How to Capture a Holiday Image That Puts Others in the Spirit

Unsplash Photo: Tim Mossholder

Unsplash Photo: Tim Mossholder

You’ve decorated the tree, baked the gingerbread cookies, sprinkled tinsel on the table, and the snow is starting to fall. The setting looks picture perfect — so how do you actually take that photo?

The Christmas season brings out the photographer in many of us, but it can be surprisingly hard to get the perfect shot which represents the season. So how do you do it? I decided to ask a few Unsplash photographers who have been submitting some of the best images we’ve seen, and I found that the advice they gave isn’t just great for Christmas, but any holiday you might want to capture.

1. Consider dimension.

Aaron Burden says he still feels as if he’s learning what it takes to capture a compelling Christmas photo, but he’s noticed that adding dimension to the photo as whole seems to make a major difference:

One of my goals is to incorporate at least two universal elements of Christmas. (Christmas Lights + Star, Ornament +Tree or Christmas Story + Christmas lights).
I’ve been working on trying to shoot single Christmas items, but it seems better when there is a Christmas element in the foreground and background. The other thing I really like is bokeh. I may sometimes get carried away with it, but bokeh seems to add a little Christmas touch to everything.

Undoubtably, having the Christmas tree’s gorgeous lights in the background of these photos makes all the difference.


2. Keep it simple.

Joanna Kosinska keeps the clutter our of her photos by focusing in on the elements she cares about most and letting technical details take a backseat:

The light, the setup and right gear are important but those are just means of getting a photo. What is most important is the idea of what I want to see in the picture.
For me personally, the Christmas photo shoot is all about capturing that festive magic that we all know and love. Before I start taking any snaps I carefully think about how I am going to create genuine homely festive magic. Simplicity is the key, so I usually choose one element as a focal point to set the whole image and then play with light, settings and of course composition by adding and removing elements until it feels right.
On average, it takes about 20–30 frames to find the right one so my advice is snap until you get it.

Keeping the setting simple is why this white ornament jump out against the green tree, and this green branch jumps out against the white background.


3. Don’t overthink it, and enjoy yourself.

Nathan Anderson reminds us that there’s a danger to worrying too much about getting the perfect photo, remembering his own struggle in year’s past:

When I started taking Christmas photos I couldn’t get a single good shot. It wasn’t the gear, the settings were fine. I just overthought all of it, every single time.
I uploaded a bunch of Christmas photos a while back and the best one was the only one where I didn’t do any setup. I took four new photos this year with no major setup involved at all — what I did was have a great time shooting them, no pressure.
So for me, taking a good holiday photo takes having a good time.

It’s better to capture a moment that draws you in, or feels unique, than to capture something lifeless.

Unsplash Photo: Nathan Anderson

Unsplash Photo: Nathan Anderson

Which brings us to our last point:


4. Capture a feeling, not an object.

Brigitte Tohm makes a solid argument for remembering the emotion you want to convey:

Christmas is all about that feeling you have, of warmth, love, and family, and how you just want to smile when you think of it. I believe you can capture that even without the latest gear or custom settings. I say it’s all about heart and trying to make other people feel that magic.

It can be something small like some Christmas lights or something big like a fully decorated Christmas tree, but as long as you look at it and it makes you smile and remember all your great Christmas moments, that’s all that matters.

So I think that’s the recipe, some happiness, great memories, a bit of creativity and a touch of Christmas magic.
Unsplash Photo: Brigitte Tohm

Unsplash Photo: Brigitte Tohm

Holiday photos can come in many forms, and it’s all about finding the one that you want to capture. What does the season look like through your eyes? Take the shot you want to see, and share it with us.

Photography TipsAnnie Spratt