12 Ways to Creatively Capture Christmas

12 Ways to Creatively Capture Christmas

When it comes to photography, the holiday season is full of opportunities to get creative with your camera. Not only are you going to want to capture your children by the tree for an annual family portrait, but what about the other 24 days leading up to Christmas Day? We’ve got 12 brilliant photo ideas (and a few tips) beyond Santa Claus to kick off your holidays.

1. Twinkly Lights

As soon as the first set of lights go up the day after Thanksgiving, you’ll be trying to figure out how to capture them looking so twinkly.

Whether you’re trying to capture your tree or the beautiful light display at your neighbor’s house, we figure why keep you guessing? Here’s how to make those Christmas lights twinkle in photos:

1. Grab your tripod (or at least find a steady surface).

2. Using manual, lower your ISO and choose a very small aperture (high f-stop number).

3. Step 2 will require you to slow down your shutter speed, which is why you need a tripod.

4. Use your camera’s timer or a remote to avoid camera shake. 

It may take a little experimenting to get your settings just right, but the key is a small aperture.


2. Christmas Tree Bokeh 

Once you’ve captured twinkle lights, try your hands at a little Christmas tree bokeh using manual focus. 

In case you are unfamiliar with bokeh, bokeh is the background blue that is created by using a shallow depth of field. If you’re like us, you fell in love with bokeh when you learned what using a wide aperture did for portrait photography. Well, Christmas tree lights make especially beautiful bokeh. 

We’ll get to how to use your lights for portraits in a bit, but for now, let’s learn how to use this technique when you’re only photographing your tree. 

1. Using Aperture Priority (AV) mode, shoot wide open (the widest f/stop that your lens is capable of).

2. Switch your lens to manual focus and use the focus ring to manually adjust your focus.

3. Adjust your ISO according to your available light. 

4. Experiment with your focus until you are happy with the bokeh results. 

Whether you have white or colored lights, bokeh is beautiful so be sure to capture it!


3. Ornaments

We love the idea of creating handmade ornaments with your children. Not only can you capture the process of creation, but you can also get creative with how you photograph the end product. An obvious choice is to hang your child’s artwork on the Christmas tree. You can also take your new ornament outside and hang on a bare tree for a simpler look.

Of course, if arts and crafts isn’t your thing, you can photograph special ornaments in a number of other ways. Consider taking a self portrait in the reflection of a shiny ornament or using your favorite ornaments to fill the frame. 


4. Admiring the Tree at Night

If you want to capture your child(ren) admiring the tree at night, there’s a couple of ways to do it. 

The first way is to shoot wide open with a super high ISO, while leaving your shutter speed at a speed that can capture your child in the event that they move. For example, the photo below was shot with an aperture of f/1.8, a shutter speed of 1/200 and an ISO of 5000. This approach will almost certainly create noise, but we love the outcome.

Another way you may want to capture your children by the tree is with a silhouette. If you’re going to go this route, you’ll need a lower ISO. Here’s what you need to do:

1. Grab your tripod

2. Turn your mode dial to Manual.

3. Lower your ISO to 200.

4. Continue using a wide aperture such as f/1.8. 

5. Adjust your shutter speed to something between 1/10 and 1/20.

6. Turn all of your lights off with the exception of your Christmas Tree.


5. The Christmas Portrait 

Another photo you may want to take with your Christmas tree is a portrait with Christmas tree bokeh in the background. 

The best way to get this shot is if your tree faces a window. Then, you can also position your child in front of the window. Be sure to place your child a fair distance away from the tree, while also allowing yourself plenty of room to work.  Of course, you’ll also want to take your photos during the day when there is plenty of natural light.

For this photo, you can either shoot in Aperture Priority (AV) or Manual mode. From there, here’s what we recommend: 

1. Use a wide aperture. You don’t have to shoot wide open, but an f/stop lower than 2.8 is preferred. 

2. Choose an ISO setting appropriate for your lighting. We typically start at 400 or above for indoors.

3. Keep an eye on your shutter speed. For children, you should stay above 1/200. Adjust ISO if it seems to be low.

4. Focus on your subject and start shooting. 

We love these types of shots so much that we think you should take one every year to show your child’s growth!


6. Upside Down Tree

A fun photography trick you may want to try while you have your Christmas tree up, is the upside down tree. 

This particular shot requires that you have at least two lenses. Shoot with your”good lens” and use a spare lens to be photographed (such as a kit lens). We used the 50 mm f/1.8 lens

With the spare lens, take off the lens cap as well as the screw cap from the back so that you can see through the lens. Set your lens down on a table in front of your tree in the same was that we did with your “Christmas Portrait.” In fact, you’ll use the exact same steps. For added effect, you can use a glass table. This will give you a little bit of a reflection. You’ll want to have some distance between the lens and your tree for the best bokeh. 

Be sure to get close to the lens you’re photographing and snap away. The lens will “flip” your Christmas tree upside down making for a really cool shot. 


