One of the oldest and most popular Christmas poems ever, commonly referred to as “Twas The Night Before Christmas,” was written in the early 19th century.  Though its author is disputed, with the poem being attributed to both Clement Clarke Moore and Henry Livingston Jr. over the years, it was definitely first published on Dec. 23, 1823 in the Troy Sentinel newspaper in upstate New York.  It has also been referred to as “A Visit From St. Nicholas” or “The Night Before Christmas.”

Well, this is not it and I apologize to whomever wrote it.

A Visit From The Christmas Photographer

'Twas just a few weeks before Christmas, 
     and all thro' the land,
I thought that some quick guidelines,
     for your Christmas photos might be at hand.

The stockings were hung by the fireplace with care,
In hopes that they'd be captured in a photo while there.

The children were all buried in their electronic devices,
With visions of Snapchat and Instagram lighting their eyes.

When out in the blogasphere there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my PS4 to see what was the matter.

I logged in to my computer to see what was wrong,
And all I could find was the same old song.

"How can my photos of this 'once-a-year' eye-feast,
Be something that people want to share at the least?"

I poured through the blogs and saw all the chatter,
And then I decided to weigh in on the matter.

by James Hale (with apologies)


Please forgive my attempt at rewriting one of the most famous poems of all times.  So, without further ado, (and definitely no more cheesy attempts at poetry) here are some Christmas Photography Tips and ideas that you might try or to help you inspire your own ideas for capturing Christmas Photos.

Be Like Santa Clause – Make a list and check it twice!


  • Making sure you’re ready to capture the big day is key to any successful photo session.  Getting yourself ready is good, but also getting the location of your photos ready is worthwhile.
  • Pack the camera (duh?).  Sometimes in the hustle and bustle of holiday gatherings and parties, you can forget some of the most important things!
  • Make sure you have good batteries or that your camera is charged.  You might even take extras in case you shoot a lot!
  • Does your camera take memory cards?  If so, what happens if it quits working all of the sudden?  Take or buy extras so that if the inevitable does happen, you won’t be caught without a backup.  Memory cards are small and you can even carry them in your wallet.
  • Consider the light in the room where you’ll be taking photographs.  Is there enough light that your camera flash won’t have to work so hard?  The darker it is, the more an automatic flash has to work and the more battery it will consume.
  • Is the room that you will be photographing in too cluttered?  Is there an angle that you could take photographs from that would reduce the amount of clutter in the background?  Anything you can do at the location to help make the focus of your photos that which you intend will help.

A White Balance Christmas?

If you are photographing with an automatic camera, you probably can’t do anything about this, but if you are shooting with a camera that allows you to set the white balance on it, you probably should pay attention to your surrondings.  If you should outdoors, you probably won’t have to worry about it too much, but shooting indoors, you will be in many different types of light.  If you are shooting in RAW then you should be able to adjust it later, but to eliminate the manual adjustments and time it takes later, set your white balance accordingly to the environment that you’re in.

Set up a DIY Photo Booth

While you probably can’t afford to hire a photo booth for your party  or gathering, you can set up a ‘portrait zone’ of your own where you’ll take photos of your guests.  This can be done very simply.

Find a quiet corner close to the action of the day and decorate it with some of your favorite holiday things.  A red tablecloth or sheet on the wall, some mistletoe and perhaps even a few hand-held party props which you can purchase at any party store.  Or if you’re handy, you can make your own.  Just look up “photobooth props” in google and you’ll get some ideas.  You might even get a few of those Santa hats at your local Walmart or big box store.

Invite everyone to come sit down and mug for the camera.  Take some serious portraits in the beginning, and then leave the camera setup with a remote (wired or wireless) so that they can take the photos themselves.  If you can set it up so that it’s tethered, then people can see the photographs as they take them as well.  If someone is not there to take the photograph people have a tendency to “mug” it up a little bit more. 


Capture the preparation stages

The actual Christmas meal or party is obviously the best part of the day, but there are other photographic opportunities, particularly in the preparations stages of the day.

  • Food preparation
  • Putting up decorations
  • Wrapping gifts
  • Kids throwing a tantrum while getting dressed in their Christmas outfits
  • Setting the table

The shots before the event starts properly are often great because they show everything at it’s best before everyone descends on your party zone.

