By ProGrade Digital | November 16, 2021

There is only one thing better than seeing your family member’s face light up when they open your gift. It’s capturing that face and emotion.

The holiday season is filled with giving, appreciation, and people you love. It is filled with delicious food, adorable decorations, and joyful music. It’s also a well-deserved break for everybody. Break from work, break from school, and break from being tied to the clock in general. You get to sit back, relax, and catch up with people you don’t see regularly.

When surrounded by loved ones, there’s usually no hiding one’s inner self or effort to present a version of themselves that they want others to see. People feel safe and not afraid to be true to who they are. All that makes holiday’s the best time for snapping some eloquent and expressive portraits for the family album.

Yes, sometimes it does mean we need to sit through bouts of grumpy grandpa ranting about politics, but hey, let’s face it, even that is sweet and romantic in its own way; and a lot more capture-worthy than a clinical and modeled facade people tend to present daily.

That said, capturing that sincere holiday emotion can sometimes be tricky, to say the least. We hope the following five tips make it easier and help you seize that magical holiday atmosphere so that it can be felt whenever someone picks up that photograph in the future.

1. Go for candid portraits.

Authenticity is more fragile than the fine china people bring out for the holiday dinner. Ask someone to pose for a photo, and the mask comes back on. Candid shots are spontaneous and genuine. They help maintain sincerity and reflect life as it is, unlike posed portraits that are carefully planned and often feel dry.

That does not mean you have to go full stealth mode, hide behind the curtain or blend yourself in with the Christmas tree. Just use a long lens and remember that authenticity and emotion are superior to technical perfection.

2. Use an external flash.

Despite all the candles and fairy lights, we tend to keep our dining rooms dimly lit to create a cozy and inviting atmosphere. That coziness, however, transforms into weird shadows and underexposed images, often ruining the emotion completely. External flash is the way to go when shooting in low-light environments or in situations where you do not have complete control over the lighting.

Built-in flashes are often pointed head-on at the subjects and create harsh and hideous shadows because of it. Meanwhile, external flashes can be fired elsewhere – bounced against a neutral-colored surface, like a ceiling, before hitting the subject. That diffuses the light, creates an illusion of a bigger light source, and results in a much more flattering image overall.

3. Experiment with flash gels.

Try different flash gels to add “holiday colors” to your photos, or use them to create harmony between the ambient light and the color of your flash.

4. Change your perspective.

We often tend to waste time waiting for something remarkable to happen, especially during family gatherings. We know the place, we’ve seen all the faces, and feel like there’s nothing capture-worthy. Yet, those often-overlooked, simple, and ordinary moments tend to make the most cherished memories. Try to see things from an outsider’s perspective, and shoot continuously.

5. Focus on the setting.

Catching holiday emotions is not only about capturing strong facial expressions. There’s also food, decorations, a roaring fireplace, and tons of other details that tell a story.

Play with close-ups of the food with people in the background. Shoot the details of the decorations with distant holiday lights slightly out of focus for artistic background bokeh. Put on your shoes and head outside to create contrast and capture the warm and cozy atmosphere through snowflakes and frosty windows.

Happy holidays!

Holidays are indeed magical and provide endless options for art-making to anyone with a camera. Just try not to overly obsess about the details and make sure you don’t forget to leave Santa milk and cookies while preparing your gear for the big shoot.

ProGrade Digital family wishes you a wonderful and merry holiday season!