This entry is in conjunction with the “Home Wizards” show on KFWB 980AM with Hosts Cindy Dole & Eric Stromer that originally aired on Saturday, December 3, 2011. 
To listen, use this link:

It’s time for the holidays once again, and time to capture those precious memories – especially on Christmas Day.  But how do you get great holiday photos & video?  Here are some tips and ideas to keep in mind!

Charge your batteries and have digital media cards ready

This may seem obvious (it is!), but don’t forget.  A dead battery or a missing SD or CF Card will make the rest of the tips pointless!  And don’t forget batteries for your flash (if it takes separate batteries).

Shoot video of the “Santa Gift”

You’ll love the anticipation of the kids — and the expression on their faces when they see their “Santa Gift.”  You can shoot stills of course, but it’s a bit risky as you might miss the shot.  Just be sure to be in front of the kids — you need to see their faces.  Think about the best angle to capture the moment before it happens, and put yourself in a good place to get it.

Be the Paparazzi

It’s okay to move and duck between relatives or sneak around the Christmas tree to grab those priceless moments.  Hey, it works for TMZ!

Take lots of photos — it’s digital!

You paid good money for your digital camera – now use it!  Take lots of photos because the difference of a split second can mean the difference of a breathtaking shot and one that has to be deleted because someone blinked or their mouth was at a strange point.  If your camera allows it, use a “Burst” or “Multi-Frame” selection that lets you fire off numerous shots in rapid succession (not recommended when a flash is required).

Group shots are an evil necessity

While it seems most people dread the group photo, they are really great to have years down the road.  It’s the one picture that has everyone in it.  And since the holidays are one of the few times everyone is together from out of town or back from college, it’s a great time to grab one.  Try and grab your group photo early in the celebration while everyone is fresh.  The ladies makeup looks better, and Uncle Phil won’t have that huge mustard stain on his shirt.  Try using a tripod to make sure you, the photographer, are included.  And this also helps with software that can help you replace faces in group shots like Adobe’s Photoshop Elements, since there is always someone who blinks or a child who’s tongue is sticking out in the photo that Mom looks best in.

Get on their eye level

Kids have amazing expressions when opening gifts on Christmas day.  

So make sure you can see their faces.  Get down on their level so your shot isn’t hovering above them.  Conversely, don’t shoot up at people… It’s not a pleasing angle and generally makes people look fatter than they really are!  Aunt Gertrude needs all the help she can get.

Get close!

There is nothing less dramatic that a wide shot of a bunch of people in a room.  Focus on a person or two and get close!  Whether it be zooming in or simply walking closer, the most dramatic documentary style photos are when you can actually see the person’s face.  Don’t forget, though… try and avoid a wide angle lens when up close – it distorts a persons face and is generally not pleasing!

Avoid the flash when you can

Flash photography can be tricky and distracting to the subject, so when you can, try to avoid it.  Newer cameras have very low noise even at hight ISO’s unlike their film predecessors, so go ahead and boost that ISO.  Most digital cameras still look great at ISO’s of 1600 or even higher.

Use a large aperture when shooting people

A large aperture (achieved by setting your camera to f/2.8 or f/4) with the addition of using a lens that is zoomed to 50mm or longer with a close subject distance can really make photos of people stand out from the background.  Try putting your subject in front of the Christmas tree with the lights on (not too close – maybe 5 to 15 feet away) to get a those beautiful circles of light (or what photographers call bokeh).  See photo to the upper right.

If you have a DSLR, learn the basics of a DSLR Photography

So you spent the money on a great camera, but are a little intimidated to use it?  Take a basic digital photography class or check out a site like to see how the relationships of lighting, subject distance, focal length, ISO, aperture and shutter speed effect each other.

Shoot in RAW, not JPEG if you can

RAW files record what the sensor sees, and doesn’t imbed any color settings into the image.  Therefore, you can go back and “develop” you pictures later using software.  I once had a friend say, “I’m not good enough to shoot JPEGs, so I shoot RAW.”  Good advice — You can think of the JPEG format more like a film slide – the color is set into the image.  Whereas a RAW file is more like a film negative that you can make a print from. Shooting RAW does create file sizes that will be much larger, so make sure you have a modern computer to handle the data.  But the trade off is that all of that data can be manipulated into a great image later.

Don’t forget the small moments

Grandpa Bill taking a nap, Nana washing the dishes, Kids playing with their new toys, Dad putting the new bike together — all great little vignettes that will make your holiday photo collection complete by telling the entire story.

Try a time-lapse of the gift opening

Set up a web cam or use an intervalometer on your DSLR to see before the gifts get opened, during, and the clean up.  Turn it into a 10 or 15 second video and post it or send it to your friends & family.

Crop your photos

This is one of the simplest ways to improve your photos.  Think about what is important in the photo and leave only that.  Also, many people tend to leave too much headroom in still photography.  What is all of that space above people’s heads?  Get rid of it and your photo will have much better composition.

Share your photos & video

One of the best things about digital photography is the ability to quickly and cheaply share photos.  You can upload them to photo sharing sites, e-mail them, put them on a web page, or share them using social networking apps like Facebook and Instagram.  However you do it, get your photos & video out there for those who couldn’t make it to the celebration.  And don’t forget you can use all of those great photos in photo books & calendars!

Backup your photos & video

There is nothing more painful than losing your photos & videos.  It’s like the moment in time never happened.  So back them up.  Then back them up again somewhere else.  Then back them up off-site by using a online file storage service so you can sleep at night.  No excuses.

Well, there you have it!  No matter what kind of camera you have, hopefully I’ve given you some great ideas for your holiday photography!  Have fun out there, and keep that shutter clicking!

– Brian

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