The holidays are right around the corner—and if you’re like many professional photographers, that means slinging a sack full of gear over one shoulder with your trusty DSLR in hand as you trek off to parties, festivals and family gatherings in an attempt to capture the entire season onto your digital storage devices. While you might fill more than a few SD cards this holiday season, it’s important to be on the lookout for those few choice photos that can make or break a family photo album. Here’s how to take holiday photos that will last a lifetime.
Master the Art of Bokeh
Ever wonder how the pros create those artistic photos where the subject is sharp and in focus while the background is blurred and laced with luminescent orbs? They’ve mastered the art of bokeh—the practice of using a shallow depth of field to place emphasis on the subject while cultivating the quality of the background blur. Those characteristic circles of light in the background or foreground of an image are created by the way the lens processes reflections and sources of light. To produce the best bokeh, use a fast (wide aperture) prime lenses like the Canon 85mm f/1.2II USM or Nikon 85mm f/1.4D. Use Aperture Priority Mode to set your aperture to the lowest number possible. Focus on your subject, and increase the distance between your subject and the background to make the balls of light bigger. Take the shot, and hopefully you will have achieved bokeh. Bokeh is especially popular around the holidays because of the sheer number of opportunities there are to practice the technique—candles on a menorah, the lights on a christmas tree, and the paper lanterns on New Years just to name a few. With all the lights strung up around town during the holidays, there are plenty of opportunities to create memorable images.
Use ISO Settings instead of Flash
Many of the common mistakes found in family photos around the holidays are the byproducts of an ill-timed flash—overexposed images, whitewashed faces, unflattering shadows, and headlight beam glasses. It turns out you can avoid these common pitfalls altogether by learning how to use the ISO setting on your camera. ISO is a measure of your camera’s sensitivity to light—the higher the ISO number, the less light you need to expose your images. Since higher ISO numbers tend to correlate with more grain or noise in your photos, there is a tradeoff when shooting in low light conditions. If you’re shooting indoors, like in a warm Thanksgiving dinner, try using an ISO 800-1600 range. Depending on your camera, you may even be able to shoot with settings as high as 6400. Mastering ISO will also help you shoot more effectively in Manual Mode
to bring out the full potential of your DSLR. Use ISO settings to be ready for a variety of lighting situations at your next holiday gathering.
Take Lots of Photos
It can be really difficult trying to capture all the action amidst the hustle and bustle of a major holiday gathering—especially true if there are lots of little kids darting about the venue. As any professional event or wedding photographer will tell you, the secret to capturing all the action is to take lots of photos. Leverage the continuous shooting or burst mode settings on your camera to rapidly take 4-6 shots at a time—chances are at least one of those shots will be worth printing for the holiday album. Whether the kids are snowboarding, skiing, sledding or simply running around the holiday party, those SD cards will fill up quick when you shoot like this, so make sure you have enough capacity on hand to take on the night.
Learn How to Shoot with a Smartphone too
When you’re on the job, you’re ready for action with all your lenses, equipment and gear—this is not necessarily true if you’re out and about with family and friends during your downtime. Smartphone cameras have improved a lot over the last couple of years, and some of them are more camera than phone—the Nokia Lumia boasts a 41 megapixel camera sensor. Whether you’re rocking a Samsung Galaxy or the latest iPhone, it is important to remember that you have a solid camera in your pocket ready to snap a photo of all the candid moments of the holidays that don’t usually make it into the album—braving Black Friday, shopping Macy’s holiday sale, impromptu Christmas carolers in the town plaza, spontaneous sparklers at New Years—in the year 2015, it’s never been easier to capture the magic of the Holidays.