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5 Fun and Festive Christmas Photo Ideas (+ Tips)

Posting5 Fun and Festive Christmas Photo Ideas (+ Tips)first appeared inSchool of Digital Photography. It was written byLara Joy Brynildssen.

Fun and festive holiday photography ideas

Holidays in the Northern Hemisphere can be a bleak time of year for photographers. Daylight hours are short, temperatures drop, and leaves have fallen from the trees. Fortunately, in December, cities and suburbs are decorated in a blaze of Christmas lights and colors – so even if you’d rather spend time indoors, I encourage you to get outside and create something beautiful and colorfulholiday images.

What types of photos can you capture? While you can always just hit the road with your camera and explore, I’ve put together a list of several festive Christmas photography ideas to inspire you – So read this article, put on a warm coat, and enjoy the holiday season!

1. Look for dazzling colors

Exaggerated festive decorations are bursting with color. Stores like Macy’s use festive décor as a way to draw customers into the store, and it’s also a draw for photographers. You can photograph the splashes of color in the shop windows, and you can even venture inside (especially if you want to get out of the cold!).

Just look at this red light:

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If you shoot outdoors during the day, you can work handheld with no problem. However, if you want to capture the colors of the windows at night, you mustbring a tripod orwork with a camera that offers excellenthigh ISO capabilities. If you decideshoot handheld camera in low light, you’ll need to increase that ISO, often to around 1600 or higher.

If you photographinsidestores, you can stay near the windows for brighter light, or you can move further into the store. You will not be able to bring a tripod – this is a big no-no in most establishments – so you’ll have to do your best to keep your hands steady while you work.

By the way, in addition to the riot of Christmas color, the stores are full of signs, bright spotlights and people, so be creative when composing your images. Try some unusual perspectives to help you avoid distracting elements.

Sometimes it helps to zoom in when composing. Don’t worry about fitting your entire subject into its frame. Instead, move around and find a composition with repetitive elements:

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If you don’t have a huge department store to explore, that’s fine; just head to your local mall or high street shopping district. Store owners work hard to make their windows look beautiful! Again, think outside the box when composing your images. Don’t be afraid to try different angles, have fun trying severalbokeh effects(especially when it comes to Christmas lights), and do your best to create unique shots!

2. Look for lights

Cities are amazing places for vacation photowalks, especially because of the lights. If you live in or near a big city, make sureBe sure to bring a tripod to large parks and plazas that often have illuminated trees. Super large outdoor trees make great focal points, and they also make great backgrounds because the twinkling lights can blur into a beautiful bokeh effect. (Just make sure you use a longer lens – 50mm is a good focal length – and alarge aperturelike f/1.8.)

When taking photos in the city, arrive just before dark to observe your location and find good backgrounds. A good time to photograph the Christmas lights ishour after sunsetbecause the sky is a beautiful shade of blue and bright enough to capture images of people. That being said, you may want to get your tripod – or, if you want to freeze people in action, turn up your ISO.

For this next shot, I was planning to photograph the skaters at the rink below the boardwalk. However, this couple looked so beautiful bathed in golden light that I couldn’t help but take a photo of them.

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A really fun Christmas photography idea is to focus on a lit tree branch, especially if the bulbs are unusual. You’ll want to look for an isolated tree branch with a clean background. Then open your opening to its widest setting – preferably f/1.8 or f/1.4 – and let the farthest bulbs dissolve into smooth round circles:

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By the way, scenes filled with twinkling white Christmas lights look great in – but they also look beautiful in black and white. For images like these, the trick is to burn slightly, soyour histogramlooks like this:

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You see, those twinkly white lights are bright, and if you expose too far to the right, they’ll look washed out in your final image. By underexposing and keeping the histogram stacked to the left, you may lose some detail in the shadows, but since the goal is to capture the flickering highlights, it’s more important that you preserve detail in the highlights.