7. All that Glitters

Another cool shot worth trying this Christmas features snow or glitter. You may have seen a shot similar to the one below floating around the internet. 

This type of shot is a little tricky (especially if you’re trying to do it with snow), but we’ve got a few tips for you. Here’s what you can expect when working with glitter. 

1. Before you ever take your lens cap off, be sure that you are standing far enough away from the glitter that it does not blow into your expensive gear. 

2. Shoot outside (this may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s worth saying just in case) on a sunny day so that you have plenty of light to highlight the glitter.

3. Use a wide enough aperture that you’ll get more than just a few flecks of glitter in focus (don’t shoot wide open). 

4. Use a high shutter speed and continuous shooting mode so that you can capture the glitter blowing in action. 

5. Use Al Servo focusing mode so that the hands and glitter will stay in focus even if your subject moves a little. 

It’s quite possible that you’re not going to get it right the first time, so if you want to give this idea a try, you may want to use a model who has more patience than that of a toddler. 


8. Time Lapse Photography

While we’re on the subject of cool photography tricks, we thought we’d mention the idea of time lapse photography as part of your holiday experience. 

You can actually set your camera up to take a photo every few seconds. Just set up your camera with a tripod, establish the timeframe and start working.

We especially love how this idea might be used to capture your family decorating the Christmas tree or unwrapping presents on Christmas morning. You can then overlay the images to create one image (or a series of images) that represent an event such as this one taken of a Cable Car with Christmas lights. 

You can also use special equipment such as Brinno’s HDR Time Lapse Video Camera to videotape an experience.


9. Elf on the Shelf

In case you aren’t familiar with this family tradition, the  “Elf on the Shelf,” is a “special scout elf sent from the North Pole to help Santa Claus manage his naughty and nice lists.” Legend claims that once an elf is adopted and given a name, he or she receives their Christmas magic and will fly to the North Pole in the nights before Christmas to report to Santa. In the morning, the elf returns home where you can find him or her hiding around the house in a variety of positions that your children will love to find.


Many families use the Elf on the Shelf to manage behavior during the holidays, but we love the idea of using this little Elf as the star of your Christmas photos (at least a few of them). Ideally, your Elf will return from the North Pole and stay close to a window (you know, for the best light). You don’t have to capture him or her in action first thing in the morning, but definitely be sure to to take a photo of your little elf each day. You can then build a flip book for your child to remember all the fun.

And if you really like this idea, be sure to check out the Birthday Elf on the Shelf to enjoy throughout the year. 


10. Holiday Baking

Photographing your family enjoying a round of holiday baking also makes for great Christmas memories.

Here’s a few tips for getting the best shots:

1. Plan to “bake” during the sunniest part of the day. Open all your windows to expose the most natural light.

2. Avoid using your flash. 

3. De-clutter your kitchen before you get started. When taking photos, you want the attention to be focused on your family enjoying the experience, not the extra stuff laying around. 

4. Don’t be afraid to move into another room for photos, at least when photographing the finished product. This especially applies if your kitchen is poorly lit. 

5. Adjust the white balance when necessary. You can create a custom white balance in camera before shooting, or adjust in post processing. 

6. Capture lots of candid moments of your kids. If they’re into, you can even play “dress up” with chef hats and aprons. 

7. Get in the photo!


11. Fun Family Christmas Photos

While you may have already taken your official family Christmas card photo, we think everyone needs at least one family photo taken in the days leading up to Christmas. If you need ideas, Pinterest is full of them!

We particularly love a family in coordinating Christmas Pajamas, but don’t feel like you can only pose in front of your Christmas tree. Pile into bed, go to a Christmas tree farm or find another creative spot to capture your family enjoying the holidays together. You can either set up your tripod to get the shot or ask a friend. One day you’ll be glad that you made this a priority. 


12. ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

In all the hustle and bustle of Christmas Eve, don’t forget to take a few photos:

  • The stillness of the house 
  • Stockings hung on by the chimney
  • Your children nestled all snug in their beds
  • Milk and cookies waiting for Santa

 

Time it right and you may even be able to capture Santa’s arrival (you’ll have to be sneaky). If you happen to miss him, try to capture the evidence of his visit (presents). Your kids will get a kick out of the photos when they wake up on Christmas morning. 

Have fun with it and don’t be afraid to get creative. 


With all of that said, now you’re all ready to shoot some amazing and creative photographs this Christmas. We’d love to see what you come up! Merry Christmas!

You know what else is fun to photograph during the holidays?
Check out the:
Activity Advent Calendar

Photo credits: Ashley Sisk, TimeLapseBlog, Martina Photography, Jeff Romptof, Robert S. Donovan, and The Quinntessential Mommy

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Ashley Sisk

Ashley lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children and Kitty Paw. She's a work-from-home mom with a natural light photography business and a passion for sharing everything she knows. Since leaving the corporate world, she now spends her time chasing her preschooler, nursing her new baby, writing and finding ways to enjoy life. You can find her on Facebook, Google + or on her website.

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