Photo by Joshua Waller
If you're heading off to someone else's house for Christmas dinner make sure you put your gear in your camera bag and pack it or at least leave it somewhere it won't be forgotten the night before. Things get a bit hectic on Christmas day and with all the running around, organising kids and packing presents in the car it's easy to forget your camera!
Make sure your battery is charged and pack a spare. Don't forget extra memory cards too, just in case.
If you have patio doors or large windows, make use of the natural light and shoot your Christmas portraits near them. However, if you're up early when it's still dark or are still shooting late into the evening there won't be enough light around for you to use quick shutter speeds. This is fine if you're shooting a subject that doesn't move but for people shots or close-ups (snow-covered plants / flowers) where you need to use a small aperture so you have greater depth of field, a slow shutter speed would give you a blurry shot as your subject can't hold still for long enough. As most cameras now handle noise well at higher ISO levels you can increase your ISO to give you the quicker shutter speeds you need. However, most of the time when you're shooting indoors you'll probably need to use flash. The problem with your camera's built-in flash is it can end up making your subject look like a deer caught in someone's headlights with a rather harsh shadow behind them. You can try and diffuse it or better still, use an external flash gun that you can adjust the position off. You can also bounce its light off a nearby wall or the ceiling rather than firing it directly at your subject.
You can find more tips on using your camera's built-in flash here: Making The Most Of Your Camera's Built-In Flash
Do take a couple of test shots, both when you're working indoors and out, as you may need to switch from auto white balance to one of the other pre sets available or to manual. You can always shoot in RAW and make your adjustments later during post production but it's always best to try and get it right in-camera while shooting. If it's snowed and you're outdoors make sure the snow doesn't end up looking more blue than white. For tips on how to prevent this, take a look at John Gravett's article: Why Is My Snow Blue?
Backgrounds shouldn't be too distracting or busy. This doesn't mean they always have to be plain though as a Christmas tree and decorations thrown slightly out of focus in the background of a portrait can work really well. Also, if you're going for more of a reportage approach, shooting the so the whole scene is in focus will give you more of a story.
Before And After Shots
Taking shots of the table set, presents under the tree etc. before chaos commences is a good idea because once the unwrapping and eating begins, it won't look the same again! Also, why not capture a before and after shot of the whole room. Just remember to take it from the same spot to make it easier for your viewer to compare the two shots and spot the differences.
Get the family group shot nailed early before the kids have spilt chocolate cake down them and gran's fallen asleep in the armchair. For more tips on shooting groups, have a look at our previous article: Photographing Groups
Don't get too obsessed with posing people for portraits as they'll just get bored. Instead, shoot candidly as you'll be able to capture natural looking portraits that are more fun and interesting to look at. If you plan on capturing kids as they rip open presents and throw paper around switch your camera to burst mode as it'll increase your chances of capturing a shot that fully shows the excitement of the day. Don't forget to take your lens away from those receiving gifts to those who are giving them too as their reactions can be just as good.
For group shots from the bottom of the table remember to use a small aperture to ensure you get front to back sharpness as you don't want the person sat right at the end to be out of focus.
Close-Ups Of Detail
Portraits are great but don't forget about the smaller details around your Christmas party. Not only do these make great stand-alone shots but they can be used in photo albums and books to add a bit of variety to what can turn into just a book of portraits. Switch to a macro lens or macro mode if you're using a compact camera and look for tree decorations, table ornaments, sweets, cupcakes, glasses and whatever else you can find that will make an interesting Christmas macro shot.
Change Your Angle / Focal Lengths
Using a variety of focal lengths and angles throughout the day will give you a collection of shots that are much more interesting. When working with children, get down to their level to give your shots more impact. Don't just shoot wide shots either as zooming in and filling the frame with someone's face is more emotive and can give you a really memorable shot.
Find A Focus
With all the excitement it's easy to forget that a shot with one main focal point holds the viewer's attention more easily than a shot that's crammed full of interest. Even though it can be hard to, instead of running around, working quickly and snapping everything in sight, take your time to look through your viewfinder and really think if everything you have in shot needs to be there. You can always change your angle or move some items around then shoot what you took out of the scene separately.
Don't Forget About You
Finally, Christmas isn't just about everyone else, you need to be involved too so make use of your camera's self-timer so you can get in on some of the shots. Take a look at this article for more tips on using your camera's self timer: When To Use Your Camera's Self Timer
You could also try setting a camera up and leaving it in one part of the room then keep going back to it to take a shot at different points during the day. Or, if your camera can, set it to take a shot at allotted intervals so you can forget about the camera and just enjoy the day. By the end of it you should have an interesting time-lapse sequence that documents the whole or even part of Christmas day.