How To Take Better Pictures Of Your Family This Christmas (+ A Black Friday Deal!)


(Note: Affiliate links used in this post.)


When Wyatt was one year old, I bought a DSLR camera.  I really didn't know what I was doing at the time, I just knew that I wanted to take better pictures of my son.  I wanted to capture the details of his babyhood in a way that my point-and-shoot camera just wasn't letting me.

I have never regretted that decision to buy a "big camera", and after a lot of trial and error I finally figured out how to use it!  My favorite time of year to take pictures is finally here - Christmas time!  I just love all the sparkles and colors and festivities this time of year - the "December" picture folder on my computer is always a little more full than the others.

Unfortunately December is also a difficult time to get good pictures, between the freezing cold weather that may make it hard to go outside, less daylight, a flurry of festivities, and kiddos that just won't sit still.  I've got a few ideas for how you can get some pretty adorable pictures even amidst the Christmas hustle and bustle, but point #1 is what you need first if you are going to get those Christmas-y pictures you might envision.



1. Know your camera.

The thing about owning a DSLR is that it really is no better than a point-and-shoot camera unless you learn how to get off auto.  Do you want that beautiful background blur in your Christmas photos? Do you want to capture the Christmas lights twinkling in the dark? Do you just not want the flurry of present-opening to result in a bunch of blurred photos? Then you need to know how to use your DSLR camera.

I bought my DSLR already knowing it was going to take a lot of trial and error to figure out how to manipulate the settings to get the pictures I wanted, but I am really excited to share a resource with you that I really think will help you figure it out faster!

Erin from Digital Photography For Moms has launched a photography course called Guided365.  It is a monthly subscription course, and each day of the month you will get an email that explains a different photography concept and gives you a prompt to practice your skills. This isn't a list of photo ideas, these prompts focus on techniques that will help you to learn your camera, learn how to get the perfect focus, find the best light, and so many other things!  

Erin was sweet enough to let me try out the course, and I've worked through the first couple weeks so far.  It really is excellent.  She starts out slowly to help beginners get off "auto", but I think people with intermediate skills (like me) can also get a lot out of even the beginning lessons and really hone their technique.  Even with just the first couple weeks, which I thought would mostly be review, I was reminded of a couple of bad habits I had fallen into with my photography.  

I am so looking forward to working through more of the course, and I hope you check it out!  And Black Friday Deal Alert: If you sign up before December 2nd for the year 2017, you will get 50% off your first month subscription!  Use the code "Confidence" at checkout!  You any cancel or pause your subscription anytime you need to as well, but if you are wanting to learn more about how to use your DSLR, this is the most thorough resource I've found so far!



2. Be aware of the light and plan accordingly.

December is the month of the year with the least light, and low light situations are the trickiest when trying to get good photos.  This is when it is really important to know how to use your camera (see the first point), because that will help you know how to pick the right settings to get a good picture...but I'm not going to lie, that doesn't always guarantee those low-light pictures are going to turn out exactly right.  So my advice?  Plan your picture-taking around daylight hours.

What I mean by that is to try to do as many of those photo-op activities as you can during the day.  We usually set up our Christmas tree in the morning or early afternoon because I know we'll get good light from the windows (for you smarties out there - we decorated our tree in two stages this year, at night and in the morning, so I have both day and night pictures in this post! This was kind of an unusual year).  I don't try to take Christmas jammie pictures at night - I gather them up in the morning while the light is good.  You can't do this with everything you might want to photograph, but when you can, try to think about the light.



3. Think about the details.

Try to notice the little details you want to capture during the Christmas season.  Some of my favorite Christmas time pictures are of little things, like my son's little hands wrapped around a hot chocolate mug, my daughter's face when she is concentrating on decorating a Christmas cookie perfectly, my littlest baby on the floor surrounded by ornaments, or the way my two-year-old sticks out his tongue while hanging an ornament (see above).

Think about your favorite moments from Christmas last year, including all the little details that made it cozy, magical, or special.  Then I recommend mentally planning how you might be able to capture those details this year in photos - and that way, when the opportunity presents itself, you'll be ready!

On a similar note, don't just take the posed pictures - keep your camera nearby and take the spontaneous photos of those precious little details or moments in time.  Let your family interact as normal, but keep your photographer eye ready.



4. Fake It.

I'm about to tell you my dirty little secret of taking pictures of my family.  You don't have to take magical, perfect shots right when the action happens.  You can fake it.

Sometimes in the rush and hurry of Christmas festivities, I may miss my chance to get a picture that I really wanted to take of the kids.  So what do I do?  We stage a little reenactment.  The kids are used to me by now and think it's fun to see the pictures of themselves, so it's usually not too hard to get them to do something again later so I can take a picture.  We took a few tree-decorating pictures this way this year because I wasn't around to take them the first time.  I don't know about you, but my kids don't need any cajoling to put more ornaments on the tree.


Is this inauthentic?  I don't view it that way because we actually did do these activities in real life, and we enjoyed the activities.  Having pictures is wonderful, but sometimes it's important to be in-the-moment with my kids instead of worrying about getting a good picture.  This is how I accomplish that and still get whatever shot I wanted.  And that leads to my last tip...



5. Remember that it doesn't have to turn out exactly like you envisioned.

I almost always go into a Christmas activity thinking about which photos I want to get and when, but I rarely get the exact photo I was envisioning in my head - but sometimes the photo I end up with ends up being even better.  It may not be technically perfect, but it's my family, in that moment.  It's us.  Everything doesn't always go as planned, complications (or catastrophes) arise, and I think the mark of starting to become a good photographer for your own family is being able to roll with it.  

It doesn't have to look perfect.  The point is to be fully there, in these moments with your family, and learn how to capture the moments that you can while being flexible enough to let the rest go.  Enjoy your family. Enjoy this Christmas with them.  Don't make it all about the photo, make it about the memory.



If you are fairly new to your DSLR, or if you have yet to venture out of auto or program mode, don't forget to check out Guided365 and learn how to get the most out of your camera!  It will definitely be worth your time!

Do you have a DSLR?  Do you shoot in manual or auto?  For my fellow mom-photographers, what tips would you add?









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Heather Bowers said...

Callie, Thank you for posting this! I purchased a DSLR camera earlier this year. My goal was to learn how to use it (ie get out of auto by Christmas time). Unfortunately, I'm still shooting in auto. I'm going to check out the link; I feel very overwhelmed trying to figure it out all on my own at this point.

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