How to Shoot Your First Photos This Christmas

by Jeff Meyer |

If you’re new to photography or if you’ve just upgraded to a new camera – perhaps you’ve bought yourself one in the sales – and taking your first pictures with a camera that gives you more control, you’re probably feeling conflicting emotions. On one hand you’re probably itching to get shooting some of the many picture opportunities that abound at Christmas, but on the other feeling a bit daunted and unsure about what to photograph.

If you’re new to photography or if you’ve just upgraded to a new camera – perhaps you’ve bought yourself one in the sales – and taking your first pictures with a camera that gives you more control, you’re probably feeling conflicting emotions.

On one hand you’re probably itching to get shooting some of the many picture opportunities that abound at Christmas, but on the other feeling a bit daunted and unsure about what to photograph.

Never fear, we have four classic Christmas photo suggestions for you along with an explanation of how to shoot them, so you’ll soon get to grips with your new camera.

Getting started

Before you start shooting, power the camera battery, insert it in your camera and follow the instructions for setting the time and date etc.

Then put a memory card in the camera and format it to delete any existing images and prepare it for storing the camera’s image files.

You’ll also need to set the image file size and type. We recommend selecting to capture the largest available images to get the benefit of your camera’s full resolution and setting the file type to JPEG or raw and JPEG.

JPEG files are universally compatible and easy to share, whereas raw files need to be processed on a computer and saved as JPEGs (or another common format) before they can be shared.

Experienced photographers use raw files because they contain the maximum amount of data which is good if you want (or need) to make post-capture adjustments. Shooting JPEGs, however, keeps life simple.

Finally, as a starting point, set the white balance to automatic and the metering to Evaluative, Matrix or Multi.

Now you’re good to go.

Christmas Photo Ideas: #1 Family portraits

Christmas Portrait Ideas: a simple flash technique for natural-looking photos.

There’s an unwritten law that you have to take photographs of your family at this time of year, so this is a great place to start with your new camera.

Most cameras have a portrait shooting mode, which is a good option if you’re just starting out in photography.

However, if you want to take a bit more control, try setting aperture priority mode. A fairly wide aperture like f/4 or f/5.6 is a good choice for individual portraits as it will blur the background behind your subject.

An aperture of f/8 or even f/11 is a better choice for groups, however, because you need more depth of field to get everyone sharp.

Make sure that your shutter speed stays at 1/60sec or faster to freeze and small camera or subject movements and raise the sensitivity (ISO) setting if necessary (if you set it to automatic the camera will take care of this for you).

It can be a good idea to pop-up your camera’s flash to add a little extra light, but don’t use it as the main light source because it’s likely to be too harsh and unflattering.

It’s very important to get the focus on the face of your subject, ideally the eyes. Many cameras have a Face Detection focusing system that can help you with this.

Alternatively, look for the option that let’s you set the AF point yourself (often called Single-point AF or 1-Area AF or similar) and select an AF point that overlies your subject’s eye.

If there isn’t a point in the right place, pick one that’s close (or the centre point), move the camera so the point is over the subject’s eye and press the shutter button half-way down to focus the lens.

Now, keeping the shutter button depressed, recompose the image before pressing it all the way down to take the shot.

Christmas Photo Ideas: #2 Decorations

Image by Angela Nicholson

All the festive decorations can make very attractive photographs and you may even create an image that you want to turn into a greetings card next year.

Unless the decorations are large you need to get close to fill the frame with the subject. In some cases you may need to activate your camera’s macro focusing option to allow you to focus closely enough.

Unfortunately, most compact system and SLR cameras need specialist macro lenses to focus very closely, so if can’t get as close as you want, you may need to rethink your composition. You could also shoot from a little further away and crop the image post-capture.

Shoot in macro or still life exposure mode, or use aperture priority mode. Depth of field (the sharp zone either side of the point of focus) becomes very limited when the subject is close to the camera, so use a small aperture such as f/16 to extend it.

Unless you use a very high sensitivity setting which brings the risk of lots of the noise, this may mean that the shutter speed drops below a level that you can hand-hold the camera.

The solution is to support the camera, ideally on a tripod. You could also rest your camera on a table and nestle it into a rolled-up jumper or something similar to get it into the correct position.

Many Christmas decorations are reflective, so keep an eye on what you can see in them, you probably don’t want to see yourself holding the camera or the TV showing the evening news.

Christmas Photo Ideas: #3 Food

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Food can be a superb subject, but think beyond the straight-above lunch shots that are so favoured on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

You want the food to look delicious and inviting, you’re not taking a record shot so the world can see that you’ve had three of your five a day in one sitting.

Recipe books are often great sources of inspiration for food photography, showing good composition, subject presentation and colour combinations.

Bear in mind, however, that many of the shots you’ll see have been taken of cold food. You probably don’t have the luxury of cooking a whole turkey dinner to photograph cold.

Mince pies, sausage rolls, pigs in blankets and Christmas cake, however, are a different matter.

Christmas_portrait_ideas_flash_techniques_tips_CAN69.project2.final6

Some cameras have a Food scene mode, but aperture priority is again a good option. A wide aperture like f/5.6, f/4.0 or bigger can work well, putting emphasis the point of focus and blurring the foreground and background.

Pay particular attention to the background of your subject. Ideally you want a nice, clean background or something that is connected to it.

Also look at how the light is hitting the food, ideally you want it fairly even so that there aren’t any harsh highlights or deep shadows.

If you’re shooting under artificial or mixed light it’s probably time to investigate your camera’s Custom White Balance control.

The manual will explain exactly how to set a Manual or Custom white balance setting, but the basic process is usually to select the correct mode, photograph a white object in the same light as your subject and then tell the camera to use that to set the white balance.

Christmas Photo Ideas: #4 Landscapes

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A walk is always on the agenda at some point over Christmas and it’s a great opportunity to shoot a few landscape images.

Most digital cameras have a Landscape exposure mode which is designed to get as much of the scene sharp as possible.

It also usually enhances blues and greens a little and sets the white balance to a value that specifically designed for shooting outside.  Alternatively, you can do all these things yourself.

To get as much of the scene sharp as possible you need lots of depth of field, which means using a small aperture like f/16 or f/22.

Because depth of field extends roughly twice as far beyond the point of focus as it does in front, more of the scene will be sharp if you focus about one third of the way in.

The automatic white balance setting is likely to do a decent job in daylight, but switching to the Daylight or Sunlight setting often injects a little more warmth, especially around sunrise or sunset.

You may also like to investigate your camera’s Picture Style, Picture Control or Film Simulation options. These tell the camera how to handle to colours of JPEG images.

The Standard option usually works well for most scenes, but you could also try the Landscape option which will enhance blues and greens.

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