In the past I have been guilty of setting up my entire studio lighting kit in my living room with the intent of capturing every moment of Christmas morning. It’s been comforting to know I can capture the magic as it happens with quality exposures and perfectly executed lighting. From the street my neighbors can see the high powered flashes through my heavy lined drapes, and at 5am Christmas morning, I’m sure it’s a strange sight.
However I’m under no delusion that my Christmas morning routine is somewhat less then ordinary, so I thought I’d provide a few tips on how to make some picture perfect memories.
Tip 1: Light it up!
Our eyes are great in low light situations, cameras, not so much. So resist the temptation to have your children pose in front of the tree in their Christmas PJ’s with nothing but the soft tiny LED lights as a light sourse. Images shot in low light can often look noisy or pixelated. This comes from your camera sensor trying it’s best to capture the tiny bits of light available in a poorly lit space. My suggestion here is to use a mid range ISO (400-800 works for most newer model camera but it will depend on your sensor), a tripod for stability, and wide open apertures to let in as much light as possible. It’s also a good idea to turn on every light you can find to bring up the ambient level in the room. If it is still too dark, then add some extra lighting by opening up windows. The other option is to use flash. I would avoid the built in flash on your camera if possible because it tends to overexpose when you’re too close to your subject and drown out the pretty Christmas lights you’ve used as decorations. Flash is a viable alternative, it just needs to be off camera to make the image more appealing. For this first photo I used my accessory flash sitting on the fireplace mantle (just outside of the frame) for the picture of my daughter. The flash head was pointed directly at the ceiling. Using the commander mode on my Nikon I was able to remotely fire the flash as I moved around the room. For those of you wondering, my daughter is 2 years old in this photo. It was just 2008. That leads me to tip 2.
Upgrading to a DSLR will make catching those candid moments much easier (with a little training). DLSR cameras can photograph 3+ images per second (for most brands) which means no delay from the moment you push the shutter to when the image is captured. If you have a DSLR but no accessory flash I’d look for a flash unit that allows you to bounce the flash off the ceiling instead of pointing it directly at your kids. This makes for a much softer light source. Using a slower shutter speed (1/60 works well), and an ISO rating between 400-800 should allow you to get the beautiful tree in all it’s electric glory and the kids opening presents too. It’s also good to avoid using telephoto lenses for this event. Try instead a wide angle or normal lens to bring in the most light possible. My favorite lens for tight spaces is a 28mm. It allows me to see a good amount of the room I’m in without a ton of distortion around the edges and since this lens it can open up to apertures like F2.8 and F3.5 it’s great for low light situations. Consumer grade DSLR cameras will provide more then just quick shooting. You’ll also get interchangeable lenses, creative control over the depth of field and shutter speed not possible with a point and shoot, and if you choose a full frame camera sensor you’ll have the ability to shoot at higher ISO’s with less noise. The image on the left was taken last year when I held a Santa Portrait event at my studio. I can only assume that my then 7 year old is asking Mr. Clause for a Nikon D3 with extra battery grip and a carbon fiber tripod. Here’s my final tip.
Tip 3: Remember why we photograph.
We are constantly interacting with technology and often we forget to put down our cell phones, iPads, etc and live in the moment. Don’t let capturing your holiday fun keep you from being a part of the fun. Your kids will thank you some day for the great photos and for remembering the reason you were taking them in the first place! The best gift we can give our children is ourselves. They deserve access to us without technology getting in the way. I looked back through a lot of family photos to choose just three to put on my blog this week. Seeing my sweet children’s faces change and grow over time brought me to tears. (Which for those that know me, it’s really hard to do.) The images were great reminders of all blessings our family has enjoyed over the last 10 years. It also made me excited to see what is in store for the next decade. May God bless your families with peace and joy during this special season. Merry Christmas to all and a Happy New Year!