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4 Essential Tips for Taking Better Photos this Holiday Season

12th December 2015

With the holiday season fast approaching, many budding photographers will undoubtedly be dusting off their cameras as they prepare to document the festivities and create new memories. But if you want to avoid the blurry, overexposed, red-eyed or generally chaotic photos of Christmases gone by, here are a few things to keep in mind.

1. Pay attention to the background

When shooting indoors you’ll likely be dealing with a fairly busy background that doesn’t lend itself well to serene Christmas photos, so before you press the shutter, spend a moment taking in the whole scene in front of you rather than just the thing you’re trying to photograph.

Would the photo feel less chaotic if you zoomed in a bit to avoid including those half-empty plates of food? Does the mistletoe in the corner appear to be sprouting out of Uncle Harry’s head? Would a wider aperture make the discarded wrapping paper in the background less distracting?

2.Be careful with the flash

Unless you know what you’re doing, it’s best to avoid using your camera’s built-in flash. Using the flash in low-light conditions can lead to terribly overexposed images as well as harsh shadows and horrifying red eyes. So how do you get good photos in low light conditions if you can’t use your flash? Here are a few tips:

Reduce your shutter speed

Shutter speed is the length of time your camera’s shutter will be open for when you take a photo. The longer the shutter stays open, the more light gets through, so in lower light conditions, you may want the shutter to stay open for a bit longer.

Use a tripod

The downside to slower shutter speeds is that you’ll get more motion blur. The best way to avoid this is to use a tripod to stabilise the camera. Unfortunately, the tripod will only prevent the camera from moving, so if you’re photographing people or moving objects, you won’t be able to reduce your shutter speed by very much.

Raise your ISO

If you can’t reduce the shutter speed due to motion blur, you can raise your ISO instead. When you raise the ISO, your sensor becomes more sensitive to the light that hits it, so you can get well-lit photos in low-light conditions without using your flash. Generally, ISO 100 to 200 is a good setting for outdoor photos, while an ISO setting of 400 to 800 will work better indoors.

Use a wider aperture

Aperture is the little hole that allows the light to get through to your image sensor, so the wider the aperture, the more light you’ll be letting in. One thing to keep in mind is that using a wider aperture means less of the picture will be in focus.

This is great for portraits where you want to isolate the subject and blur the background, but not so great for group shots, so you’ll need to find the right balance between using your tripod, reducing the shutter speed, raising the ISO and increasing the aperture.

3. Adjust the white balance

White balance is a setting that controls the colour temperature of your photographs. This is important because different types of light have different characteristics, and using the wrong setting can distort the colours in your photographs, giving them an overly blue, orange or green hue.

The most common white balance settings are automatic white balance (AWB), daylight, cloudy, shade, flash, fluorescent light and tungsten. You can use the automatic setting if you don’t want to have to think about it, but adjusting the white balance manually is usually more effective.

So, for instance, if you’re photographing indoors with artificial yellow light, you’ll want to change the white balance setting to tungsten, whereas if you moved outside, you’d need to change your white balance setting to daylight, cloudy or shade, depending on the weather conditions.

4. Take candid shots

A few posed group shots are par for the course when you’ve got your whole family together for the first time in months, but try to resist the urge to make everyone stop what they’re doing and bare their teeth every time you take a photo.

Instead, catch people off-guard as they engage in activities like preparing food, exchanging gifts or chatting animatedly around the table. Yes, you’ll probably end up with a few photos of people with their eyes half closed or their mouths full of food, but you’ll also capture a lot of genuinely fun moments that are a far better representation of the occasion than a self-consciously posed photo.