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Fresh perspective: East Coast photographers offer tips for capturing perfect Christmas photos

Baby Noah Enman was all smiles for his portrait. "Digitally, I have helped parents capture their newborn memories through video instructions and Zoom. I help to pose their little ones at home safely while parents take photos. I then can digitally place them in any prop that I have in my studio and still create those custom newborn images," said Smees. - Jennifer Smees Photography
Baby Noah Enman was all smiles for his portrait. "Digitally, I have helped parents capture their newborn memories through video instructions and Zoom. I help to pose their little ones at home safely while parents take photos. I then can digitally place them in any prop that I have in my studio and still create those custom newborn images," said Jennifer Smees. - Jennifer Smees Photography

Taking photographs over the festive season is not just about getting the right shot while making everyone miserable doing it.

Instead, follow these simple steps offered by two East Coast professionals to get everyone on board and help prevent the amateur home photographer from being one candy cane away from snapping.

P.E.I. photographer Amy Parsons says, "Take your family pictures at a time of day when kids are at their best. I find mornings are generally best for young children, so plan to do these festive activities when the family is fresh."

Amy Parsons Photography, located in Charlottetown, is a newborn and family photographer. She captured this festive picture of Lincoln Waddell indoors. - Amy Parsons Photography
Amy Parsons Photography, located in Charlottetown, is a newborn and family photographer. She captured this festive picture of Lincoln Waddell indoors. - Amy Parsons Photography

 

Winter may be cold, but this is a bright and happy season, says Parsons, so dress the part.

"If posing in front of a Christmas tree, I put my subjects a few feet in front so that their faces pop (and the tree looks beautiful but slightly blurred in the background). Choose colours that are bright and add in some patterns. Clothing that matches too much tends to get lost, so let each person be unique."

And when it comes to illuminating a soft portrait or creating a dramatic moody look with shadows, "the natural light hitting a face from a window" can meet every need, Parsons said.

CAMERA EQUIPMENT AND PHONES

Jennifer Smees, who runs Jennifer Smees Photography in Lorne, N.S., says there's no need for expensive camera equipment. A cell phone can work just as well.

"Luckily, today's smartphone technology laughs in the face at low-light situations as most devices can produce bright, clear images in almost any situation. Ideally, you will want to shoot in the best natural light possible," said Smees.

"But for those Christmas Eve and early morning excitement moments in the dimmer light, a phone with a 'night' option is best. The latest iPhone, for example, has a new night mode feature that comes on automatically when needed, or select the burst mode setting on your camera to take multiple shots."

Austin and Sydney Smees are captured in a Christmas shot by their mother, Jennifer Smees.
Austin and Sydney Smees are captured in a Christmas shot by their mother, Jennifer Smees.

 

When operating a camera, Smees says using a tripod helps with stabilization in low light and more prolonged exposure.

"You'll be able to fine-tune and set your framing, so you can focus on wrangling the family, and if you don't have someone behind the camera snapping pics, a tripod makes it easier for you to set a timer and jump in the shot," she said.

There are many affordable options when it comes to tripods.

"From pocket-sized ones to those with bendy, grippy legs for mounting on just about anything - the online shopping site Amazon is your friend here. If you already have a tripod, you can add a smartphone attachment," said Smees, while noting a chair or table are other options.

Ava Deon is holding her festive teddy as a prop for a photo. - Jennifer Smees Photography
Ava Deon is holding her festive teddy as a prop for a photo. - Jennifer Smees Photography

 

Parsons shared another secret weapon when it comes down to on-camera flash.

"Do not point the flash directly at the subjects, but bounce it off the ceiling. This technique adds dramatic, soft, or illumination to the subject. For an S.L.R. camera, shoot wide open with the lowest aperture in manual mode. It will get that nice, blurred background and bright focus on the faces."

One more useful tip, said Parsons, "Portrait mode is a great way to achieve that shallow depth of field or that out-of-focus 'bokeh' background that makes professional portraits so beautiful. People and faces pop while lightly fuzzing out those twinkling tree lights or falling snowflakes."

This picture of Rhea and Taylor MacPherson was taken by Jennifer Smees Photography.  "Currently, I stepped forward again and opened my studio up to families for school portraits and Christmas portraits at a discounted rate, so that parents do not miss out on this milestone because of COVID," said Smees, who is using a 'digital' Santa this year for the little ones. - Jennifer Smees Photography
This picture of Rhea and Taylor MacPherson was taken by Jennifer Smees Photography. "Currently, I stepped forward again and opened my studio up to families for school portraits and Christmas portraits at a discounted rate, so that parents do not miss out on this milestone because of COVID," said Smees, who is using a 'digital' Santa this year for the little ones. - Jennifer Smees Photography

 

PROPS TO SPRUCE UP THE BACKGROUND

Gathering the family around the Christmas tree's twinkling lights or the fireplace is one of the classic and easy to pull off backdrops, says Smees.

"But another great option for photographing the kids or getting a great solo shot of your newborn indoors is to use festive wrapping paper, or the buffalo check patterned cozy blanket that you have laying on the couch as a backdrop," Smees said.

"It's cheap, and you can pretty much hang it from anything, like the side of the crib, draped over the couch or some chairs. Add a cozy rug for some floor texture, and you got yourself a D.I.Y. studio – make sure to set it up with the backdrop facing a window with nice natural light."

Parsons noted she often utilizes the Christmas tree or a wreath blurred in her portraits' background.

Amy Parsons Photography captured Josh Patterson, Johanna Egan, and their son, Cole Patterson, in a festive outdoor scene. - Amy Parsons Photography
Amy Parsons Photography captured Josh Patterson, Johanna Egan, and their son, Cole Patterson, in a festive outdoor scene. - Amy Parsons Photography

 

SHOOTING OUTDOORS

Do not forget about making outdoor memories, too, says Smees.

"One main tip for shooting in an outdoor setting is to turn your subject away from the sun or place them in the shade so that the sun is not in their eyes. It will prevent the squinting eyes we see in most outdoor portraits."

So what's the best time?

Smees explained, "If shooting in the evening, your best bet is to shoot at dusk and start with the ISO at around 400 and your aperture for f/8 and adjust from there, but most cameras and smartphones are pretty well advanced now for point and shoot – figuring it all out for you."

Professionals covet that "golden hour" - the last hour before sunset and the first hour after sunrise, said Parsons.

"And it is nice to have some items in the photo of varying heights to offer some visual interest," she added.

Cole Patterson takes to the props used by Amy Parsons Photography. - Amy Parsons - SaltWire Network
Cole Patterson takes to the props used by Amy Parsons Photography. - Amy Parsons - SaltWire Network

 

THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX

When asked what makes the best holiday pictures, Smees replied, "thinking outside the box" because of COVID-19.

"Send digital cards or video messages instead this year. It opens new and fun ways to wow family and friends with your adorable creative selves while keeping our front-line mail workers safe."

She confessed she uses smartphone apps, such as time-lapse, Boomerang, and filters on pictures.

"If selfies are your thing, the latest phones have a new 'slofie' feature (a short slow-motion video). Get kids outside for a snowball fight or gather around the tree and toss some tinsel or ribbon up in the air. The results are not only festive, but a lot of fun and creates some fun memories all at the same time."

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