6 Tips for photographing your family during the holidays

Have you ever tried to photograph the goings on of your family during the holiday season?

If they turned out exactly how you wanted them to, and you routinely print them and hang them all over your house, and life is perfect, you can send this link to someone else and feel good about yourself. But if that’s not the case for you…I’m going to dive into some tips and tricks that will help you take better photos and capture a more full narrative of your family.

photography family for the holidays

1. Keep a camera on you

Yes, even if it’s your phone. It’s cliche, but it’s cliche for a good reason. No camera, no photos. And over the holidays, things just sort of…happen. At least in my family. We have our wee rituals and traditions, but I like to keep a camera close to hand for those times when my dad starts making faces while cooking, or when my sister knocks over the sugar, or the dog consents to wearing antlers for 2.5 seconds.

photography family for the holidays

2. Learn how to use your camera properly

Basic? Yes. Needs to be said? Also yes. Here’s why: no matter how good your camera is, if you’re shooting in auto, you’re going to run into trouble. Cameras are definitely getting better, but “holiday moments” happen in so many different environments: in the kitchen, in the snow, next to a fire… your camera can only do so well, and those lighting situations aren’t always ideal or easy for the camera to deal with on its own. To get the look that you want, you need to be able to manipulate some camera settings.

I did a whole series on manual camera settings if you need a refresher!

For all the changing scenarios, though, I actually recommend shooting in program mode, or shutter priority, or whichever makes sense for you. If you’re super comfortable in manual, can change settings rapidly without really thinking about it, and are familiar with what settings are appropriate for different situations, then go to town. But even I throw the camera into shutter priority sometimes. No shame in that, kids.

photography family for the holidays

3. Find the light

…this isn’t about Jesus. It’s about the windows in your house.

The better your camera is, the easier it is to shoot in low light, but let’s not make things more difficult than they need to be. No one has the time or energy for that. You can’t shoot in the shadows without cranking that ISO or using a long exposure, and neither of those are ideal. Document things as they happen, shadows or no, but make use of your windows when you can!

If it’s just too dark, make use of a flash! You don’t need to set up an expensive, cumbersome, off-camera setup with soft boxes; a simple hotshoe flash, bounced off your ceiling or walls, will do the trick. …just don’t point it right at people. That’s mean and your photos won’t look nice.

photography family for the holidays

4. Capture the details

This will help with tip #5, so…you know. Pay attention.

Instead of just taking a photo of your tree and moving on to something else, for example, get up close and take a few of individual ornaments. Change your perspective–lie on the ground and shoot upwards. Create images of the pine needles on the floor, the tree half-decorated while your dad tries to untangle the lights, the cat chasing tinsel, your grandmother’s hands as she hangs an ornament.

photography family for the holidays

5. Think about the story

Looking back at an image helps remind us of the events surrounding that image. When you’re documenting things, think about the narrative as a whole; tell a story.

e.g. don’t just take a picture of the pie. Take a photo of the handwritten recipe on the counter, of your mum wiping flour on her apron, of your sister sneaking a taste, of the mess in the kitchen, of the dog underfoot hoping someone will drop something. That sequence of images will offer a much more full story than a quick snapshot of the pie at the end.

photography family for the holidays

6. Print them out

I. Love. Printed. Photos.

There is definitely a future blog post planned about why I love them and why you should print your images either on their own or in an album. But basically: what is the point of creating these images if you don’t get to look at them all the time…?


This can be a hectic time of year, but do yourself a favour and take a few minutes here and there to slow down and snap a few photos, even if they’re just on your phone. Your family, and your future self, will be so grateful xx

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