christmas photography

Guide to Christmas Photography

Want to take better photos of your family at Christmas time, and even make some extra money for all that gift buying? Then this must-read guide is for you!

If you like Christmas and New Year and everything that surrounds this festive season, then I’m sure you take a lot of photos of the Christmas tree and family gatherings.

However, it’s not always easy to capture the mood and the atmosphere on camera. As a result, you probably look at the photos once and never again!

In this article, I’ll give you some Christmas photography tips to make images you and your family will want to see all year long.

You can even improve so much that you can charge for them and become a commercial Christmas photographer – you’ll find some tips about that too, if that’s the way you decide to go.

So, after you’ve checked all the best Christmas photoshoot ideas, now it’s time to learn some more tips on getting the most out of the festive season.

20 Festive Christmas Photography Tips & Ideas

If you are wondering where to take photos for Christmas and want to step away from the classic Christmas tree as a background, or you’re looking to learn how to set up a Christmas Photo Shoot, then keep on reading.

These 20 Christmas photography tips can help you learn the techniques and shake up your creativity.

1. Use the right aperture

Little boy standing with a backdrop christmas tree

Credit: Chris Benson

Christmas can be full of lights and distracting objects that can make your photos look ‘busy’ and not communicate anything.

To avoid this problem, you can use a shallow depth of field which will keep your subject in focus and blur the background.

To achieve this, you need to use a small f-number. If you’re not familiar with the manual mode, set your camera to Aperture priority, then choose f/1.4 or f/2.8, whatever your lens allows, and start shooting.

You can also check out our guide to aperture here.

2. Use the shutter speed creatively 

People holding bright sparklers at night

Credit: Pixabay

The shutter speed is one of the settings that determine how much light gets into the camera. However, it can be used creatively when there are moving subjects.

You can freeze things with a fast shutter speed or create a motion blur with a slow one. If you are using a slow shutter speed, use a tripod to avoid camera shake.

3. Use burst mode to capture expressions

Two women opening presents by a Christmas tree

Credit: Nappy

Capturing emotion is not always an easy task. To capture the excitement in someone’s eyes when they unwrap a gift, or the love in a hug when an out-of-town relative arrives requires a lot of precision.

A great deal of intuition is needed to get a good result – but thankfully, technology plays a part to help you out.

Set your camera for continuous shooting and fire away. Just make sure to use it only for the right moments or else you’ll fill up your memory card too soon.

Also, for some great Xmas gift ideas for a photographer friend, check out our guide.

4. Use your phone

A women holding a smart phone and taking a photo of a Christmas Tree covered in lights

Credit: Sabri Tuzcu

Smartphones have made giant steps in improving the quality of their cameras. Nowadays you can get amazing pictures using an iPhone or Android device, and with almost any model.

If you’re trying to do some night photography, you need at least a mid-range smartphone to get a better quality photo, which is quite affordable these days.

The latest iPhones and Android devices have incredible low-light photography features, but to maximise your chances of getting a sharp shot, I recommend getting a cheap phone tripod too (see our guide.)

Don’t miss out on any Christmas photo because you don’t have a camera – just get out and start shooting with the device you have in your pocket!

5. Capture the atmosphere

Photography - Christmas Tree lit up at night

Credit: Brett Sayles

One of the most wonderful things about the holiday’s spirit is that you can feel it all around you. It’s not just a dinner, a party, or the moment when you open the present, it’s an atmosphere that goes well beyond.

Make sure you capture the essence of Christmas in your photographs. You can do this with any type of photography from snowy landscapes to a decorated living room.

An extra tip here: adjusting white balance goes a long way to establishing the atmosphere – a warmer white balance can be achieved by reducing the Kelvin number.

6. Don’t forget about daytime

Little girl sitting eating a cupcake

Credit: Daria Shevtsova

During the holidays every city lights up. All the streets and stores are lit, the houses are decorated, and it’s beautiful to capture all of this in your photos.

Because of this, it’s easy to focus only on photographing after dawn and forget about the rest of the day. So, when should you take Christmas photos?

You can make a lot of wonderful images with natural light. You can photograph people doing their shopping and the preparations during the day. Just make sure you avoid the harsh sun.

In the late afternoon and towards sunset you can have the best of both worlds; some natural light photos, and then you can take advantage of blue hour to include some of the Christmas lights too.

Then, of course, you should capture the Christmas morning!

7. Be spontaneous

5 people sitting around having a cocktail by the tree

Credit: Olia Danilevich

It’s easy to get caught up in the Christmas fun and forget to take pictures throughout the party. It’s OK to get some posed portraits with everyone together, but you’ll regret missing out on the spontaneous moments.

Make sure you stay active throughout the holidays and capture the best moments to remember for years to come.

8. Not all portraits need a face

Close up of a Christmas card being held by a child

Credit: Annie Spratt

Portraits are one of the most popular types of photography when it comes to Christmas times. And why wouldn’t they be?

You gather with friends and relatives that you probably don’t see that often and everybody is happy and dressed up… ready-made portrait subjects, right?

That’s true, but if you want to level up your photography skills, you can try doing some faceless portraits. I’m sure you’ll find this a satisfying challenge.

You should also check out our tips on editing portraits using Adobe Lightroom in this guide.

9. Try pet photography

Cats face poking out of a tree with lights

Credit: Jessica Lewis

The holidays are special because we get some extra time with our friends and family who we don’t get to see much during the rush of everyday life.

This includes our best friends and valued family members – pets!

You can take more casual photos by following your pet around or make a more organized session with props and a background.

