1. We keep the lights off.
The holidays are a time for candles, gently lit shrubbery and the warm glow of the fireplace. All great for ambiance — all terribly difficult for photography. Unless you’re very comfortable navigating your camera settings, the holidays present us with some very tough shooting environments.
The first and easiest solution is to crank up the light. Natural light is always preferred, so keep the window shades drawn and the blinds up during your festivities. Even then, you may have to turn on additional room lighting to keep your subjects well lit.
If you don’t want to spoil the scenery with too much artificial light or you don’t want the flash exploding in people’s jubilant faces, plan ahead. Set a faster shutter speed and up your camera’s ISO settings to 200 (or 400). If you own a tripod, this is the time to break it out — the steadier your camera, the better it will perform in challenging lighting. If you’re using a basic point-and-shoot, experiment with either a low light mode or high sensitivity mode — both should hold up better in low light than the camera’s automatic setting. If you’re using a smartphone, you’ll have fewer options but even just resting the phone firmly on a table will reduce instances of blur.
2. We’re always standing up.
At least until the eggnog sets in, the photographers tend to be the ones on their feet while everyone else, particularly the kids, are down on the ground where the action (read: presents) is. You need to get on the ground too if you want to get some great perspective shots.
Similarly, when photographing a holiday table or family gathered on the couch, shooting from a standing position tends to generate more forehead than joyous facial expressions. Take a knee, or sit on the floor, before you shoot. Your subjects will thank you.
3. We pull ourselves out of the moment.
There is such a thing as taking too many photos. Yes, I know, it sounds counter-intuitive and we certainly don’t want you to abandon your photo duties (far from it). But there is something to be said for simply being in the moment and not relentlessly documenting ever last second of it. In fact, this isn’t mere opinion. A recent study from Linda Henkel at Fairfield University found that people who viewed events instead of photographing them tended to do a better job at actually recalling those events with their natural memories vs. those who viewed everything from behind a camera (or phone) display.
Fortunately, there’s a way to photograph your holidays and participate in them. If your camera has a time-lapse mode, you can set it up in a heavily trafficked zone (think: mantle place or coffee table) and let it do the work for you, snapping off images at specific intervals without you having to constantly press the shutter. This works best if you own a tripod, since you can position the camera perfect and change the lens’ orientation every once and while to mix things up. Just be sure to have a fully-charged battery before you leave it. There are also time-lapse apps for iOS and Android that perform a similar task (of course, you need to be able to part with your phone for more than a few minutes).
(Top image: Wiki Commons)