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Christmas Photography

With Christmas around the corner many photographers are wondering when should Christmas pictures be taken? It’s never too early to practice your Christmas photography skills and we recommend starting as early as September or October. Starting early gives you plenty of time to get your pictures shot and edited before ordering prints, cards and photo gifts, or simply ready for sharing across social channels.

Christmas photography tips and know-how

As you start thinking about the season you’ll begin to notice Christmas photography ideas springing up all around, as lights are put up and our towns and villages are dressed for the holiday season.

Whether you’re a landscape photographer, enjoy portrait photography, still life or street photography, this guide will help you to discover inspiration to capture everything from your own personalised Christmas card photography, to creating festive studio backdrops and even the best camera settings to photograph Christmas lights, string lights and Christmas trees.

You’ll also learn which are the best photography accessories for professional images, while growing your skills through photography tips and inspiration for beginners and enthusiasts.

Table of contents


Enjoying making Christmas pictures

Christmas photography ideas

It can be inspiring to see beautiful snowy photos, but they can leave us wondering ‘how do you take good pictures of Christmas,’ without snow and perfect backdrops? It often comes down to planning, so before you reach for your camera bag and fill it with your gear, it’s good idea to plan out your Christmas shoot.

In order to help inspire you, we’ve got 10 mix and match Christmas photography ideas, which make a good starting point to customise for your own situation to create unique, memorable photos.

Adding seasonal photography props to any of these ideas will help set your pictures apart and items can be gathered throughout the year, ready for use. Decorate each scene with anything from candy canes or a wooden sledge, to fairy lights and tinsel. The clothing you choose for portraits also plays a part, with reds and greens providing seasonal cheer, and neutral tones – ochres and browns creating a rustic feel.

  1. Take photos of yourself and your family cooking and baking for Christmas food photography. Add decorations, festive foliage and fairy lights to add sparkling bokeh, in a well lit and joyful kitchen. When you’re in the shot, set up your camera to take a sequence of shots with timelapse mode or the intervalometer.
  2. Stage a still life with an old chest, teddy bear and a handful of decorations against a light coloured rug or carpet to create a snowy effect. Use a shallow depth of field to introduce selective focus and for cute Christmas pictures at home, light the scene through white sheets, to create a softer feel.
  3. Dress up warmly, bring a brightly coloured blanket and head to a local park or countryside where you can capture family portraits against a beautiful backdrop. If it’s snowy or raining incorporate an umbrella and remember to bring a tripod and remote camera control if you’re going to be in the shot.
  4. If you have a cart, festival trailer or tricycle, dress it with lights, evergreen branches, or even a Christmas tree and capture fun photos of the kids delivering festive cheer.
  5. Frosty mornings are perfect for capturing the mood. Try setting up a teepee or tent, which has been imaginatively decorated, hang Christmas stockings on a line and hold some steaming cups of coffee to add a warming touch to the shot.
  6. Write a chalk board message and ask your subject to hold it towards the camera while posing for their festive photo. This works indoors or out and can be used to spread personal cheer and make announcements, such as an engagement.
  7. Use lowkey lighting while your subject is holding wrapped gifts and frame different compositions with, or without the subject’s face for interesting shots of Christmas gifts.
  8. Draw onto the pavement or decking with shaving foam or chalk and create snow angels without real snow. This idea is pretty messy, but also lots of fun and allows you to play with movement in your photos.
  9. Repurpose wooden pallets to create a Christmas tree stand or a hot cocoa stall with festive decorations and a chalk message. This is a great one for the garden, as well as staging in a countryside setting and the kids will love it!
  10. Paper dolls, trees and other handmade decorations can make a lovely backdrop for portraits. Add candles for intimate lighting and a homemade wreath for a seasonal touch. You can also capture documentary-style images of your family making the decorations for authentic and entirely unique moments.

We hope these ideas spark your imagination and lead to the perfect Christmas photography – and remember it’s all about having fun, experimenting and capturing the mood while enjoying the process.

Using a grey Colorama background to capture seasonal props

Using a grey Colorama background to capture seasonal props

Christmas photography backdrops

Choosing Christmas photography backdrops can help set the mood for a wide range of festive images, including Christmas product photography, food photography and photography for your Christmas cards. For those of us who don’t have a dedicated studio space, a studio backdrop can be set-up to create a temporary Christmas photoshoot at home.

Colorama and Manfrotto are two of the best-known studio lighting brands, with reliable background systems and high quality packable photography backdrops. Choose from a variety of stands to hang vinyl and/or paper rolls, which can be selected according to the size of the subject you’re shooting.

The Colorama Solo Background Support 3m (10 feet) is easy for a solo photographer to set-up, as are the Manfrotto Background Support System LL LA1108 and Manfrotto Heavy Duty Background Support LL LB1128. Countless coloured paper rolls, vinyl and painted backdrops are available, as well as chromakey green for adding your own background during post processing. The most popular clean white backgrounds from Colorama include:

These are made with 70 to 90% recycled paper and all other raw material is sourced from managed renewable sources.

To photograph smaller items including Christmas product photography try the Newell M40 II Shadowless Tent and similar softboxes. These are also ideal for capturing close-up images of holly, twigs, seasonal red berries and other props to embellish your photos with.

Manfrotto lighting clamp

Manfrotto Cold Shoe Spring Clamp in use

Lighting for Christmas photography

Once you have a sturdy background system, props and are ready to shoot, you’ll need some type of artificial studio lighting to complement any available light from a window or doorway. Photography lights can be found for any budget and can get complicated pretty quickly, however a simple lighting kit provides almost everything you need.

