tips for holiday photos

Is there anything cuter than kids at Christmas? I mean besides kittens in pyjamas. Seriously though, Christmas is one of those highlights of the year where we all like to get our cameras out and capture some special memories for the family photo album. Today I’m going to give you my top 5 tips for making sure you get the best possible photos of your little tykes this Christmas.

Get down on their level for great holiday photos

I’m a huge advocate for photography as a storytelling medium. I believe the most powerful and engaging images are not photographs of people having their photograph taken, but photographs where the subject is focussed on something other than the camera. When you are photographing children, I think it can be really helpful to get down to their level, literally. See the world from their perspective and immediately you’ll find opportunities you never would’ve seen from your usual perspective looking downwards. And while you’re down there, try to get as close as you can so that you’re filling as much of the frame as possible with your subject. Close-ups of beautiful beaming faces always get the best responses!

Use burst mode

Kids tend to move around a lot, and that’s perfectly natural. It’s just part of the joy of being young; exploring and experimenting and using that amazing energy we were all born with. As parents though, we seem to spend a disproportionate amount of time trying to curb that enthusiasm, whether for safety reasons or just for peace and quiet. Also when we’re taking photos there’s that habit of saying ‘Hold still!’ which can become frustrating when our kids have other ideas! To me it makes more sense to indulge children and allow them to be themselves. It’s just another aspect of the storytelling process that can really help to make great images – and maintain your sanity! One of the camera settings that can be really helpful in this regard is burst mode. Burst mode allows you to take multiple shots with a single click of the shutter button. Pretty much every modern camera has this mode and while it’s most often associated with shooting sports and action photos, it’s super handy when working with kids whose facial expressions change by the millisecond. And some of the frame rates on new cameras are phenomenal, like the Canon 7D MkII which shoots 10 frames per second, or the Sony RX100 M5 which shoots a mind-boggling 24 frames per second! Possibly a bit over the top, but hey, some kids have crazy energy!

Find your light source

I emphasize the importance of light in photography every chance I get. Good lighting makes such a huge difference to your images, and I could talk all day long about ways to improve your lighting. But first and foremost, you need to identify your primary light source, because if there isn’t a decent light source, you’ll struggle to make a captivating image. Once you have identified your light source, be it a window or a lamp, or even a tree with lots of lights, you need to make sure your subject (i.e. your kid) is facing towards that light source. Yes you can use flash if you need to, but it’s not always the most flattering light, and my general preference is not to use it, unless I want to create a really immediate and punchy feeling, which doesn’t often work for kids portraits. I’ve actually written an entire article devoted to the topic of identifying your light source, which is a really good primer if you’re feeling a bit unsure about what I’ve just discussed.

Become A Better Photographer: Find Your Light Source

Enlist an assistant

One of the most challenging aspects of making any kind of portrait is engaging with your subject at the same time as you are trying to compose a great image. It really is incredibly difficult to do both effectively at the same time. If there is someone else with you who doesn’t need to be in the photograph, then by all means ask them to do the job of engaging your kids while you concentrate on taking the photos. Studio photographers often keep toys and little noisemakers handy for exactly this purpose.


Image courtesy of Noah Hinton

Expression trumps all

This is one of the most important rules to remember in photography, because while good lighting and good composition are really important factors, it’s the actual expression in a photograph that trumps everything else. Your average viewer won’t comment on the technical aspects of a photograph, but rather the emotional ones, like a laughing face or a look of wonderment, or even disappointment! This is actually something that wedding photographers need to be keenly aware of because there’s often a disparity between the photographers favourite images and those that the client responds to. When I’m editing wedding photos I’m always aware that no matter how artfully composed an image is, if there isn’t an actual emotion being expressed, it likely won’t make much impression on my clients. Keep this rule in mind when you’re photographing your kids this Christmas, and look for those moments of genuine emotion, and you’ll find yourself with a trove of heart-warming memories that you’ll enjoy for years and years to come.

Make some prints of those holiday photos!

Nowadays we are taking more photos than ever before, but for the most part they live on our phones or our hard drives or in the cloud somewhere. But while we’re talking about creating beautiful memories I want to also emphasize the importance of actually printing some photographs from time to time and hanging them on our walls. Most of us grew up with family portraits on our walls, but sadly it’s a tradition that’s fallen by the wayside a bit, which is a pity because there are more options than ever before for ordering prints, and even inkjet printers like the Epson Artisan are really affordable and capable of printing fantastic, decent sized prints. Another cool option is the Fujifilm Instax SHARE Smartphone Wireless Photo Printer which allows you to print funky little Instax prints straight from your smart device.

Featured image courtesy of Beatriz Pérez Moya

Justin Morrison
I am a professional photographer, working in motion and stills. I create portrait, lifestyle and documentary work, and I strive to tell real and authentic stories. Based in Vancouver, British Columbia.