Top Tips for Fantastic Festive Photos

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With Christmas fast approaching, many of us will be putting our cameras to good use to capture some of the excitement, magic and stress beauty that Christmas brings.  Without going into too much technical detail I have compiled some top tips to improve the look of your Christmas photos this year – whether you will be using the latest DSLR or simply the camera on your smart phone.

Decide what you want to photograph and when

Christmas brings so many fantastic photo opportunities that it can be easy to try and capture everything at once. Usually, this leads to lots of half -decent shots as we dash around from room to room and flit from portrait shots to snaps of the decorations, forgetting about settings and basic composition.  Some things will only happen once during the festive period – your children putting up their stockings or opening their presents – whilst other festive photo opportunities -the tree in your living room and the high street decorations – will be available for longer and can be taken before or after the big day itself.  So slow down and have a clear idea of what moments you want to capture at any time.  Once you know what it is you are trying to capture, the more chance you have of getting a stronger set of shots.

The shot of London at the top of this page didn’t happen by chance – I had to wait until the sun had set, remember to take a tripod so that I could get a nice sharp shot and I had to know where to stand to get the colours and reflections that I wanted in the image. Had I tried to photograph photos of Christmas shoppers, window displays and Oxford Street decorations all on the same evening, I’m pretty sure that whilst I’d have gotten more shots, very few would have had as much impact as this one.


The success of any photo relies heavily on what you choose to include or omit from the image and the festive period can prove quite challenging when trying to avoid unwanted distractions in shots. A quick tidy up of discarded wrapping paper, used batteries and empty chocolate selection boxes can instantly improve the look of your photos and help the viewer to know exactly what it is they are meant to be looking at.

If taking portraits, it’s important to check what is cluttering or filling the background as it’s not uncommon to upload your fantastic shot of Aunt Doris and discover a sprig of mistletoe growing out of the top of her head. Chances are you’ll be annoyed with yourself and Aunt Doris won’t thank you either! If you can move your subject to a clear area do so, or try shooting from a different angle. Sometimes, however, it’s impossible to remove distracting and cluttered objects in photos and this leads to the next tip…

Go in for a close-up

If you have a digital camera, use a wide aperture (small f number), get in close and focus on the subject matter. This will blur any unwanted distractions in the background whilst at the same time help the viewer to know exactly what it is they are meant to focus their attention on. Close-up shots using any camera (including your phone) can help to highlight expressions and personalities if taking a portrait or bring out details such as colours, textures and patterns when shooting an inanimate object.  Tree decorations, frosted leaves and bows and ribbons are all good close-up material.  So get in close…and then get even closer.

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Be Original

No doubt your Facebook feed has been overloaded with shots of Christmas trees since December 1st and – as beautiful as they all are- they do start to look a bit generic after a while. So have a think about how you could shoot yours differently – think about using different angles, shooting from outside through the window or deliberately shooting out of focus. Don’t just stop with the tree; for everything you shoot think how you could capture it differently to how you normally do it. What would a super close-up shot of the brussel sprouts look like?  How different does the pile of presents look  when shooting from the floor?

Also, consider shooting things often overlooked – such as the putting up of the decorations, dad wrapping up the presents at the last minute or mum topping up the Christmas cake with brandy (again!). Just don’t get in everyone’s way whilst you do it or you could end up with very little to unwrap come the big day.

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Do More Snapping & Less Checking

Looking at your camera’s review or playback screen is useful to make sure that your settings are resulting in the photos you want, but do it after every couple of shots and you’re likely to miss so many great moments. When you only have one chance to get the shot right (such as capturing children opening their presents), sort out your settings beforehand – think about light, where people are positioned and make adjustments if necessary – then keep your finger on the shutter button (and use continuous or burst mode if you have an SLR). This will ensure that you don’t miss that moment of pure excitement (or bitter disappointment!) when the gifts are unwrapped.

If shooting a winter scene outdoors, take a short time to identify the best viewpoint, get your settings sorted and wait for the perfect moment to press the shutter – you never who or what could suddenly appear in your frame that could elevate a simple landscape into a classic Christmas card shot.

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If you love having memories captured to treasure for years to come but are not a natural photographer, or perhaps  love photographing when you have time but Christmas always leaves you exhausted, why not get someone else to do the photography for you? Teenagers might love the opportunity to try out their new iPhone camera by snapping snoring granny, whilst handing the camera to the other other half might get them out from under your feet in the kitchen. Don’t be afraid to let someone else capture the festive memories if you think they can do a better job.

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Finally, don’t spend Christmas stressing over new techniques or capturing perfect shots. Enjoy spending time with loved ones. Relax, have fun and have a very Merry Christmas.

I’d love to see some of your festive shots. You can share them below, email or post them on my Facebook page.

I look forward to seeing you in 2016.


Ross Willsher is a social (weddings and portraits) and commercial photographer based in Chelmsford, Essex.