It's the Season for Photography
Welcome to the holiday season. Starting at Halloween and continuing through Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year's, this is the time of year when photo opportunities with your friends and family come thick and fast. It's as though the multicolored leaves, falling snow, and neighborhood light shows are conspiring to persuade us to fire up the camera. Here are some tips to help you take the best pictures this season. (And also be sure to check out how to take special-occasion portraits for even more photo tips.)
Photo courtesy Flickr user Christopher Chan.
The Classic Thanksgiving Shot
A classic shot--no Thanksgiving photo set is complete without it--shows the dining-room table laden with fancy place settings, the main course, and all the trimmings.
You can shoot the scene with or without people, but if you include the diners, make sure that you have everyone's attention and that no one is eating. For the best effect, you should take the picture from above--which probably means standing on a chair. Try to lock the focus on the near end of the table; the rest of the table will probably stay reasonably in focus. Alternatively, get in low and close, and focus on just a few dishes.
Photo courtesy Flickr user trazomfreak.
Handling Tricky Lighting
As you take pictures of smartly dressed guests and fancy dishes, don't ignore the lighting, which can be tricky--especially if you're shooting a late-day dinner with sunlight streaming through the window, room lights on, and perhaps even some candles competing for your camera sensor's attention. Trust the camera, and your photos are likely to come out with an ugly color cast. To avoid such problems, you'll want to use a white sheet of paper to set the white balance manually before you start shooting. Check your camera's user guide for instructions on how to adjust white balance. And rather than relying on the camera's flash, try increasing the camera's ISO to 400 so you can properly expose your pictures indoors.
Photo courtesy Flickr user DJOtaku.
Watch Out for Red Eye
When there's less ambient light--as on these chilly autumn days--red eye comes out to play. As you probably know, red eye occurs when eyes dilate to see better, but the camera flash fires and reflects off the retina.
If you have an external flash for your camera, try to "bounce" it by aiming it at the celling instead of straight ahead. Or use an attachment like the Lightscoop to bounce the flash that's built into your camera. Of course, you can always use your photo editor to remove red eye after the fact--most image editors these days have a red-eye removal tool built in.
Capturing Christmas Morning
I'm a big believer in crisp, tight framing. My usual advice is to get in close, eliminate the clutter, and focus on your subject, leaving no doubt what your photo is about.
Christmas morning demands a different approach, though. When the children are unwrapping presents, go wide. Include the clutter, because it's part of the story. Take the picture from floor level, so you retain the wrapping paper, empty boxes, and other debris crowded around the kids, for example. Or climb up a flight of stairs and shoot an aerial view of the holiday in progress. Photos like these capture the spirit of the day. Chaos and clutter: It's endearing.
Shoot Holiday Decorations Up Close
Photograph your Christmas tree or Hanukkah menorah in all its illuminated beauty. You should use a tripod, since this is the kind of photo you'll want to take at night. Look for subtle details to capture up close. As with most kinds of night photography, there's no right or wrong exposure. Set your camera to manual mode, pick a midrange aperture (such as f/5.6), and try a several-second-long shutter speed. Check your results. If you want more dramatic lights, open the aperture a little. If you want the overall scene to be brighter, lengthen the exposure time.
Freezing Candles in Action
I love photographing candles, with their warm, romantic flames. Shooting candles is little different than capturing any other kind of decoration. You'll get the best results late in the day or in the early evening. Wait until very little natural light remains, and put your camera on a tripod to ensure that you don't get any shake. Turn off the flash--you'll want all the light to come from the flames. You can get great results with a wide range of shutter speeds, ranging from 1/100 second (as in this close-up of a menorah) to a full second or so. Take some shots, vary the exposure, and experiment.
Photo courtesy Flickr user Cayusa.
Include Your Pets
It's the holidays--so don't forget to include your four-legged family members in the photographic fun. My family has made room for dogs and cats in our holiday portraits from time to time, with varying levels of success. Be sure to consider these "Five Tips for Taking Photos of Animals," and introduce them into scenes you want to shoot. Also, take a tip from the making of OK Go's dog-infested video White Knuckles: If you want your pet to look somewhere in particular, dangle some food. Have a helper hold a dog treat or a piece of cheese near the camera to draw your dog's undivided attention.
Take Portraits Against Holiday Lights
Want to cruise your neighborhood and shoot holiday lighting at night? Armed with a tripod, it's easy to do--be sure to read "Photograph Spectacular Christmas Lights."
While you're at it, shoot some portraits. You can put people in these bright, colorful photos, as long as you remember that you need to combine a slow shutter speed--which exposes the lights and decorations in the background--with a flash to illuminate your human subjects. The best time to get these photos is around dusk, when there's still a little light in the sky.
Capture Seasonal Festivals
When I was growing up in Jersey City in the 1970s, my family went to a harvest festival on Staten Island each year, complete with hay rides and pumpkin carvings. If you take your family to an event of that sort, bring a camera. The sun will work against you, so try to put it behind you when you shoot. If you get a wide range of exposures, from bright light to deep shadow, you can tweak the photos afterward on your PC. Even if a photo looks hopelessly underexposed, you can use the tips in "Improve Your Exposure in Tricky Lighting" to enhance the scene dramatically.
Photo courtesy Flickr user Ali Smiles :).