10 Ways to improve your Holiday Snapshots

Christmas is coming this week, and with it will be numerous gatherings of family and friends. If you are like me, your camera will be busy capturing photos to last for generations to come. A few years back I wrote this article for another blog. I thought I would spruce it up and put it here for anyone who might be interested.

Over the years I have taken thousands of photos myself. And, I have scanned thousands more that were taken by family, and friends. I have taken note of which photos are most cherished among the many. In this post I am going to give you my thoughts on how to take memorable Holiday snapshots.

This post is meant for the casual photographer. I am not going to be giving any heavy technical advice. Rather, I will be taking a more “common person’s” approach to the subject.

So, here we go with Bobby-C’s top 10 ways to make you Holiday Snapshots more memorable.

1. Press the shutter button often. The overwhelming majority of people these days are snapping pictures with a digital camera. Were this post written as few as 5 or 10 years ago, the number would be dramatically lower. And most people’s digital cameras produce quality pictures very quickly.  Since you only intend to print the photos you like, taking digital pictures is essentially free. So the first tip is to take plenty of pictures. You can even take 5 or 10 of the same subject. If it is a spontaneous event, you may only have time for 2 or 3, but go ahead and take them. Many times it is not the first photo in a series that is the gem.  Reactions change, facial expressions develop, eyes may be open that were once shut.

kenzie 1

These two shots were snapped 2 seconds apart. Note the better smile in the second.

2. Be prepared and keep the camera handy. Nothing is more frustrating than for a moment to pass by because your camera was at the other end of the room. And next on the frustration parade are is the opportunities missed because you had the camera handy, but weren’t prepared to snap the picture. I tell my family and friends that much of great photography is being in the right place at the right time and being ready to take the shot. That is as true in the family room as it is when you are at the Grand Canyon, a Lighthouse or a sporting event.

Sometimes I will even go to the extent of having two cameras handy. I might have my SLR nearby, and also have a point-and-shoot camera in my pocket. You probably only have one camera, so make sure it is handy all the time.

3. Keep things simple. Most cameras, even those that are pocket-sized, offer the photographer many choices and settings. These are very important when setting up a formal shot – whether of a landscape, still life or group of people. When taking snapshots, they can lead to confusion and delays, and ultimately, missed opportunities.

When setting up your camera for the day, select an automatic mode that suits your situation. If your gathering is indoors, choose a setting that will make good use of your flash. If outdoors, you can select a setting intended more for landscapes. Or, if you really want to keep things simple, keep your camera in the “fully automatic” mode.

In making this choice, you may sacrifice some artistic quality. You may not have a pinpoint depth of field, or the lighting may not be perfect. This is a small sacrifice to make to get that cherished shot.

4. Have spare batteries handy. Many cameras are operated with ordinary AA or AAA batteries, while others use rechargeable batteries. Whatever is the case for you, it’s a good idea to keep one, or even two, spare sets of (charged) batteries ready. If you are shooting indoors this is especially true. The flash unit on your camera will wear down batteries faster than if you are shooting outdoors where there is more natural light. The night before the event is the time to gather up your camera, case and batteries.

In my case, I carry two spare batteries for every camera I am using. And, if I am using my external flash,  I have a spare set of batteries for that as well. One more thing, when your batteries wear down, remember to charge them as soon as you get home, or replace them quickly. You don’t want to be the one at the party begging for a little electricity.

kimmy kenzie

I sat on the floor to get closer to the action for this shot

5. Change up the perspective. Most people snap pictures from either a seated position, or while standing looking at the action. And many people’s pictures are taken directly from the photographer’s point of view. One way to take more unique pictures is to change that perspective or point of view.

Try holding the camera above your head and shooting down at your subject. This takes a bit of practice and trust because you won’t be able to see the view finder or screen on your camera. The payoff is that you can get angles on shots that are unique. In fact, when shooting pictures of anyone over the age of 20 from this angle, the subjects will love you. The reason? Photos taken of people from above, looking down, always make the subject look thinner and younger. And, no matter how young or thin your subject is, they will LOVE the way you make them look.

Another way to change the perspective is for you to get down on the floor to take the shot. This is particularly good when taking pictures of toddlers and infants who are playing on the floor. Most people take their shots of the tots from above. When you get to their level, you can get their

6. Avoid posed pictures. Everyone loves a good, old-fashioned family photo. In a future post I will give my thoughts on how to make those look less stiff and more natural. For this post I will tell you that they aren’t usually the cherished, fun photos. If you want great snapshots, remember three words “candid, candid, candid”.

Posing a family portrait is difficult to do, even for the seasoned photographer. Too often someone moves, or blinks, or you don’t quite get it right. It’s frustrating and usually involves disrupting something to set it up. (Having said all that, I fully intend to take some this Holiday season. So, if any relatives of mine are reading this – consider yourselves warned)

Some years ago my sister bought some large frames and began pasting up pictures form Christmas past. She took some from all ages and times, and arranged them the way you would on an over-sized scrapbooking page. They are a focal point of discussion as they hang on her wall during the Holiday season. One thing I have noticed about them is that despite all the posed family pictures we have taken over the decades, very few of them make it to the big frames. The memorable shots are the ones that are spontaneous and fun. The person making the funny face, the child who falls asleep among their presents, the bunny ears behind someone’s head, the goofy kid who puts bows from his presents on his glasses, and so on. Capture those, and you have captured memories for a lifetime.

kimmy reaction

My daughter’s excited reaction to a gift a few years back

7. Get the reaction, not the gift. Ever sit with someone who has gone to a Holiday party where gifts are exchanged and looked at their pictures. Frequently there are pictures of people holding up whatever it is that they received. The sweater, the video game, the book, the socks, the tie, the fancy doll… you name it. These pictures look staged and stiff – probably because they are.

A far better shot is to wait as the person is unwrapping the gift, and snap the picture of their reaction as they see what it is. These are genuine, fun pictures that are un-posed. Capture these and you capture memories.

8. Find the primo seat for picture taking. In every family room, living room, or basement, there is a prime spot for taking photos. It is a place where you can see the entire room easily without having to move all around. That is the seat you want.

Keep in mind, it might not be the most comfortable, or the most conveniently located to the snack table. It might be an elevated seat, or one on the floor, but it is a spot where you can capture unique angles, and see the people you need to see.

Years ago my brother lived in a split-level house. My favorite spot to perch for Christmas gift opening was at the top of the half-flight of stairs up from his living room. From there I could see the whole room and enjoy what was happening. In those years I wasn’t taking photos as I do today, but I can tell you that if he still lived there, I’d be fighting for that spot.

mom and dog

My mom was trying to make my daughter smile for a picture. Others took pictures of my daughter. I got this one of my mom that still hangs in my family room.

9. Take pictures of things that other people are not. At most gatherings there will be several people with their cameras in hand. And often times, when something is anticipated to be cute (like a toddler opening a gift), all cameras will be trained on that subject. And, when a moment occurs, it can be like the paparazzi on the red-carpet as all the cameras flash.

The wiley photographer has his or her camera looking away from the subject everyone else is shooting. They are looking at the others taking pics, the people making faces at the baby to get them to smile, or the person sitting in the corner giggling.

Worried that you’ll miss that other subject? Don’t. The other people taking those pictures are family members and will surely share their shots with you. Especially when you show them the killer shot you took.

10 HAVE FUN! Taking photos should be something that brings you joy. Unless you are a professional wedding photographer, it is likely never going to be your “job” to take photos. So, make sure you have having a good time. At the end of the party, you will go home with amazing shots to share with generations to come, and you will personally have cherished memories that will last a lifetime.

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