Exposed! :: Five tips for Holiday Pics ::

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'Tis the season...

... And Alex, our photo student, admitted he gets flustered shooting at family gatherings and celebrations. Events can be overwhelming for photographers challenged by the pandemonium of the holidays. Without experience the result can lead to disappointing festive photos.

In this edition of Exposed! we outline five tips to keep you focused and make your photos smile.

The Challenge

Family and friends are over for the annual feast. There is glorious mayhem:

Within this marvelous madness it is your job to take the family photos.


Photo of Santa and Dog

Santa visits the SPCA of Western Quebec

The Tips

1. Get Close

Get close to your subject. I often see photos where the main subject is TINY. Use your camera's zoom or use your legs - the manual zoom - so the main subject leaps from the picture.

Think you are close enough? Get closer. A prominent main subject gives the viewer a better sense of what the photo is about.

2. Tidy up your photo
If there are piles of presents, people or furniture in the picture your composition may be unappealing. Is the photo too busy? On the contrary, a clean background glorifies your subject.

Tidying up the picture doesn't mean tidying up the room. Heck, no! Use your viewfinder to cut out the mess. That may mean getting low on the ground and shooting up towards your subject - eliminating the floor full of wrapping paper. It may mean climbing on a chair (safety first) to eliminate a distracting background. Either way you simplify your photo and bring attention to the main subject.

3. Define the primary subject
Consciously decide who or what your photo is about - 'the primary subject'. Then investigate ways to help the viewer know what is happening in the photo.

Using techniques to clearly define the primary and secondary subjects will make your photo more appealing. With a prominent primary subject your viewer will quickly smile understanding the 'photo story' you have presented.

4. Choose your moment
Many modern cameras boast high shooting rates - 'five frames per second!' It may be tempting to fire off a burst of pictures and HOPE that you capture the correct moment. If you patiently wait for the right moment your photos will benefit from clicking - once - at the exact right time. Use all your senses - ears, eyes and gut to click just as someone laughs, cries or roars.

Practice with your specific camera. Point and shoot cameras are notorious for their horrible shutter lag - the time it takes your camera to respond to clicking the shutter - frustrating. Alas, there is not a lot you can do to eliminate your point and shoot camera's lag.

Sometimes, auto-focus cameras will not let you take a picture if they perceive the subject is not in focus - infuriating. This is the cause of many missed moments & lost priceless photos.

The solution? On finer cameras you have options. Using a single servo auto focus mode you can pre-focus your subject by half depressing the shutter before smiles erupt - you can often anticipate the group's dynamic - pay attention. With the shutter half depressed you can recompose and wait for the punch line. Once faces light up with laughter you simply depress the shutter all the way. Because you have pre-focused you will get the shot. When focusing be aware of the difference between motion blur and out-of-focus blur in the Exposed! article Catching Superman.

5. Make them smile
It is not enough to ask family and friends to smile for the camera. Ask the group to "Say cheese!" and you will get cheesy smiles. I tell my portrait students "You must make them smile." Make a joke. Pull a funny face. Do anything to make your subject react with natural emotions. The results will produce real smiles friends will be proud to frame.


Practice, practice, practice.

Really. Write the five simple tips (above) on a piece of paper and place it in your camera bag. Remind yourself of the tips every time you open your camera bag.

Pro Perspective

I am self taught. I learnt from mistakes and from assisting veteran photographers early in my career. These five tips would have helped me!

I learned the hard way:

My path to good photos would have been quicker and less bumpy with more help, courses and guidance. Take the fast track, consider a photo course for Christmas!

Final Frame

'Tis the season.

Enjoy yourself. Take a big deep breath as you take out your camera. Pratice the five tips for holiday pics.

They helped our student, Alex, focus on the fun.
And his friends appreciate the festive photos.

Take photos. Have fun!