South Bend Indiana Family Documentary Photography - How to Take Your Own Great Holiday Photos

Some of the biggest, most joyful, meaningful days of the year happen during the holidays. Filled with events, family and friends there are so many reasons to pull out your personal camera and make sure those moments live on forever. Just think of the laughs and smiles you will share with your kids years down the road when you look back at the fun memories you managed to capture!

But how do you take average, un-inspired images up to the next level and turn them into something beautiful AND priceless? How do you use the camera you have easy access to (say a phone) and use it to create high quality, artistic images? Here are a few tips and tricks to turning your blah holiday pictures into fun, appealing, priceless images...

1). Get the "safe shot"

I always encourage folks to take the "safe shot" first. Kids move FAST and sometimes, if you think too much, you miss the moment. It might not be the best quality shot, but at least you have the feels on your screen to relish down the road. 

Safe shot. 

The good shot. 

2) Do. Not. Say. "Cheese."

For the love of Christmas, do NOT tell your subjects to say "cheese!" Maybe this is just the documentary photographer coming out in me, but whoever decided to tell people to say "cheese" during a picture needs a quick kick to the shins (nothing like a little violence for the holiday spirit). In all seriousness though...the best pictures you will take are the ones in the moment. By telling your kids or the photo's subject to stop what they are doing, focus on you and the camera and say "cheese" completely deflates the scene. And if you're dealing with small children or (shudder) toddlers, we all know that the moment they realize you want them to smile...HAHAHAHA. Right. So fight that instinct to get them to focus on the camera and just get the amazing pictures that can come from being in the moment. You won't regret it.

And if you just can't fight it and you really want that look-and-smile picture, just tell them to smile. Young children are still learning phonetics and saying words, especially words that end in consonants, often forces their mouths and cheeks to do funny things and is counterproductive to getting them to smile. 

3) Angles, angles, angles!

When we take photos with our camera phones or point-and-shoots, we tend to take them right where we stand. We see a cute moment like our kids bonding with their cousins or hugging the family dog and we whip out that camera and snap the picture. That's fine! Like I mentioned above, get the safe shot first. But once you've secured that, get out of your comfort zone and think about your angles. The absolute best and most simple thing you can do to improve your photos are to get on the same level as your subject. If you're photographing kids, prepare to get your squat quota maxed out pretty quickly. Get down on their level and suddenly the picture feels much more real and in-the-moment.


Another fun angle is from above. People tend to focus on faces when they take pictures but that's not always what tells the best story. Sometimes getting directly above your kiddos really changes the perspective and tells a stronger story.

4) Use your camera's focal point.

Have you ever had the perfect picture opportunity in front of a bright window and you take the photo and it's completely blown out? How frustrating! Cameras are designed to focus on the light and then balance the settings accordingly. Having a big, bright window is great but it tricks your camera into thinking that the entire room is also that bright which just isn't the case. So how do you we fix this? On most cameras and phones, its as simple as tapping the face or subject that you want to focus on. The camera then says, "Oh, you want to focus on this darker subject? Got it!" (Because, you know, cameras talk now). It still might not be the best picture you'll ever take, but it will salvage the shot.

5) Avoid mixed lighting.

It is easier said than done, but if you can, avoid "mixed lighting." This means, try not to take pictures where a window and lamp is influencing the light in the same photo. Most people assume that all light is good light but that is just wildly untrue. Here's the basic breakdown: window light is the best light. Its natural, pretty and neutral. 

See photos below for an example of mixed lighting. 

6) Consider your surroundings.

Holidays can be such a tough time to photograph even for a seasoned professional because there are usually 100 brightly colored decorations and 101 distractions. Both of these things make for some challenges but if you're aware of them, it is (slightly) easier to avoid them. Quickly consider your subject (say your child), squat down to their level, tap your focal point and then look past them. If they are sitting in front of 10 boxes and three cousins, try to move yourself left or right so that you can either hide or minimize the distractions. I'm all for embracing the clutter and chaos, after all, that's what documentary photography is all about. But there's a difference between adding to the story and just being distracting. 

Distracting red shelving and mixed lighting. 

Still a busy background but not directly behind the family AND it helps tell the story.

I hope that these quick and easy tips help you get some great holiday photos this weekend! But most importantly, don't forget to put down the phone and camera and just enjoy the moment. Not even the best picture can replace the memories you have of getting in on the holiday chaos.