Christmas Photo Tips

Become a poacher for painless family photos

Now we’re going to get everyone together for a nice family photo”… Aaaargh! When I hear these words, I think of forced smiles and cringe-worthy poses. has the best collection of, well, awkward family photos. It's a priceless resource of what to avoid.

The key to easy family photos is people having fun. Not faked fun. Not 'smile-for-the-camera' fun. Real fun! We are experts at spotting fake smiles. So shoot when people are actually enjoying themselves

Candid photo of a child at Christmas

Quick, candid photos can often be best. If you're getting blurry shots, turn up the ISO.

Well before the photos, put the camera onto 'continuous shooting' (also called 'Burst' mode on some brands, and 'Sequential shooting' on others) so that you can take lots of pictures quickly, and your camera won't get in the way of the fun. Then you can either poach photos, or you can get people together in a group. But you've got to be really, really quick, as you'll only have peoples' attention for a few precious moments. These types of photo are given, not taken. Get everyone in really close together, don't worry too much about posing, and shoot quickly. See the tips below for ideas to shoot the whole family.

Time-lapse movies of Christmas

Time-lapse movies are a fantastic ‘set and forget’ option to capture Christmas mood without taking you out of the moment. Get the tree going up, or squish 2 hours of Christmas lunch into a more digestible 20 seconds. Or even the present opening: a neat pile of presents turns into a mess of paper and toys. And you’ve actually been able to enjoy the time together, rather than living behind the viewfinder.

Time-lapse movie on full auto on iPhone 6s

Time-lapse movies used to be hard work, but your phone will just do it all for you. Put the phone somewhere steady – propped on a shelf is fine - or use a tripod with a phone holder, and savour the unplugged family time.

You probably won’t even need an app. With an iPhone, just open the camera and swipe to the left for the timelapse feature and press the big red button. Or use the app iMotion for more control. For most Android phones, this feature is in the settings when you open the camera or in the ‘Pro Mode’ functions, but if not try an app like Lapse It - Pro.

Don't shoot the present opening!

If you’re like me, you try every year to capture the joy and surprise on the kids’ faces when they open their present and what do you end up with? Be honest… tops of heads and forced smiles? Yep, me too.

Playing with the presents on Christmas DayExperience has finally convinced me to put the camera down and back away slowly. Do a time-lapse movie instead, ot the best photos are when they’re playing with the presents. Use your zoom to get right in close to the action and blur the background, and take loads and loads of photos to make sure you get at least one good one. Try a toy’s-eye view. Use your stealth parenting skills to sneak up on them and capture those priceless unposed moments of pure joy, or disappointment, depending on how naughty or nice they’ve been. So repeat after me: “I will not shoot the present opening… I will not shoot the present opening…”

Generation gap photo

Start a new yearly tradition: get a photo of the oldest and newest members of the family together at Christmas.

You don't need to show the whole person - just hands or feet can be evocative too, and have a much better "wall life" than shots of faces. You know this photo is Grandad and baby without spelling it out.

Black-and-white is perfect for this because it focuses your attention onto the people, while colour draws your attention to their clothes. To make strong black-and-white images, if you have the time I'd suggest shooting in colour and turning them to black-and-white on the computer afterwards. This is for two reasons: You can leave a part in colour if you want to, and you can choose a more dramatic style of black-and-white.

Moody Christmas lights

Twinkly Christmas lights really build the Christmas mood, but the photos often come out lifeless. Want to capture the feeling with them? You can do it with almost any camera (the shot below was on an $88 camera). Here's how...

    Christmas tree lights shot on an $88 camera
  1. Christmas lights are dim, so the darker the room is, the brighter they will come out. If you're shooting the Christmas tree, shoot at night, turn off your flash, and turn off most of the lights in the house too.
  2. But now that it's so dark, the camera will take ages over the photo to let in enough light. If you try to hold the camera in your hand, it will look like there's an earthquake in your living room as you wobble the camera. So rest it on something - a table, cushion or tripod, and pop on the self-timer to stop any chance of jiggling when you press the button to shoot.
  3. Take a test-shot to see what you get, and to listen to how long the camera takes to shoot the picture.

  4. If everything is too dark, try the following:
    For most compact cameras, try the 'night mode' (often it lives in the 'scene' or SCN mode menu). If it's still too dark, on Canon compacts, head for 'long shutter mode'; on Panasonics, go for 'starry sky' mode. All of these modes allow the camera to shoot for longer to let enough light in.
    If it's a Nikon or Pentax SLR, or Olympus EP series, turn up the brightness control. These poor doves get confused when it's this dark.
    If the lights look great but the room has come out too dark, try shooting again, but flashing the room lights on for a moment during the photo - the longer they're on for, the brighter the room will be.

  5. Shooting lights outside the house? Exactly the same settings apply – just wait until it’s dark enough that the lights look bright – about 45 minutes after sunset is good (closer to sunset closer to the equator).

Christmas Group Shot - made simple

Take a group photo of everyone at your street party and give them a copy. Mix it with a christmas celebration, and you’ll have the most networked, friendly street in Brisbane. Here are 5 easy steps to get the picture.

Try shooting group photos from up high
  1. 1. Use height. Choose someone’s house with a high veranda for the camera, and everyone can cluster below.
  2. 2. Pick your time of day. Everyone will need to be in the shade, or with the sun low and behind them, but avoid sunlight falling onto their faces.
  3. 3. Gather everyone in really close. This takes cajoling - or Christmas spirit. The picture looks best when they’re squished together.
  4. 4. Shoot lots and lots of pictures. Any camera on auto mode will be just fine. Ask everyone to look away and look back suddenly for the picture, so their expression is fresh and they're not squinting into the sky.
  5. 5. Get everyone’s e-mail to share the picture for free. Then sit back and reap the rewards of a street where everyone knows each other.

Your camera isn’t just for photos: it’s a passport to getting to meet and know people, whether you're travelling or in your own street. Even if the photo doesn’t work, the networking will.

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