low-light without a flash, you will have grainy images (this is because the camera will use a higher ISO). Personally, I prefer the grain to the washed-out look of using a flash.

Pro tip: To get optimized results, shoot in RAW. An image shot in RAW can be significantly improved in post-processing. You can remove most of the grain and brighten the image while retaining most of the details.

Mobile tip: Most newer smartphones have a “dark mode” which will create better images in low-light situations (turns on automatically on iPhones). You can also shoot in RAW with your mobile phone by using specific apps. Personally, I use Lightroom mobile to shoot RAW with my iPhone. Please note; you need the paid version of LR to edit RAW images.

6) Be a “fly on the wall”

See a moment you love? Just capture it as it happens without announcing it and don’t ask them to look or smile at the camera. These authentic little moments are beautiful and real and will result in the BEST images. If you ask me, candid photographing is the best way of capturing Christmas. Look for emotions like reactions to a gift, laughter, hugging, playing, and so on.

7) Get close – get rid of distractions

A Christmas eve situation is mostly busy and can be full of clutter – meaning there will be a lot of things happening at once, and stuff in the background or around the subject that is distracting. By getting closer to your subject you can cancel out some of the noise and achieve a more peaceful and focused image.

How to keep the composition simple:
  • Focus on ONE subject
  • Fill the frame (crop out any space that could detract from the subject)
Photo of girl in green pullover decorating the Christmas tree and Christmas decorations
Photo of Christmas tree and Christmas decorations

8) Capture the details of Christmas + the “little things”

Look around you and notice – really take in – what traditions and things make Christmas special to YOU. Which details add to your Christmas story? Try to transfer yourself 20, 30, or 50 years on and think about what small details will be fun to remember and pass on to the generations after you.

Here are some suggestions on what to capture:
  1. The Christmas tree and decorations
  2. The preparations
  3. The table decoration
  4. The food and the cookies
  5. People enjoying the food
  6. The interactions
  7. The gifts (close-ups on the labels)
  8. Cyber meetings
  9. Kids opening gifts
  10. Kids trying their gifts on/playing with their gifts
  11. Activities like singing/playing music, games, watching Christmas movies

Scroll down for visual inspiration.

Christmas gifts wrapped in craft paper

9) Frame your subject

By photographing through something or along something that works as a frame, you can create a more interesting composition as well as create a more complete story.

10) Try different angles

Get high or get low for a new and different angle of your subjects. This gives the viewer a new point of view. It can also help you cancel out distracting elements.

11) Include your pets (if you have them)

Think of fun ways to incorporate your pets in your pictures. They’re a part of the family after all.

12) Embrace “Blur on purpose”

Christmas time is heaven for some creative “blur-on-purpose” pictures and you can take these with your smartphone too. The key is to lock the focus on something close to the lens. I.e. put your hand in front of your lens and focus on it. Lock the focus, remove the hand and voila, you should have a blurry object. Christmas trees are perfect for these images, but also candles and Christmas lights can be fun to play with.

13) Don’t stress about the technical quality of your pictures.

Chase Jarvis once said; “the best camera is the one with you”, and I fully agree. If you love a picture, you love it regardless of the technical quality. And having a blurry picture of a cherished moment is still better than having no picture at all.

As a photographer and owner of great cameras and lenses, I appreciate and aim for the best possible quality of my pictures. However, I too have pictures of moments that are technically bad (blurry, grainy, out of focus or blown out). But, I still love them because of the emotions they evoke or the memory they represent.

Mobile tip: You don’t need a fancy DSLR to take interesting or even great images during Christmas time. I have learned that taking images with my mobile phone has its limitations, but those limitations lead me to think creatively and to see new compositions that often are more interesting because of their originality. Limitations bring out our creativity.

Challenge: Some of the images below are mobile pictures. Can you spot which ones?

14) Include yourself in the pictures as well

Don’t forget that you are important to your family and you should be in some of the pictures too. Either set up a tripod and use the self-timer to capture pictures with everyone in them or have someone else take over the camera sometimes. 

I hope these tips will help you on your way to capturing Christmas and telling YOUR Christmas story. Don’t forget to put away the camera sometimes and enjoy the day with your family. No need to be behind the camera 24/7;) Let me know how it goes.

Happy Holidays!

 Marianne

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