Our Christmas Photo Guide: Capture the Holiday Season Right

With Christmas swiftly approaching, it’s time to pull out your camera and have it at the ready. There are few other seasons and virtually no holidays that offer nearly the amount of photography potential as the festive season.

You might want to hit the streets in search of the best Christmas lights displays, or perhaps you want to gather the family together for some gorgeous new photos for the Christmas cards.

In this Christmas photo guide, we give you some handy tips on capturing some of the most popular and innovative Christmas photos for the season.

How to shoot Christmas lights at night

outdoor christmas lights

The Christmas light displays on local homes and buildings can often get out of control – which is all the better for a budding photographer.

Using a flash is only going to wash out the bright Christmas lights, so where possible, you’ll want to use the ambient lighting provided by the display itself. But this poses problems on how to best expose the shot.

To begin with, twilight is an ideal time to photograph light displays. There’s enough ambient light from the departing sun to add texture to the shot (in the pitch black of night, lights often look like they’re just floating mid-air!).

You’re probably going to have to slow down the shutter speed to clearly capture lights, but if your frame includes people or moving components, you won’t want to keep it too low. Try to start off at around 1/50th of a second.

For Christmas light displays, it may be better to set your camera to a low aperture and a slightly higher ISO. Anywhere between f/4.6 and f/8 works for aperture, while your ISO should hover at about 400 to begin. Try not to raise your ISO above 800 or you’ll start getting grainier shots.

Even with a slightly lower shutter speed, it’s a good idea to have a tripod on hand so you don’t create motion blur from handheld photography or movement in the frame.

Along with a tripod, consider bringing a wide angle lens to enable to capture the full extent of the display.

Find a new angle on interior Christmas decorations

The lights on your Christmas tree – along with other home decorations – provide a great backdrop for other subjects or great experimental subjects on their own.

Beware, images of baubles and tinsel can get a little stale, so try to look for inventive new ways to take photos. Why not attempt an extreme macro photograph of a tinsel, or use a bauble as a foreground interest for a shot with a lot of people in the background?

christmas tree and family

If you’re photographing your tree in all its glory with the Christmas lights, turn down (or turn off) all the lights in the room so the Christmas tree lights remain in focus.

When you’re photographing anything with Christmas lights indoors, opt for the Incandescent or Tungsten white balance setting. This will more faithfully render the colour of your lights.

As with photographing outdoor Christmas displays, a tripod can help keep your camera steady if you’re using a slow shutter speed to counteract the low light scenario.

For macro shots of your Christmas decorations and other ornaments, switch to the macro lens. It will do a fabulous job isolating one subject from the crowd.

Now is the time to embrace bokeh

bokeh in christmas photo

Bokeh is a photography technique that blurs or softens parts of an image – typically lights. It adds character – and, in the Christmas season, a festive ambiance – to your photo.

To create fuzzy balls of Christmas lights around your tree, simply shoot at the larger end of your aperture to throw the background out of focus. Experiment with different apertures for different effects; larger apertures create rounder balls while smaller ones create hexagonal, heptagonal or octagonal shapes.

To keep your photo engaging, place a subject – such as a person or a pet – in focus in the photo. Then you can create larger or smaller balls of light by increasing and decreasing the distance between your focused and unfocused subjects.

How to capture stunning Christmas family photos

family christmas photo

Christmas is often the only time the family is together, making family Christmas photos an important keepsake of the year. Of course, there are also the family Christmas cards to be sent out.

Taking inspiring family photos at Christmas demands many of the same tips as regular portrait photography, including focusing on the subjects’ eyes. But of course, there are a few other things to keep in mind for Christmas photography. 

If you’re planning to photograph around Christmas lights, unplug any lights directly behind your subject so they don’t pose a distraction. Instead, keep lights on the opposite side of the frame turned on to balance the composition and cast a warm glow over your subjects.

Alternatively, use the lights as a background to halo your subject; eliminate any other light sources to increase the effect.

woman sitting beside Christmas tree

Try not to use a flash, since you don’t want to mess with the ambient light levels cast by the Christmas lights and any candles. But if a flash is necessary, use a detachable flash gun that bounces light off the ceiling.

Of course, you’ll also want to get yourself in the shots, no doubt. Once again, the tripod becomes the hero of the hour, enabling you to creep into the picture after setting your camera to a timer. Alternatively, have a remote shutter handy to capture snaps in your own time.

Finally, don’t forget to include the family pooch or kitty in the shot! They’re just as much a part of the team, right? Pets can be trickier to tame for a family portrait, so keep them in a familiar setting and look out for any spontaneous shots that work a treat and contain far fewer hassles than a set shot!

pet in Christmas photo

It’s easy to fall into cliched family photographs – couples under the mistletoe, a child placing the star on top of the tree, so here are some different angles and new ideas you can try to create more dynamic family Christmas photos.

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