Before and After Shots

Speaking of shots before the party starts, why not set up some before and after shots both of the place you’re holding your party and what it looks like afterwards. Make sure you take the shots from the same position.


Time-lapse Christmas series

I have one friend who set up his computer with a web cam in the corner of the room with the camera looking down on the Christmas table. He set the camera to go off every 5 minutes over the day and ended up with one of the most wonderful series of shots that I’ve seen for a long time.


Christmas Lights

Photographing Christmas lights is something that can be tricky to do. David Hobby from Strobist has put together a great tutorial on how to do it. Check it out at How to Photograph Christmas Lights.


Find a Point of Interest – but just per shot

All good shots should have a focal point that holds the attention of those viewing your images. The problem with Christmas is that there can often be too many competing focal points in shots with people, color, decorations, food in every shot. Work hard and de-cluttering your images. Check out this post on minimalism which contains some tips on de-cluttering images.


Fresh Group Photos

One of the most common types of shots at Christmas is the ‘group photo’. It’s usually taken at the end of the evening or day when everyone is looking at their worst. For a ‘fresher’ shot take it once everyone has arrived. Also think before hand about how you might pose everyone and where you might take the shot. I’ve posted 12 tips for taking a great group photo previously.


Opening Gifts – Shoot in Continuous Mode

There are certain moments during a Christmas gathering that are filled with all manner of photographic opportunities and the opening of gifts is like no other in that it is filled with an array of emotions, facial expressions and excitement – especially if you’ve got kids around. Switch your camera to burst mode (sometimes called continuous shooting mode) and take lots of shots at this time of the festivities. You’ll find you end up with some excellent series of shots when you do this that capture everything from the anticipation of getting the wrapped gift, through to the excitement of unwrapping to the joy (or occasionally disappointment) of seeing what’s inside. Don’t forget to shoot the reactions of those who GIVE the gift as well.


Fill Your Frame

One of the most common mistakes I see in Christmas photos (or any party/even photography) is that people often end up with shots of their subjects off in the distance on the other side of a room with lots of space around them. Fill your frame with your subject either by using your zoom or getting up and moving yourself closer. While this is one of the simplest tips I ever give it is one that can have the most profound impact on your shots.


Diffuse/Reflect Your Flash

– Another common problem with Christmas shots is ending up with shots where the flash is so bright that subjects look like rabbits in a spotlight with harsh shadows behind them. One way around this is to use some sort of a flash diffuser or reflector. If you’re lucky enough to have an external flash try bouncing it off walls or the ceiling. Another way to reduce the impact of your flash and to create some interesting effects is to switch your camera into ‘night mode’ (slow sync mode). This will tell your camera to choose a slower shutter speed but still fire your flash. In doing so it’ll capture some of the ambient light of the room as well as freeze your subject. Be warned, you can end up with some wacky shots doing this (but they can also be lots of fun).


Go Macro

Most digital cameras come with a macro mode and an increasing number of DPS readers are buying macro lenses so flick to that mode, attach your lens and photograph the smaller things around your party. Ornaments on the tree, table decorations, sweets in the bowl on the table, a nativity scene on the mantle piece, holly above the doorway – sometimes it’s these small things around your party that are the real ‘money shots’. Don’t forget our Macro Hacks for compact cameras.


Watch Your Aperture

I quite often shoot in Aperture Priority mode on a day like Christmas and am constantly changing the aperture depending upon my subject. For example when taking shots of a Christmas decoration on the tree I’ll select a large aperture (a small number like f/2.8) so as to throw the background out of focus, but on a shot taken from the end of the table of everyone sitting down eating I’ll choose a small aperture (like f/8 to f/11 or more) so as to have a larger depth of field and keep everyone in focus.


Explore Your Neighborhood

If your neighborhood is anything like mine there is an almost unlimited number of photographic opportunities presenting themselves all around you. Christmas carols services, houses covered in Christmas decorations, shopping malls filled with busyness etc.  Get out there with your camera and capture it. It’s a wonderful time of year to practice using your camera. Have fun!

Some Additional Reading You Might Enjoy

I found an article that you might want to read in order to give your photos that little extra “zing” during the holidays.  It’s called bokeh (pronounced like a “bouquet” of flowers).  How to Take Beautiful Bokeh Christmas Lights Images (with 31 great examples).

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from James Hale Photography!