Six Tips For Getting Great Christmas Photos

Six tips for getting great Christmas photos (Ottawa Photographers)

For the average person, you do not need to have a camera with all of the bells and whistles in order to take great photos.  There really is very little need to spend that kind of money on a fancy camera unless you actually take the time to learn how to use all of those extra gadgets.  To sum up my point, I think that Peter Adams said it best, “A camera didn’t make a great picture any more than a typewriter wrote a great novel.”  

Of course, as a professional photographer I wouldn’t dream of using anything but a professional grade camera when shooting a wedding or portraits for clients.  My camera of choice is Nikon’s D700.  However, I do own a small point and shoot camera that I take with me sometimes when I go out with friends or family so that I can still take fun shots without having to lug my huge and heavy professional SLR around.  This is just a personal choice for point and shoot cameras, but I have loved using Canon’s PowerShot series since 2005.  They’re small enough to carry anywhere and pretty user friendly.  I have a pretty bright pink coloured Powershot, but that’s a side note. Ha!  Ha!  Getting back on topic, even with a simple point and shoot camera, there are easy ways that you can take great Christmas photos.  I have listed six easy tips that will help you and your family take great photos this holiday season.

1)  Don’t be afraid to use a flash outside, during the day.  Most people think that if it is light outside, that they don’t need to use a flash.  However, sometimes you really do need fill flash outside. For example, instead of taking photos of people facing the sun (which not only makes them squint and a lot of times have big, black spots where their eyes should be, due to harsh shadows), place them with the sun behind them and then use your flash to fill in more light on your subjects so that they are not a dark silhouette with a really bright background.  This does not mean that you will need to use a flash all of the time outdoors, but experiment to see what works best.  Sometimes when it is overcast, a flash could help to add some light in people’s eyes that may end up being dark circles without that pop of light, due to dim lighting.

2)  Do not rely 100% on available light indoors.  It is true that most digital cameras these days are able to take photos indoors without the photo ending up just being a big black mess, like in the days of film.  However, just because these cameras are able to actually absorb enough light to expose the photo, does not mean that these photos will be good quality.  Most of the time, the camera will use a very slow shutter speed in order to get that amount of light to create a photo, which will result in blurry shots due to camera shake.

photography tips

3)  This brings me to my third tip.  Sometimes you should use a tripod or, at least, place your camera on something sturdy while taking a photo.  Let me explain.  When you are hand holding a camera, most people cannot hold it steady enough at anything less than 1/60 second without the photo looking blurry.  If you want to shoot without a flash at less than 1/60 of a second, you will undoubtedly need to use a tripod, or at least steady the camera by placing it on a sturdy surface such as a table or other piece of sturdy furniture.  I would suggest that you can still let your camera use a lower shutter speed in order to use the available ambient light so that your background is light enough, but also use the flash so that you will have enough light to expose your subject so that they will not only be non-blurry (because essentially, the flash will freeze the frame enough to get the proper exposure on the subject) and also your subject will be colour correct in the photo, instead of being a yellow coloured mess.

To understand this, I will give a brief explanation of the Kelvin Rating System.  Camera flashes are rated the same as daylight (sunlight), which is at 5500-6000 Kelvins.  This gives a bluish tint.  On the contrary, ambient light is much more yellow due to its low Kelvin rating of 2800-4000 K. Most times, we think of normal colouring along the lines of daylight colours (5500-6000 K), so when you take a photo indoors without compensating either with a blue filter or setting, the photos will not look colour correct.  Don’t be afraid to mix both together to get a good exposed shot, but with a warmer, homey feel.  I found a chart on Pinterest that gives a great example of the colour shift in lighting.  It is originally from Girl Hearts Camera‘s blog.

kelvin rating chart from girlheartscamera

4)  Don’t be afraid to change the ISO settings on your camera.  To help you understand this, just think back to the days of film when there were different film speeds (ISO).  If you were shooting outdoors with lots of sunlight, you would use a smaller ISO speed (100 or 200 ISO), but if you were shooting indoors or in the early evening where there is less light, you would use a faster ISO, such as 400 or 800 ISO film.  This has carried on to digital cameras.  Most point and shoot cameras have ISO settings between 100-1600 ISO.  Just remember that the smaller the ISO number, the less light will be read by the camera.  The higher the ISO number, the more light will be read by the camera.  However, there is a trade off for both lower and higher speed ISOs. The higher the ISO number, the more grain you will end up seeing in your photos, which means the less crisp the shot will look.  This is why it is important to sometimes use a flash even when you use a higher ISO, because by your flash filling in some light, you don’t need to use as high of a film speed in order to get enough light for your photo.

5)  Use the self timer mode.  Don’t miss out on being in holiday group shots because you were stuck having to take the photo.  Either use a tripod or set up your camera on a sturdy, level place.  Press the button and the timer will usually give you about 10 seconds to position yourself in the shot before it takes a photo.  What I find the easiest way to position yourself in the photo is either someone leave a space for you to fit in (so that you are not accidentally cut out of the shot) or leave enough space around the group shot so that if you are standing on the side, you will not be cut off.  Either way, it will be far better for you to be in the group shot than to be the lone person mission from it.

6)  In order to actually accomplish some of my suggestions, you cannot rely on your camera’s AUTO setting.  When you let your camera decide on how to expose your photos 100% of the time, they will rarely ever turn out as fantastic shots.  They will either be too yellow and slightly blurry (due to hand holding with no flash indoors), the subject will be too bright, while the background is still quite dark (the shutter speed isn’t slow enough).  Instead, there should be a camera setting that you can put it on.  This will usually still work on auto, but it gives you the option to change settings, such as actually keeping the flash on or off (auto mode will not let you override any settings).

Here are some of the icons that I have been talking about that you will see on your own camera:

photography tips camera settings


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