All over the world, people are taking family Christmas photos every year. It's about preserving memories and experiences, and about telling the story of those closest to you.
For photographers, there is a balancing act between getting some really nice photos and also participating with the rest of your family.
In this article, we hope to share some ideas to let you do both. We'll help with some ideas to get great photos and remind you to pass the camera to someone else now and then, so you can be in the photos.
Why Photograph Christmas and other Family Events
Sometimes photographers get so caught up in their photography that they forget to participate in the things going on around them. That's why I've occasionally heard the advice to put the camera down at Christmas and just enjoy being with your family.
I don't want to dispute that advice entirely. There's a lot of good that comes from celebrating your holidays and events as a family. On the other hand, there are some great memories when you look at old photos.
Not only do you want to have those memories, but you also want to share them with family or friends who weren't there when they happened.
My daughter is asking my mother for family Christmas photos from when I was a kid. She's interested to see how we used to do things, and why some of those traditions remain.
Your family Christmas photos aren't just memories for you. They're also part of your family history.
Plan Before Your Big Day
If you show up expecting to get great photos of your family on Christmas Day, then you're making things harder on yourself. That's usually what happens when you just wing it.
Yes, you want to be ready to capture some ad-hoc moments. However, a little forethought and planning can help you get some great photos without a lot of stress.
Think about the kind of photos you want to take.
- The family decorating the Christmas tree and other decorations in your house
- A great shot of the Christmas tree surrounded by presents
- The gift exchange
- A family member opening the “big” or “exciting” gift of the year
- Your Christmas meal
- People enjoying the family gathering
- The mess of wrapping paper and boxes after gift exchange
- Portraits of family members during the day, especially people you don't see often enough
Remember, taking family Christmas photos doesn't mean you only take them on Christmas day. There are a lot of things that lead up to the big day.
The decorations, the shopping trips, and anything else that comes before everyone gathers. In fact, you probably want to get those shots before you have a houseful of guests.
That's one good way to keep from annoying people during Christmas day and giving yourself time to participate instead of hide behind the camera.
If you want to get the shot of a family member opening the “big” gift, talk to the people who know what's inside the present. You want to be prepared when the moment comes so you can see and capture the look on their face when they open their gift.
Likewise, you want to plan your food photography before everyone gathers.
I love photography as much as anyone else, but don't get between me and my Christmas meal when it's time to eat.
How to Capture Family Christmas Photos Without Annoying the Family
Before everyone gathers, try to imagine yourself on the other side of the camera. Think about the kind of Christmas experience they want to have, and let that guide you.
Most people are fine with someone taking photos. However, it's not a photo studio or session for everyone else. They're thinking about snapshots, not someone directing their every move or telling them to wait so you can get in the right spot for a photo.
You need to anticipate moments and move into position for your photos without causing a scene or calling attention to yourself.
I'm also on the fence about using a flash. A much as I love using off-camera flash, I think it's a bit of overkill for family photos during the gift exchange, the meal and most other activities.
You want to capture the ambience and character of the light that people experience in order to tell your story. Adding flash without balancing it with the available light will just make your family memories appear like prison photos.
Go with a fast prime if you have low light. Don't be afraid to bump up the ISO. This isn't a time for light stands and modifiers.
Finally, be a part of the holiday. Your Christmas photos are going to look odd years from now if there aren't any photos of you with your family. Join in, pass the camera and be a part of the story.
Also, don't spend the entire day taking photos. You want to get some moments, not miss out entirely on your family Christmas.
How to Share Your Family Christmas Photos
Now that you have some great photos from your family Christmas celebration, it's time to share!
Just, not with everyone.
These photos are for your family and friends. People you care about or who care about you. You know, people who are not strangers on the Internet.
That's because these photos aren't your work of art – though you may have some high quality results. These are your memories and family history. It's for the people you know and trust. Not for that troll on the Internet who makes snide comments because he doesn't have what you have.
We have a few ways of sharing our photos, because people who are our family and friends have different presences for looking at photos.
Sharing Family Photos Online
One of our favorite methods is to use a Flickr account for an album with limited access. We like Flickr not only because it's easy, but it doesn't compress the snot out of everything like Facebook does with photos.
People actually get to see the quality of your photos, and they can show up in large resolution. You can have conversations about each photo with the comments, knowing that only the folks you invite get to see them.
Flickr lets you create your own albums, galleries or groups with your family and friends. You can even allow people to print your photos.
Flickr is an excellent place to share photos, either publicly or privately.
Facebook offers some ability to limit who sees your photos, but it's a mixed bag. Perhaps more of your people are on Facebook, but the quality of the photos isn't very good due to compression.
Sharing Family Photos in Print
Not everyone wants to view photos online, though.
There's something wonderful about a print. Last year, we made a photo book for my mother. Sometimes we pick out some of the best results and send individual prints. It's easy to say that the older generations prefer print, but I think you may surprise some of your younger family and friends with a nice print, also.
Yes, it costs money. That's OK, though. Christmas is a great time to share some gifts.