We contributed a guest post for the West London Mums blog talking about strategies for taking great holiday photos this winter. Thank you Monique for featuring us! Photos by our lovely instructor Katia Muscara.

Photographing Christmas

Let me ask you first – what do you think about when you think: Christmas?

For me it’s the twinkling lights  strewn around the house and outdoors, it’s the shiny baubles on the tall and clumsily decorated Christmas tree, it’s the anticipation of the Christmas morning and then the look of joy on my daughter’s face as she tears into the presents – wrapping paper franticly torn with eager little fingers – all rosy cheeks and wide eyed. It’s also all the festive food and the whole extended family squeezing in around the table. And when I think of Christmas photos – that’s what I want to see. For you it might be something slightly different but do this first, before you start shooting, picture it first in your head and plan accordingly.

1. Be prepared

It should go without saying, but it’s all too easy to forget in the heat of the Christmas preparations, so I’ll stick it here anyway: make sure your camera battery is charged and your memory card clean. In fact do it now, whilst you’re thinking about it. Done? OK – let’s move on. Will you be taking photos indoors? What’s the light like? If you need to use flash indoors, think about softening its effect by either bouncing it off the ceiling (if you have a detachable flash), or even just using some semi-transparent paper to stick over your pop-up flash to ‘mute’ it a little.

2. Tell a story

Family Christmas to me is a story of love, generosity and special family traditions. How will you tell this story? Think about how this holiday unfolds for you and take photos before, during and after. It’s great to have photos of both the prep stage, or before the main celebrations begin and everyone is still just milling around, and the main event itself. ANTICIPATE : want to get the picture of kids just realising ‘Santa has been!’ – get in there early with your camera at the ready. Then again, telling stories is not just about the sequence of events. Sometimes you capture it in just one photo – a carefully composed image that shows both the action and the context – it’s not enough just to show a child’s face brighten up in amazement if you don’t show what they’re in awe of.

3. Focus in on the detail

It’s the million details and props that make the festive atmosphere – colourful decorations, hand-written letter to Santa and milk and biscuits left out for him, special Christmas table dressing and Dad’s special reindeer slippers. Use the depth of field to your advantage to isolate the festive details and show them either on their own or with the rest of the action happening in the background. And remember to get in there early when photographing festive foods as the turkey carcass rarely makes an attractive photo.

4. Let it be light

To me, a big part of the Christmas ambiance is the thousands of twinkling lights. I love them so much I dread the day each year, when I have to take them down in January. They can be tricky to capture in all their glory but there are a few tricks that may help.

First of all : kill the flash. The bright light from the flash will completely wash them out, making them barely visible. Instead, try to plan to photograph them when it’s still relatively bright so that you can get by without flash. If you can, increase your ISO (or if shooting with a compact camera, see if you can find a high light sensitivity mode) and extend the exposure time – a tripod will be your best friend here.

5. Cultivate family traditions – or create new ones!

Does your family have a holiday tradition? Matching Christmas jumpers? Mince pies for breakfast whilst the kids break into presents? A trip out to see the town’s Christmas lights? If so, make absolutely sure you photograph that. If it’s something you do each year, it may be a fun idea to think of a photo you could replicate each year, that will show how the kids grow and how some things just remain constant. You’ll thank yourself in years to come.

Christmas is such a fun period – we tend to forget about it a little when we’re all grown up, but having kids really brings it all back. So enjoy it. Capture it. Share it. And make absolutely sure you pass that camera to someone else from time to time so you remember you were there too!

Happy Christmas!