How To Take Your Best Holiday Photos

November 20, 2016

The holidays are where some of my favorite memories lie. From dinners around the table to ping pong tournaments in the garage or best of all, those bottled cream sodas and root beers we only get for the holidays. Every family has different traditions that mean different things to them, whatever they are it just goes to show how special the holidays are. Some of my favorite photos have come out of the holiday season. With everyone together and all the festivities happening, you are never short of a “kodak moment”. With that in mind, there are a few things to look for and be thinking of when it comes to capturing your family moments so that you have pictures you’ll be holding onto forever.


Lighting is everything. All the secret tricks that come with being a photographer come to understanding light and how it works. Your best friend is natural light. If it’s available always have your subject facing the natural light with your back to it. Using the light from windows or taking pictures in full shade will produce the best images. If you are outside and have direct sunlight don’t have your subject face the sun, they’ll be squinting like crazy. Instead, have their backs to the sun and let their faces be in shadow. 

If it’s night time or you don’t have much natural light having a flash that bounces off the ceiling or shot through a diffuser are great alternatives. (If you don’t have a professional diffused cutting up a plastic milk carton and shooting through that does wonders – I did this as a poor college student and it totally works!)

If you have a DSLR camera you can adjust your ISO settings to take better photos in low light. Be careful not to set your aperture too low. The lower your aperture the larger the hole is that lets light in, while this lets more light in, the depth of field is less meaning that a smaller area can be in focus. Keeping at F4/F5 is a safe place to be for holiday images. Your shutter speed will also make a difference. If you are shooting with a flash you’ll need to be at 100th-200th of a second. If you are shooting without a flash anything under 100th of a second with most likely be blurry unless you can hold really still as well as keep your subject still. 


We all want to like the way we look in photos and there are a few tricks to make sure everyone is happy with how they’re looking. Make sure everyone is standing up straight. Like God is holding the top of their head with a string; pull your pelvis in (flex your abs) and squeeze your glutes to perfect your posture. Make sure when your subject sits up straight they don’t raise their shoulders to their ears. To help with this have them take a deep breath and release while holding their tall posture. Whether they are sitting, standing or laying day, when the back is straight the body always looks more flattering.

Creating space around the waist makes you look thinner. This is key for women because every woman wants to look thin. As long as one side of the waist is shown off the waist will appear smaller. Women have become obsessed with putting one hand on their hip to lift the bicep of the chest and show off the waist, while this does look more flattering it’s often overly posed. If you’re taking a group photo it’s fine, but to change things up try giving the hands something to do with dishes or kids.


When it comes to lenses there are many opinions on what you should use. If you’re using an iPhone to take photos I suggest not using the zoom, ever. It makes your photos grainy and distorted. There are lenses that you can buy for your iPhone which is a great thing to have if you don’t have another camera or you use your iPhone a lot. For point and shoot camera’s stay within its natural zoom. When you get into the “2x” range your image will look grainy. 

If you have a DSLR I’m a huge fan of using the 50mm and the 85mm lenses. These are the best portrait lenses (the 85mm being my favorite.) The wider a lens is the more distortion there can be especially in faces. A good 85mm lens is where the distortion really starts to fade. Anything higher than an 85mm is also good but can be hard to use in tight spaces and lots of family running around. Even an 85mm can be hard to get the whole story in which case I go to my 50mm.


When it comes to taking the best photos for your holiday you want to tell an entire story. You don’t want to forget anything. This is where the candid moments come in. Capture people in action as they are. Use the lighting tricks I mentioned to try and capture them best, and if they are in a really unflattering position be sure to make some tweaks so that these are photos everyone wants to keep. Start with the candid moment and then make changes, give yourself all the options. (This is the great thing about the digital age, you aren’t limited to a 24 picture holiday)

Remember to zoom in and zoom out. I like to take portrait, landscape, in and out when I take photos. This allows for you to get all the options for what you might need later and gets more of the story. Hands in the turkey, the glass bottled sodas I love, kids giving kisses on cheeks and getting the full room are all things to look for. Think of the smaller traditions you love and look forward to but also remember the energy of the room and the laughter that occurs when you see everyone having fun. 


Have fun and try something new. Christmas lights, candlelight, kids, and editing photos all are places to have fun. Try new things and experiment. This is the best way to learn. Try turning your aperture really low or lowering your shutter speed and showing the motion that happens around the kitchen. Use only Christmas lights to light the room or an object. The options are limitless and you have so much to experiment with so don’t be afraid to try something. It may not work but there’s always that chance that it does work and then you’ve made something even more beautiful than you could have imagined, and you’ll hold onto it forever.