How to take amazing Family Christmas photos

We realize that the holidays are busy, and you’re likely not thinking about taking some family Christmas photos, but it really is a great time to get out your camera. However, combined with indoor time and earlier sunsets, it’s going to be a bit of a challenge.

Indoor Family Portraits

…with a Christmas tree in the background. Sounds easy, right? Well, there are a few problems you might have to work around. For one, living rooms are typically a bit dark, so most of the light is coming from your Christmas Tree. Which is great, except once you place your family in front of three you’re working with backlighting.

So, you have to compensate – but preferably not with just flash, as it will make your lovely lights disappear. Increasing the ISO will help somewhat, but if you go too far, you’ll end up with grainy images. Slowing the shutter speed won’t work either, as you’ll end up with blurry people (although you should try to go as slow as possible).

The first step is to open the aperture as wide as possible. Hopefully, you have a good portrait lens (we recommend the 50mm f/1.8 for about $100 if you’re in a pinch, or a rental).

Use Flash Judiciously

If a large aperture, slower shutter, and higher ISO isn’t helping, then a bit of flash might be needed. Make sure your flash is diffused – either with a diffuser (white cover), some Kleenex, or a white card to bounce the flash towards the ceiling. Make sure you test it out beforehand, so you can make adjustments before it’s picture time.

If you’re still working on portraits by the tree with flash, move your subjects away from the tree, so the flash doesn’t light up the tree and flatten the image.

Outdoor Family Christmas Photography

If you find a great house with great lights, then it might be a good location for a portrait. The first error that most people make with any time of outdoor Christmas photography is to wait until full dark. Sure, the lights look great, but you’re likely expecting your camera to make miracles here, particularly if there are people in the frame (requiring a faster shutter speed).

So, go earlier. Start about an hour before sunset (earlier if it’s overcast as you’ll lose light faster). The ambient light will help with your subjects, although you might have to use a bit of flash to fill in the photo.

Choosing Settings for Christmas Family Photography

If you’re not comfortable with manual mode, you’ll at least want to choose shutter/aperture priority and turn off auto ISO, so your camera doesn’t use it to compensate for the lower light levels. Use 100 or 200 ISO if you can, only go higher if you’re comfortable that your images won’t be grainy.

You might have to use manual focusing, as sometimes camera have a difficult time auto focusing in lower light.

As with most “new” photography moments, you need a bit of practice. Start a few days early if you can so you’re relaxed on the day. Enjoy!

If you want to get in the photos yourself or leave it to the pros and have fun –

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Top Tips for Great Family Christmas Portraits




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