The Phottix Nuada S3 II Bi-Colour Video LED Twin Kit comes with a remote, to control two LED light panels. The means you just need to add Sony-compatible NP Batteries, like the Sony NP-FZ100 or a third party alternative, such as the Newell Battery NP-FZ100.

For more experimental lighting you can have fun with a portable LED tube system. The Nanlite Pavotube 15C 2-LED Light Tube Kit. LED lights allow you to illuminate the subject and backgrounds with custom colours, which is perfect for capturing festive scenes. Simply pick a warm orange or red glow to emulate a fireplace for example and you can also capture videos using LED lighting, which broadens their versatility.

Add a portable collapsible reflector to your lighting set-up to bounce extra light and reduce unwanted shadows. Reflectors are also a simple addition when working purely with available light and can be found in silver, gold or white to enhance the final result.

Christmas card prints

Christmas card photography

Christmas card photography can be great fun, whether you want to print your own Christmas cards at home with a photo printer, or use a lab to print them for you. Making personalised cards is a good excuse to don your favourite Christmas jumper, decorate the dog and amuse the kids, while capturing images. Photographing for print typically requires sharp images with the least noise possible, so remember to shoot at fast enough speeds by using supplemental lighting. The list below offers some more tips for your photo shoot:

  • Shoot RAW not JPEG in order to process the photos how you envisage them and make full use of your camera’s resolution
  • Make sure you’ve cleaned your sensor and know how to clean a camera lens. Dust spots, smears and marks will ruin a good card!
  • Get accurate colours regardless of lighting with easy to use colour management tools
  • Think about whether your card will be vertical or horizontal and frame your scene accordingly
  • Make your image memorable with humour, minimalism or a unique idea
  • Include seasonal subjects and think about which colours are good for Christmas photos. Use props or clothing which include red and green, while gold and silver instantly evoke thoughts of the season
  • Take print lead times and Christmas post into account and avoid delays by getting Christmas card pictures taken as early as September or October

Adjusting aperture to change depth of field

Adjusting aperture to change depth of field and create starbursts

Christmas tree photography

A Christmas tree is often the centrepiece in our home throughout winter and capturing a good Christmas tree photo is essential when documenting the holidays. If you’ve been wondering how can I make my pictures look more Christmassy – just add a Christmas tree to enhance virtually any shot, whether indoors or outside.

These top tips will help you capture the perfect shot of a tree:

  • Experiment with creative bokeh balls and out-of-focus areas in the shot, by using the widest aperture on your lens and let the fairy lights do the rest
  • If you’re taking portraits in front of the Christmas tree, balance the subject by incorporating natural light, studio lighting, or light which is bounced off the walls from a flashgun
  • Capture a natural field of view without too much distortion by using a standard focal width lens, which is anywhere around 35mm to 70mm. Bear in mind that you may have to get quite far back in order to include the whole tree at this focal length
  • For intimate portraits shoot with a classic 85mm lens or similar short telephoto width and incorporate bokeh behind the subject
  • The precise camera settings will depend on ambient light and additional lighting being used, however for naturally lit scenes expect to shoot at around ISO 800-1600, with a wide aperture around f/1.4 to f/2.8 if possible
  • Many cameras and lenses offer stabilisation, which help to reduce shake, or you can use a regular sized, or mini tripod to achieve sharp results. Clamps and grips from Manfrotto and other brands can be used to support additional lighting for the scene

Have fun and push your creativity, while shooting through each scene, as impromptu moments often create captivating images.

Creating additional blur and bokeh balls

Holding string lights in front of lens to create additional bokeh

How to photograph Christmas lights

Whether you want to take pictures of string lights, exterior house lights or your local town all lit up, try to match inspiring photo ideas for capturing Christmas lights with the best camera setting for Christmas lights.

  1. Use a simple colour calibration device, such as the Calibrite ColorChecker Passport Photo 2. This will streamline white balance adjustment while post processing and help you to achieve more natural colours. Turn off automatic White Balance, even if you don’t calibrate your shots and use a custom setting between 6,000K to 9,000K
  2. When photographing exterior scenes, take some shots both during dusk and at night, in order to compare photos and choose your favourites
  3. Many mirrorless cameras feature effective stabilisation, which allows you to take pictures of Christmas lights without a tripod, but you may still need to use higher ISOs, which can result in noise. You’ll achieve the sharpest results by using a tripod, with lower ISO and less noise – but remember to review shots on the LCD before moving onto the next scene
  4. Trigger the camera with a remote shutter release to avoid camera shake when shooting from a tripod or monopod. A camera remote also helps capture the perfect moment when Christmas lights are flashing
  5. Shooting in Manual mode gives you the most precise control over camera settings and you learn manual photography in 10 minutes, so there’s no excuse!
  6. Experiment and create special effects in-camera with a suitable diameter sparkle filter, long exposure ND filters, or other creative tools

Behind the scene with additional lights

String lights positioned immediately in front of camera for blur

The best camera setting for Christmas lights depends on the type of shot you want to create. Shoot wide open at f/1.4, or a similar wide aperture to allow more light and achieve a shallow depth of field. Choose a narrow aperture of f/16 or smaller, in order to capture starburst effects from all of the point light sources. Practice, play and have fun while dressing up warmly and packing plenty of spare camera batteries, as cold weather drains batteries more quickly.

We hope you found these tips for capturing Christmas photography inspiring. With the right creative accessories, lighting, camera settings and seasonal props you can capture unique photos to print, share and remember this magical season by.

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By Nick Dautlich on 06/12/2022

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