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If you’re primarily interested in capturing the lights in your surroundings, attaching your camera to a tripod is the way to go. But if you’re trying to photograph the lights alongside moving subjects (such as a group of people), turn up your ISO and hold on a bit.

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3. Photograph the Christmas flora

Most macro photographers get desperate when winter comes. However, the festivities offer an exciting variety of plants and flowers that are great for festive photo ops.

You can often find large Christmas flowers in botanical gardens, and you can also find plenty of poinsettias, red berries, and pine trees (on street corners, hanging on shop doors, etc.). I would recommend working with your closest focus lens (while adedicated macro lensis generally better, standard 50mm lenses often offer surprisingly high maximum magnifications). Then choose a smaller aperture and have lots of fun with close-ups!

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If you prefer an art-style look with softer focus, try widening your aperture so that only a small part of the flower is focused.

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Of course, you can also buy Christmas bouquets at your local grocery store, then create a little studio setup at home and see what you can capture.

One more tip: while the more festive images tend to feature bright Christmas flowers, I also encourage you to look for darker, more moody images. Look for snow piled in crowns, dying leaves hanging from trees, and tiny plants poking out of the ice. These photos won’t exactly bring Christmas cheer, but they will help capture the contrast between the brightly lit streets and the cold, dark winter.

4. Capture thumbnail scenes

Norman-Rockwell-style miniature towns pop up everywhere during the holidays. For some people, these models are family heirlooms and setting them up each year is an important festive rite. If you have a friend who sets up one of these treasured villages each December, ask if you can come over and photograph it.

You can also find exquisite miniature scenes in public places, such as the Winter Wonderland Express at the Chicago Botanic Garden:

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The key to successfully shooting miniature scenes is to shoot at eye level and find a specific focal point, like the train in the image above. This point of view successfully highlights all the small and intricate details.

And if you can’t find any miniature scenes or don’t feel like leaving the house, you can always create one using Accessories! Find a crystal orb, place it in front of your festive display, and watch the scene compress and flip:

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To create such an image, you may need to experiment a bit with the position of the orb. Move it around, place it on tables and shelves and see what it reflects. And once you find a great mirrored composition, place your camera at the same level as the orb. Focus on the orb scene and let the background blur. For the image above, I used f/16 to get sharp orb detail, but you can always experiment with f/8 or even f/4. Since you’ll be shooting indoors, you’ll probably want to choose afaster shutter speed– mine was two seconds – and a tripod or other sturdy method of support is recommended to prevent motion blur from shaky hands.

5. Photograph music

Buskers and musicians abound during the holidays and if you’re lucky you might spot some of them even on a short photo walk. You can take street photography-style portraits of musicians, or you can shoot the larger scene, complete with festive lights and dazzled onlookers.

In this first image, the background was messier than I would have liked, but the harpist’s face was so angelic as she sang that I had to capture the moment. If you plan on taking this type of candid shot, you’ll probably want to hand-hold the camera to avoid attracting attention. Again, be sure to keep your ISO high if you’re shooting in low light, and widen your aperture for a softer background. (This is the perfect opportunity to try out a 50mm prime lens and experiment with wide apertures, such as f/1.8, f/2, or f/2.8.)

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Alternatively, you can adopt a slower shutter speed and let the motion blur work for you. Think of it like watching music! The photo below is intentionally blurred because I wanted to show the energy and enthusiasm of the marching band:

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To make your image look this way, focus on a key element but intentionally set a slow shutter speed. Try 1/10 to start, assess the blur level, then readjust as needed to get the look right. There is no right or wrong here; Keep experimenting until you get a shot you’re happy with!

Christmas Photography Ideas: Final Words

These five ideas are just a few of the many ways you can create fun and beautiful images around the holidays. Of course, if you plan to shoot outdoors, don’t forget to dress warm and stop often for hot chocolate!

Do you have any more great ideas to capture the holiday season? Share them in the comments below!

Posting5 Fun and Festive Christmas Photo Ideas (+ Tips)first appeared inSchool of Digital Photography. It was written byLara Joy Brynildssen.

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