10. Make Bokeh

Small nativity statues in front of Bokeh effect lights

Credit: Gareth Harper

Bokeh is the effect caused by out-of-focus light on the image. The shapes can be different from one lens to another, or you can make some DIY lens hoods with different shapes to make it more fun.

Photographing lights are the perfect way to experiment with bokeh. You can use them as backdrops for Christmas portraits, or just take photos of the lights for some abstract images.

Take a look at our guide to creating a bokeh background here, and also some other fun DIY camera hacks you can try during the festive season.

11. Don’t be too literal

Single red bird sitting on a branch surrounded by snow covered grass

Credit: Ray Hennessy

Holiday decorations, presents, and family gatherings are some of the most common subjects in Christmas photography.

It’s easy to get lost in all that, however, so to make your images stand out, you might want to try a new approach.

Think outside the box and make your Christmas photography more subtle, conceptual, or even abstract. The only limit is your creativity.

12. Try new techniques

Time-lapse of a soap bubble freezing

Credit: Johannes Plenio

With all the magic that surrounds the holidays, you can try a lot of new photography techniques. If the weather allows it, you can try photographing a time-lapse of a soap bubble freezing – see our guide to time-lapse photography here.

Otherwise, you can try tilt-shift photography to make your town look like a Christmas village diorama. Depending on your budget and possibilities, you can stick to post-production techniques or rent out new gear for some photographic experiments.

13. Change Perspective

Credit: Nicole Michalou

Always photographing at eye-level can make your images look dull. To get more interesting shots, you need to take photos from different angles.

You can crouch, climb on a chair or photograph the party going on in the living room from the top of the stairs. Try them all out and see what difference changing your perspective can make.

14. Try some street photography

Women having a hot drink at night in front of lights

Credit: Freestocks

What better time to practice street photography than Christmas? Everything is lit up and decorated; the families are out and smiley; everywhere you go, you’ll find a scene to catch.

If you’re a beginner in this type of photography, try setting some goals for yourself. This way, it will be easier to focus on a subject and come back home with satisfying results.

For example, you can decide that the topic will be people shopping, or children talking to Santa, or photograph the best Christmas trees in the neighborhood.

15. Plan some outdoor photoshoots

A family out to choose a tree for christmas

Credit: Any Lane

Often we limit the Christmas photos to the dinner party when everyone has arrived or when we are decorating the tree.

But why not set aside a time where you go out together specifically to create some new memories?

You can visit the city center where there’s usually a big Christmas tree, go to a Christmas market, or even pay a visit to Santa for some fun Christmas photos.

16. Play with light

A person laying in the dark with only lights from decorations on

Credit: Nikola Jelenkovic

Light is the raw material to create a photograph. With all the types of light that characterize this season, you can take some very interesting photos.

You can create silhouettes against a Christmas decoration, paint with light using sparklers, and many other effects.

17. Do some Lifestyle Portraits

A couple sitting for a portrait with their dog surrounded by Christmas decorations

Credit: Elly Fairytale

Make your Christmas memories look more professional by doing a lifestyle portrait session. Take advantage of the fact that your house is all beautiful and prepped to receive your guests and everybody is dressed up.

You can use natural light if you’re doing it in the daytime or artificial light to create an atmosphere during the evening.

Then, study some poses that you can replicate with your loved ones, and you’re ready to go.

18. Practice food and still life

Flat lay of a drink with three apples and pine cones

Credit: Toa Heftiba

The food and the centerpiece, the decorations and the presents, everything around you screams ‘photograph me’.

Practice your photography skills by doing some food photography, flat-lays, and still-life photography to round up the Christmas photo album.

19. Set up a set

A tree little up with lights and a little boy sitting beside

Credit: Jeswin Thomas

Do you want to capture beautiful family photos? Set-up a mini studio where everyone can come for their photo.

You can do this photo-booth-style with props, a set with Christmas backdrops, or anything you can think of that will capture the mood and reflect your style.

If you’re photographing small details like holly or baubles and want to make your results look more professional, try building your own DIY lightbox – here’s our guide.

20. Make some extra income

Christmas ornament covered with natural light

Credit: Denise Johnson

If you want to earn some extra cash over the festive period and you’re asking yourself how much should I charge for Christmas photos?  It will depend on what you want to do.

First, you can put your images on a stock photography website. These websites usually have their own fees – check out different ones to see which is best. Just make sure that you have legal releases if you’re featuring people or anything copyrighted.

Another thing you can do is organize photoshoots for your neighbors, friends, or even strangers if you feel confident enough.

Family portraits and pet photography are very popular during the holidays. If you don’t have a studio, you can do outdoor sessions and use the city as a backdrop for Christmas themed photographs. You can also offer to do it at their home and take some lifestyle portraits.

These can be priced according to how many hours you invest in the photoshoot, and how many photos you’ll deliver. You can do different packages for the clients to choose from.

You can also try some event photography since many companies have their corporate parties over the Christmas break. Or, if you’re not a people person you can also approach local businesses to ask if they are looking to promote any special offer for the holidays.

You can photograph their products for them to use in their social media channels or some flyers. These are just some ideas, but there are many ways to make money with Christmas photography.

Final Words

If you need help with any technique or you want to share some more ideas with us, please do so in the comments section below.

Remember that the best pictures come from you enjoying the Christmas holiday, so have fun and take a lot of pictures!

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Shotkit Writer & Camera Gear Reviewer

Ana Mireles is a Mexican researcher that specializes in photography and communications for the arts and culture sector.



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