Lisa is one of my favorite blog friends. She sends me emails and gives me her honest opinion on things, and once in a while, she gives me a family recipe, like her Grandmama’s secret recipe for sweet-n-sour peanuts.
Let’s pray her sister Dina didn’t read that.
Recently, Lisa emailed me and asked me to give her some pointers on improving her Christmas snapshots without upgrading from her regular point-and-shoot camera. I was really flattered because, honestly, if someone is coming to me for advice it usually involves chocolate covered bacon or seeking revenge on an ex husband. Why people think these are my territories of expertise, I will never know, but I am happy expand my turf to photography for a day.
So, as long as I was typing them out and emailing to her, I thought I would share with you too. If anyone reading this has any other great resources for novice photographers, by all means, please link in the comments!
1. Ditch the Flash
If you want to capture the essence of holiday warmth, turn off your flash. Period. Nothing alive looks good when photographed with a point-and-shoot flash. Nothing. Zip. Zero. The image may come out crisp but it kills any sense of mood or atmosphere. That’s fine for product shots, but isn’t going to help make memories. In short, the flash kills the Christmas spirit. Avoid it whenever possible. Use natural light, or even overhead lights. If your photos are looking blurry, balance your camera on a tripod or the back of a chair. If you *must* use your flash, try diffusing it with a piece of gauze or white tissue paper. Experiment!
2. Less Posing, More Candid Photos
There are two kinds of photos: Lookers and Story Tellers.
Looker photos are about looking good; school portraits, bridesmaid line-ups, real estate promo shots. Your hair should be combed and the lawn should be trimmed. They’re all about making the subject look good. Example: Imagine Little Jimmy in his plaid pajamas, smiling wide, holding Grandma’s Christmas gift next to his face. Grandma will want to see this!
Story Tellers are about telling stories. Anyone should be able to look at the photo, without explanation and instantly understand what is going on. Example: Little Jimmy in his beloved Spiderman T-shirt and dirty hair, tearing open a package with fistfuls of wrapping paper and ribbon. Little Jimmy will want to see this when he is a grown up. Oh how he misses that Spiderman T-shirt.
3. Find a New Angle
When I flip through photos on Facebook, including my own, 99% of the photos are taken at the same height as the photographer’s head. This isn’t a bad thing, but gosh, the whole world looks a lot more interesting when photographed from a new perspective! Try photographing the tree while laying on the floor, or while sitting on the kitchen counter.
How many times have you seen a family photographed standing on the stairs? Many.
How many times have you seen a family photographed from above, while the family looks upward toward the photographer on the stairs? Never.
Bonus: You know who will always look good when photographed from above, chin raised and eyes coyly gazing at the camera? You! Everyone looks great from that angle.
4. Capitalize on Twinkle Lights
Nothing screams “holiday!” like the razzle dazzle of twinkling lights. Problem is most people try to photograph them when it is way too dark. The best time to photograph twinkle lights is the 30 minute window following sundown, when there is still some light in the sky. If the lights are indoors, turn off all overhead lights and turn on any other task lights around the room. Try having some fun by photographing the lights from a few feet away, or while swinging your camera around; the results will be blurry and gorgeous!
5. Move Off-Center
Move away from taking photos in tired and conventional ways. Center-weighted photos can be boring. Try looking at your camera in thirds, lining up your subject in the mid-margins of your camera field, not the dead center. The “Rule of Thirds” is one of the fundamental lessons in photography (learn more). You can also get creative with your cropping later on down the road.
And finally, remember to have some fun! Christmas photos, at their best, are more than snapshots of people smiling in reindeer sweaters–they are about capturing memories. Don’t worry if you have spinach dip in your teeth or the wreath is crooked, that’s part of the fun!!