Like it or not, the season has started. Some of you are looking forward to massive family gatherings with feasts, gifts, songs and celebrations. Others are no doubt excited to spend time with pals on Friendsgiving or simply to have a day off of work and watch a movie while sipping wine on the couch with their pet. (Disclaimer: pets don't drink wine)
Personally, I love the winter holidays. From Thanksgiving to New Year's Day, there's a little more bounce in my step. It could be that I like seeing the fall colors change from warm to cool, or maybe it's just a happy nostalgia of growing up in Michigan, with table-filling turkey dinners, the potential for snow days and of course every kid's favorite thing—presents.
Posing for holiday portrait photos always made me groan, though. Now that I'm older, I understand better why we all had to get together and look nice for the camera. That being said, I still don't like taking or being in portraits. Thankfully, there are other photos to take during the holidays that aren't so cheesy or staged. Here are a few tips for taking some memorable photos this season that don't necessarily involve matching turkey or reindeer sweaters.
When getting together with family or friends, try to take some photos with them. If they're anything like my family, they may scurry away from cameras pointed at them. In my experience, it's much easier and more natural to take candid photos when they aren't expecting it. Some folks just aren't comfortable when they know they're in front of a camera. Try to capture memorable moments instead of poses.
To better catch these candid moments, try switching the camera into 'silent shutter' mode if it's available. Your stealthy snaps will be obviously discovered by a loud *kathunk* of a mirror slap or the mechanical song of a shutter. Many Nikon DSLRs also have a 'Quiet' mode that's less intrusive but still not completely silent. Your best bet for undetected photos of family gatherings is a mirrorless camera with an electronic shutter mode.
The holidays mean something different to each of us. For some, the epitome of the holidays is attending Midnight Mass. It could be a busy and bustling kitchen full of sweet and savory smells on Thanksgiving day. Others may just look forward to putting on big puffy coats and long oversized scarves.
Think hard about what gives you that nostalgic glow that you'll want to remember. Instead of trying to replicate other photos you may have seen, photograph that thing to make it special to you. You may fondly remember playing silly holiday games with a relative, or when the whole family united in yelling at the tv during a football game. Maybe you don't want any photos of the Thanksgiving meal because it reminds you of all the dishes. By making your photos personal, you'll cherish them much more.
Close-up or Macro Details
It can be easy to get caught up in all the commotion and activity during these family gatherings. Take the time to get close to some details, like a handmade tree ornament from a child or an unnoticed sprig of holly or mistletoe. Try to see the things that others may have looked over, at the risk of having yet another cliche image of multicolored bokeh.
The trick to these 'detail' shots lies in using a macro lens. Most kit zoom lenses are a good budget choice for a beginner, but they can't get close enough to the subject to really isolate it from the background.
Color Combinations and Temperature
Black & white photography is timeless and classic. After all, It's a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street are still adored by many. Consider the effect that color can have on your holiday photos, though. Simply featuring yellow, orange, red and brown can make a viewer think of Autumn. Dark green and red paired together is a universal trigger to make someone think of Christmas, even if it's a simple image of a dark pointy leaf and a red berry. If those aren't your colors, then perhaps a blue and silver image can drum up some delicious memories of latkes and gelt.
A trick I like to use is to set your camera's white balance a little cooler than the ambient light for interior shots. This gives the image itself a slightly warmer, more 'fireside' look. Alternatively, if shooting outside, set your color temperature to slightly warmer so that your exteriors look blue and chilly.
For another unique aspect, try shooting some non-traditional angles. If you want to capture a child's face as they open a present, don't just take a photo of their reaction from your spot on the couch. Try getting down on the floor to get a kid's-eye-view when the wrapping paper starts flying. Instead of observing from afar, now you've got a more intimate look at the excitement.
For a more comedic look, you can try an over-the-shoulder shot of the Thanksgiving turkey as Uncle Mike stares it down like a lion stalking its prey.
In a lot of locations, the winter months come with snow. To correctly expose outdoor images for the winter, use exposure compensation to bump up your exposure a few stops. Snow is supposed to be white, not middle gray. Without correction, your camera's auto-exposure will see all of that bright white and could underexpose your image significantly.
The Most Important Thing
When getting together with loved ones this holiday season, try to keep in mind the things you'll want to remember from the event. If you plan on sharing photos on social media, try to think of the last time you looked through an album of 30 or more stills of opening presents from the same angle parked on the couch. Vary your shots to make it interesting, and stay deliberate and purposeful when you press the shutter button.
However, the most important thing—and I cannot stress this enough—is to remember to put the camera down from time to time and be in the moment. Know that there's a time to take photos and a time to simply enjoy the company of your friends and family. After all, aren't you taking pictures to remember the quality times you're having? Designating a period of time to take pictures instead of snapping nonstop for the whole day will also help with getting more quality photos instead of a hundred 'filler' shots. Your social media following and your future self will thank you.