The holiday season is a magical time for everyone. Finding the best ways to practice holiday season photography can be a little less so. Especially when you want to participate in the festivities, and be present for your family and friends. Trying to fumble through settings blindly or think of clever ways to engage everyone for a quick pic is the last thing you want to do. Why not try going in prepared?

Here are 8 tips to try out for stellar holiday season photography this year:

Candid Holiday Moments

The holiday season brings out some of the best candid moments of the year. To get your creative juices flowing in the right direction, here are some of my favorites:

  • Christmas Tree Lot. Or getting the tree ready, if you don’t have a living tree. There is so much joy and wonderment hidden in the faces of children during this event. Not to mention, nostalgia for those of us who’ve been around for a few of these.
  • Opening Gifts. Wrapping paper. Footie pajamas. Bed-head hair. What’s not to love?
  • Getting Santa’s Cookies Ready. Or lighting the menorah with your kids. Pick a holiday tradition your family celebrates to capture for years of memories. Even if you don’t do it every single year, you’ll always have a few good ones to reminisce on later.
  • Playing in the Snow. Snow doesn’t last long in DC, so sneaking out and getting great pics of your family having fun in it is something to cherish.

winter photos


Shoot a Story

Instagram and SnapChat are definitely on to something. Think outside a single shot. Sometimes, telling a story with your photos can be just the thing to take your holiday shots to the next level.


Capture Christmas Lights

Much like snapping great shots of fireworks, getting the right balance for your holiday lights is key. Here are some important setting and tips to consider when shooting Christmas lights this season:

  • Shutter Speed – To capture great images of holiday lights, often a slower shutter speed is necessary. Somewhere between 1 to 2 seconds is perfect. Avoid blurring due to camera shake by carrying along a tripod to do the heavy lifting.
  • Aperture – To create beautiful bokeh images with holiday lights, drop your aperture speeds down. If you can, try to stay at f2.8 or lower for maximum effect. If you’re looking for more twinkle in your lights, use smaller apertures and long exposures to diffract the light and create starbursts.
  • ISO – With holiday lights, a good rule of thumb is to decrease your ISO and work with a lower setting to start. If the exposure isn’t quite where you need it to be, up it incrementally until you find your sweet spot.
  • White Balance – If you have a camera with automatic white balance, shut it off so you’re not toning down the rich, beautiful colors of the holiday lights.
  • Consider Timing – If taking outdoor light photos is a goal of yours, the best exposures generally happen right at the twilight hour. Not only will you get the beautiful lights, but it will also allow you to maintain some details in the shadows.
  • Ditch the Flash – There’s a time and a place for your flash, but it’s not while taking pictures of holiday lights. Shut it off and trust your settings.

Holiday Season Photography - christmas lights©Shaun Fisher with Creative Commons


Fill Your Frame

All too often, amateur photographers forget they can fill the frame with the important details. Taking a macro approach can drop out extraneous details unnecessary to the story of the image. Move in close and get the details that really count.


Use Natural Light When Possible

If you really want to capture the mood of the moment, foregoing the flash for a natural scene can do just that. Allowing the ambient light from the tree, or a fireplace to flood the scene is a beautiful way to take a warm, natural holiday photo.


Holiday Props (are cute)

Not all of your holiday photos have to be candid, in the moment fun. Some can be all about the gorgeous décor and holiday props you’ve decorated with. Pick a single object for the focal point and test out your canvas with creative macro shots.

Little baby sitting next to Christmas Tree for Photography Myths


The Festive Stage

Go full spectrum with your setting, too. Capture your living room decorations, table settings, everything. Be sure to get those festive lights both inside and out.


Have Fun

Whatever the case might be, remember to have fun. Both planned and staged. If your family loves silly photos for holidays, try a photo booth decked out with a simple holiday backdrop and take turns getting photos taken. Remember, regardless of the fun images you work towards, don’t get too hung up on the perfect shot. Sometimes they work out and sometimes they don’t. The important thing is being there to enjoy the moment however it unfolds.

BONUS TIP: Don’t forget to charge your batteries the night before! You’d be surprised how often the best laid plans go to waste because you can’t even get the camera turned on. 😉

Professional Washington DC Photographer Julie KubalAbout the Author:

Julie Kubal is a child and family portrait artist and photographer serving Washington DC, Maryland, and Northern Virginia. She is passionate about creating warm and meaningful artwork through modern portraits and lifestyle photography at a location of your choice!

Want to turn your family photos into works of art?

Sign up for my guide on artfully displaying your family's meaningful photos.

You have Successfully Subscribed!