Here are a few tips for you as Christmas morning quickly approaches! First off, check your battery life and put a fresh memory card in…now let’s begin the fun!
1. Photograph the evening before the chaos. Of course you want that gorgeous shot of what the tree looks like with the gifts nicely tucked underneath for your scrapbook…so consider taking that photograph the night before! This way you are not contending with children sitting at the top of the stairs begging to come down, and you have plenty of time to play with the settings on your camera and capture the perfect image. This is when you can have fun playing with your camera in manual mode! Turn off that flash, and turn your Christmas tree lights on! Remember, you will have to turn the ISO up fairly high on your camera, and bring the shutter speed down to allow as much light in as possible. I would not recommend bringing the shutter speed lower than 1/100sec to avoid camera shake (unless you want to haul your tripod in from the garage)! If you do bring the shutter speed down a bit slower than 1/100sec, hold your breath and hold your elbows down at your side when you take the picture. This is a photographer’s version of sniper shooting; it’s all about the breathing and stabilizing the arms when shooting at a low shutter speed! And don’t let your aperture be set at a high number (f-16)…bring the aperture down to around 2.0, or as low as your camera will allow (that means you are opening your lens up as wide as possible to let optimal light in). Adjust your settings from there. And now that you have that perfect image of your Christmas tree, don’t forget the “after” shot with wrapping paper scattered about in the morning!
If you notice your images look a bit orange (have an amber tint) while taking photos of the tree, switch your white balance setting to tungsten. This is common when photographing indoors, using no flash. But it is an easy fix.
2. To capture the best expressions on your children, make sure you strategize their entry! Place yourself over by the tree so you can see their expressions as they walk in…you’d hate to be entering the room behind your children and miss those priceless expressions.
3. Use a wide lens. Typically if you are shooting in your family room, you would not want a lens that zooms in too much on your subject. Use a wide lens…I will probably put my 28mm on. By using a wide lens, you will capture more of a story than a snapshot. If you do not have a DSLR, don’t sweat it…just remember to capture a lot of wide shots so you have more of the room in the photo. It’s nice to see the tree and the expressions of other family members, when someone is opening a gift…this is what I mean by telling a story.
4. Don’t forget the details. Capture photos of the stockings hung by the chimney with care, the plate that was left out for Santa that now has cookie crumbs on it, or any ash that was left on the carpet by Santa Claus! And details always look prettier when you shoot with an aperture around f/2 versus f/8. Shooting with a large aperture (meaning a small number- f/2) gives you that yummy depth of field look…where everything is blurry except the part you focused on. If you aren’t too familiar with manual mode, this is an opportunity for you to try AP (Aperture Priority). AP is sort of like “manual mode lite”! It allows you to set your camera’s aperture, and the camera will pick the other settings for your ISO and shutter speed to have a properly exposed image.
5. Remember to have fun! BE CANDID! Don’t force everyone to look at the camera…capture everything as it happens. Take a documentary approach. Another great way to capture candid images is by setting your camera on Continuous Mode (some call it Burst Mode). With this setting, you can hold the shutter button down and get a continuous stream of images. When you go back through those images later, I bet one of those 10 shots that you fired off in burst mode will have a wonderful expression of surprise! And if you are not familiar in shooting in manual mode, feel free to flip it back to Auto in the morning so you don’t miss a shot!!! Just keep in mind, if you have the capability to bounce your flash, bounce it!! Bounce it off of a white wall or white ceiling and your images will look that much better…your subject won’t look like they were just smacked in the face with a frying pan of light!
And if you are dying to get some great shots of your outdoor decorations, the Strobist does a great job explaining how to get the perfect shot while balancing the ambient outdoor light and the Christmas lights!
Here are two images I just took of our tree. Settings for this: f/1.4, 1/100s, 2000 ISO. Light source: tree lights. These images are straight out of the camera, with the exception of a white balance adjustment to tungsten.
Now go have fun with your camera!