The holiday season is a great time to take pictures when everyone is in that joyful spirit. It's fun to take pictures during family gatherings, Christmas pageants and holiday festivals. Parents and friends love to pull out cameras to capture those memorable moments and, with a few tips, the photographs can be even better.
There is an old adage for photographers that "film is cheap," and in this day of digital cards this couldn't be more true. A big difference between professionals and amateurs is that pros shoot a hundred frames to get one great picture and amateurs shoot one picture and think they have it. I never understand why people don't just take 10 pictures at a time because little changes occur with each shot and that could be the difference between a bad image and a good one.
Photography is all about light. Sunlight falling through a window or a soft, cloudy day can do so much to help your picture taking.
Look at your surroundings and notice where the light is coming from and direct your subject toward it. Even holiday lights and candles can provide a nice glow and a wonderful moment.
I like pictures that are natural and I wish everyone would stop telling people to smile for the camera. Wonderful moments are made if you stand back, shoot and let them develop. I hate those pictures at the mall when the child is placed on Santa's lap and they stare at the camera. Smile! Ugh! The best picture is a moment later when the child is aglow asking for their favorite toys and giving Santa a big hug.
Taking beautiful portraits is a little more difficult because it is very awkward for the subjects and very few are comfortable with having their picture taken. A few techniques can improve these images.
Try and shoot someone on a cloudy day when the light is not so harsh. Always pay attention to the background and keep it clean so that there are not any distractions behind them. Far away trees or bushes or lakes are great for backgrounds. Use a long lens, such as a 100 mm or longer, and a low aperture, like f/4 that will reduce the depth of field, and together they will make the background softer. And then shoot lots of pictures. I like to talk to the subject about something funny to distract them from what we are doing.
I prefer shooting with natural light but sometimes you have to a use a flash. Direct flash is terrible indoors. This is a little bit more advanced, but if you can get a flash that tilts upward toward a white ceiling, this will greatly improve your pictures. Attach a white card to the back of the flash so that it bounces a little light at your subject and you will see a world of difference.
The secret to photographing children and pets is to be at their level and to see the world as they do. Get a little dirty and sit or lay down on the floor and enter their world and perspective. Also, shoot fast and shoot often because it takes a lot more pictures to get one that captures their personalities.
Sometimes it's fun to be silly. Grab a Santa suit or reindeer antlers and just have fun while shooting in front of a Christmas tree or out in the snow. Be creative and throw a puppy in an oversized present or stocking and see how they play.
If you get out of your comfort zone as a photographer you will find that the world will open up to you. Take close-ups of a person's hands or feet, shoot upward by laying down and downward by standing on a chair, take pictures of just a persons face, or eyes or mouth. Let the subject move in unconventional poses or wrap themselves around in the scenery around them. Anything to shoot differently.
I discovered a photography book recently and I have been recommending it to everyone. It is titled "The Unforgettable Photograph" by George Lange and it offers 228 ideas, tips and secrets for taking great pictures. The author takes little tips, like those offered here, and uses his pictures to illustrate the concepts. It is a great gift for the holidays.