The holidays make for fantastic photo opportunities. When I worked at Kodak [back in the film days], they would work all year producing enough film for this time of year.
Use these tips to make great photos of the holiday of your preference.
Take a moment to compose your image and move in close
Whatever your subject, the holiday tree, children opening presents, family gatherings, get creative with your composition. This means paying special attention to how you organize the various elements in each photo. There are two main concepts to keep in mind when composing the scene artistically:
Off-center your main subject. Instead of placing your main subject in the center of the scene - with a lot of dead space around it - move your camera until this subject is off to the side. This works especially well if you can balance your main subject with something in the background, on the other side of the picture.
Move in close. Especially when you center your subject, but even when you off-center it, moving in close is the one thing that will make the biggest difference in the success of your picture-taking. The simple fact is the audiences are always more impressed when the subject is huge and impossible to miss.
For Better Family and Group Portraits
The most important thing to keep in mind when photographing groups and families is this: you absolutely must take a lot of photos. There is often a great deal of pressure when photographing groups. People generally complain about having their picture taken and want the experience to be over quickly. They have been trained by bad portrait photographers in the past to hate both the process and the results. So it is your job to overcome these hurdles. You need to work quickly in order to get the job done within their limits of patience. And you need to keep the experience as fun and friendly as possible, so they remember it in a positive light. Above both of these tasks, though, you need to get the absolute best photos you can. And more than anything else this means taking a large number of photos. Since there is always someone blinking or looking off to the side or facing another member of the group, having a large number of photos will give you the best chances of catching everyone looking their best.
Shoot First, Ask Questions Later
Especially if your subject is a child opening a gift - or playing with a gift for the first time - you know that, within a split second, the scene can change. There is often just a few brief moments when that "magic spark" appears.
That's why it is so important to be fully prepared to capture that moment when it happens. Of course this means having your camera on hand and the batteries fully charged... After all, you can't capture the moment if you don't have your camera on you and ready to go.
However, even more than having your camera on hand, this equates to being assertive with your picture-taking. Be ready to press that shutter button at a moment's notice, anticipating when the magic spark will surface.
Either way, shoot quickly and shoot often. Don't be shy - getting a great photo of the right moment is rewarding and well worth the extra effort.
Don't Use Flash Indoors
Turn off your flash indoors, whenever you can possibly get away with it.
The flash can be a real lifesaver, no doubt about it. This burst of artificial light can mean the difference between a decent photo and a totally blurry, unusable image.
However, the light from flash units - especially from the tiny on-camera flash units found on most every camera - tend to produce harsh, flat, and cold light. This is rarely a complimentary way to illuminate your subject.
If you are shooting indoors during the day, make your portraits with your subjects standing near a window or door instead of relying on the flash. Don't include the window in your composition, as this will throw off your exposure.
If you are shooting indoors at night, try to flood the room where you are photographing with as much light as you can - turn on whatever lamps you have at hand. This will help reduce those harsh, flashed-out subjects, as well as other problems like red-eye.
Use Flash Outdoors
Most people think that using flash is synonymous with photographing indoors at night - at a Christmas party for example.
However, flash need not be relegated to indoor, night photography. Flash can be a big help when it comes to shooting outdoors during the day. Even in bright sunlight, forcing your flash to fire can often mean the difference between a so-so snapshot and an eye-grabbing masterpiece.
The reason is that this kind of bright day flash will fill in the shadows and even out harsh contrasts.
Try it out... next time you are photographing friends or children outdoors, turn your flash on and see if it works for you.
Plan Ahead: Charge Batteries and Clear Cards or Buy Film
The last thing you want to have happen is to get all set up for the family portrait or holiday photo to realize you forgot to charge the battery!
In addition to making sure your batteries are charged (or you have replacements on hand), you will also want to make sure you have a place for your potential images to be recorded.
If you shoot digital, offload and archive your images so you can free up space on your flash memory card. If you use a conventional, film-based camera, be sure you have an extra roll or two of film on hand
Here's a bonus tip for you generous gift-givers out there: before wrapping up digital camera and film camera gifts, charge up the batteries and insert the memory card or film. This will make it all the more fun for the recipient to enjoy your nice gift - right out of the box!
Any way you look at it, being prepared will make those once-in-a-lifetime moments that much easier to capture.