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How to Take Better Festive Photos

family and christmas tree

You know the drill. The halls are decked, the tree is dressed, and the whole house has finally transformed itself into a holiday haven. There’s cocoa steaming on the side, a plate of rustically frosted cookies on the table, and Carey/Bublé (take your pick) is belting out the soundtrack to the end of another rollercoaster year. 

You take out your phone, try a few angles to get the #ChristmasVibes just right, and come to the conclusion – as you do every year – that it’s just not possible to get Christmas looking as good on your phone as it does in real life. 

Whether it’s the string lights, the extra clutter, or the shaky camera work that comes after a couple eggnogs, most of us do struggle with the holiday photography. For that reason, here’s our cheat sheet to see you from December through New Year’s, and get you those perfect shots for your next photo book

Stay away from the flash

We tend to keep our lighting a little dimmer around Christmas time. There’s something about a room lit only by the fire, the candles, the tree lights and maybe a lamp or two that we just can’t resist.

Of course, the obvious downside to all those hygge vibes is the fact that, for your average smartphone camera, low lighting tends to pose a problem.

First things first, do not be tempted to use your flash. Why? Because it’ll wash out your room – and all those pretty little string lights – and create some ugly, flat shadows on the walls, creating a lot more contrast and a lot less cuteness. In fact, we’d go so far as to say it’s the worst thing you can do for your holiday photos, as even editing them back to something worth keeping is tricky.

Instead, use a longer exposure and a tripod 

A longer exposure time is the key to taking better photos in low lighting. This enables the camera to take in a lot more of the scene, to focus on the smaller details and avoid the blur created by so many tiny lights in one small space.

There is, however, one condition. A slower exposure will actually make your photos blurrier…unless you’re able to keep your phone totally still.

This is where a tripod – or, in the very least, a makeshift phone stand – can really come in handy. Most of us don’t have hands steady enough to take a good photo with a long exposure – and that’s why so many ‘Night Mode’ shots just don’t work out. 

Focus on the smaller details

It’s really hard to take a picture of your Christmas tree that looks as good as the real thing. There are so many small details for the camera to take in and, unlike our own eyes, the camera doesn’t focus on one detail at a time. Instead, it tries to take in the whole picture. 

That is, unless you purposefully focus your attention on the details. Getting up close and personal with a particular bauble, a plate of cookies or a gift is a great way to capture the festive feels without trying to squeeze all those details into a single, wide-frame photo. 

It also makes for great storytelling in your photo book. Think of it like creating your own B-roll for Christmas – a great way to break-up all the selfies and group shots. 

Blur the Background

You know what string lights are great for? Creating a beautiful, whimsical, festive background to your photos. Try switching your phone over to portrait mode and putting the focus on your loved ones. If you’ve got your settings right, then the twinkling lights in the background blur together (instead of competing for attention). 

While your tree won’t be the center of attention, that festive glow will still shine through your photographs, and create something truly special – and full of all that Christmas magic. 

If you’re doing this, you’ll probably find the best results if you let plenty of natural light fall onto your subjects’ faces. Natural light is a lot more flattering than indoor lighting, so work out the best position before you get started on your photo shoot. 

Take a few carefree candid shots

Getting beautiful, Insta-worthy snaps at Christmas is high on a lot of people’s agendas, but it’s important to remember that the best photos aren’t always the most aesthetic – they’re the ones that truly capture the joy and fun of the moment. 

Keep in mind that these photos are ultimately there for you to remember a special day. Not everything has to be styled and carefully planned, so don’t spend your whole day trying for that perfect shot. 


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