Point & Shoot: Photographing the Holidays
Holidays present a seemingly endless number of great photo opportunities: Fourth of July parades, colorful Easter Lilies, Christmas lights at night, or costumed children going trick-or-treating. At these special times of the year, have your camera ready for both planned photos and candids.
And don't be afraid of taking pictures of people. Nearly everyone enjoys having pictures taken of themselves and their loved ones on special occasions. Holiday parades and festivals are particularly great for photographing interesting participants. If you see someone dressed in a unique costume, ask if you can photograph him or her. Many people in costumes want to be noticed and will often accommodate you.
Holiday gatherings often bring several generations of family members together. Take advantage of moments like these to document the occasion, as well as a little bit of family history. Group portraits are often a priority. Utilize the difference in people's heights or find a setting with varying levels to get an arrangement where everyone's face can be seen clearly. Soft, diffuse lighting is most flattering. If you're outdoors, position the group in a large area of open shade, and try shooting with and without fill-flash. Indoors, pose people in an area that's not too close to a wall, as you'll probably use your camera's flash and it's best to avoid having a harsh shadow on the background.
As an alternative to posed pictures, shoot candids of your loved ones enjoying holiday activities. Document people catching up on old times around the Thanksgiving dinner table, lighting a menorah, or singing Christmas carols. Have your camera handy when kids first enter the living room on Christmas morning to see what Santa has brought them. Anticipate the expression on a child's face when he or she is opening a long-awaited gift. When shooting indoors, try using your camera's built-in fill-flash, window light, available interior light, or a combination. Use fast film or set your digital camera's ISO in the range of 400–1600 to take advantage of ambient light indoors.
Also experiment by turning your flash off, and taking pictures in low-light conditions. You can get some great images of a person lit by a single Christmas candle, or of a carved Halloween pumpkin in the dark, glowing from the illumination within. You'll need to use a tripod, or set your camera on a very stable surface. If people are the subjects of your low-light pictures, ask them to hold very still for a few seconds.
Holiday lights photographed in the evening can yield some dramatic images. It's important to stake out a spot ahead of time from which to shoot your pictures. If you happen to notice a house beautifully decked out with Christmas lights or an eye-catching window display, plan to go back with your camera another night to shoot your pictures. Dusk arrives earlier during the winter months, and you'll find that your best photo opportunities will occur before the sky is totally pitch-black.
With all the decorating and glitz of the holidays, it's easy to encompass too much in your frame, resulting in too-busy pictures. Avoid cluttered images by moving in and shooting only what's important. For example, your first inclination may be to photograph your entire living room decorated in Christmas finery. Start by shooting a photo like this, and then refine your compositions by moving in and photographing the Christmas tree and festive fireplace mantle, then only the tree. Zoom in close to capture a single ornament, perhaps surrounded by a little greenery. You'll find that the simplest photos can be the most striking.
Likewise, use your camera's built-in zoom lens on a wide-angle setting to encompass interesting patterns, such as an entire pumpkin patch in the fall, then zoom in with a moderate telephoto setting (or get closer) to isolate just one pumpkin, or part of one.
No matter what emphasis you choose to portray in your holiday photos, look for moments that symbolize the occasion. Think about the particular quality of the holiday and shoot pictures that convey that idea.