Every parent wants to know how to take better pictures, especially around Christmas. A few years ago I received the completely awesome gift of a DSLR camera, but I admit I haven’t entirely learned how to use it properly. I’ve taken thousands of pictures in auto mode, or if I’m shooting pics while my kids are playing, I’ll switch the setting over to that one that looks like a little boy running. (Hangs head sheepishly).
With the holiday season here, I combed the web to find so many fantastic photographers willing to share their expertise on how to make my pictures way, way better.
Here are some of the best online photo tutorials specifically for holiday shots — though plenty of these tips can be used all year round.
Get that clicking finger ready!
This post has been updated
Related: How to snap and edit iPhone photos like a pro, no fancy camera equipment required
How to Take Better Pictures of the Christmas Tree
The picture everybody wants to capture is that magical shot of kids in front of the Christmas tree, but it’s hard. The lights can backlight your subject, and using a flash washes out all the sparkling lights. Christina Conklin of Faithful Step Photography helps with an amazing tutorial explaining all the settings you need to capture this sweet moment. It’s really detailed and will be a huge help.
How to Take Better Pictures in the Snow
Some of my very favorite pictures of my kids are in the snow. The light reflecting upward on them is just beautiful, but it can cause a whole host of photography problems if you don’t have your exposure settings right. For some great details on settings for shooting images in the snow, check out what The Photo Argus has to say, from exposure adjustments to white balance adjustment. Great hint: set the white balance for tungsten in the daylight for a pretty blue cast.
For inspiration and tips on creating beautiful images of your children playing in the snow? Read Amy Lucy Lockhart’s very cool post on 6 tips for taking magical snow photographs at Clickin’ Moms. Her photos are exquisite — just look at that shot above! — and I love the tilt-shift shots using a Lensbaby. (Something now available digitally for you iPhone users with portrait mode.)
And because Amy’s a mom, she even talks about the importance of keeping your kids warm and special notes about safety. Go Mom!
How to Take Better Pictures of Dance Performances and Recitals
This is the question that originally got me looking for photography tutorials — how to take the best pictures at my kids’ performances this winter. At most of these events you’re not allowed to use a flash, and my pictures tend to turn out blurry with an ugly yellow hue. I find that Phototuts+ has some fantastic tips, from where to set your aperture to how to look for the right shapes and layers in composition. Really good stuff from Cameron Knight,
And I love how he describes why he’s drawn to dance photography because “it contains a puzzle or a paradox. Photogra Photography is a still frozen art” he writes, “while dance is an art of motion. Trying to capture and convey motion by not using any motion can be a real challenge.” But he definitely makes that challenge a lot easier with his tips!
How to Take Better Bokeh Photos
I love when photos play with light. Bokeh is the Japanese term about making use of the aesthetics of what’s blurred or out of focus, like the beautiful bokeh Christmas lights in the background on this sweet shot, found on the photography tips site, Paint the Moon.The post is absolutely outstanding, with tons of specifics including creating distance between the subject and background, the best lenses to use, lighting info, and even suggestions for which camera to use depending on your budget. You will get so much out of this post!
Another resource is Darren Rowse’s wonderful post at Digital Photography School. He’s pulled 39 stunning examples of bokeh. The trick is to use a fast or large aperture to throw the Christmas lights in the background out of focus while highlighting a main subject in the foreground. You’ll end up with little blown-out balls of light that bring the photo a magical quality.
How to Take Better Photos in Black and White
While Christmas is often about lots of color, there’s something about a simple, stunning black-and-white photograph that tugs at my heart. They can be so sweet and timeless, if you’re willing to forgo the neon lights and colorful packages of the season. But it’s not easy to get that perfect balance of shadow and highlight in editing, so Katie Evans Photography has a really helpful tutorial for converting your pictures to black-and-white in Lightroom.
If you don’t use lightroom, the same idea applies to any photo editing software. We like apps like A Color Story, VSCO, Snapseed, and the PicMonkey website, which give more control than just a straight black-and-white filter through your phone or Instagram.
Related: 9 creative kid portrait ideas that make genius gifts. Just add a frame!
How to Take Better Pictures of Food
Sharing pictures of your food basically what Instagram was made for — and the butt of many jokes. (Yes, yes, you’re eating a $30 steak au poivre at a fancy restaurant with no kids. We get it.) Mostly, those photos are terrible; food is hard to shoot! But if you’re interested in learning how to take high-quality photos of your Christmas spread or those lovingly decorated Christmas cookies to really wow your friends, read Pioneer Woman’s photography tips in which she shares some hilariously humble photo “misses” of hers.
That was of course before she became a big Food Network Star. Ah, the old days.
If you’re really serious about taking better food shots, also check out Jaden Hair’s tips about lighting on Steamy Kitchen which include some great side-by-side comparisons, and a ringing endorsement for Lowel EGO tabletop lights. Maybe something to add to your Christmas wish list.
Top image: Chris.@LordMaul on Unsplash