Holiday Shooting Tips from RMSP

In just three short days, many households around the world will be celebrating the Christmas holiday. From Peru to Poland, presents will be wrapped, delicious treats will be be made and children everywhere will shift gears to a wide-eyed, sugar-induced overdrive. As photographers, it’s our job – no, it’s our duty – to capture images of all the moments that are about to take place.

As you read this, jolly ol’ St. Nick (the one in the North Pole, not the one at the mall) is making a list in preparation of his annual Christmas Eve road trip. We thought it fitting to pull together a list of our own, in hopes of helping photographers everywhere make the most of this holiday season. So without further ado, here are your holiday shooting tips from RMSP:


1) Pay attention to your light.  Even if you are using your point and shoot in the kitchen instead of your DSLR in your 2000 square foot photo studio (you have one, right?) doesn’t mean you can forget the basics. Light can, and will, make or break your photos. To photograph the multitude of unique objects that appear this time of year, from ornaments to a golden turkey coming out of the oven, take advantage of the light that is already around you.

Self-assignment ideas with light:
• Utilize natural light indoors. Pick an object and place it on a table in front of a window. With your camera, move around the object noticing how the light hits and what kind of shadows are created. Create a series of images from a variety of angles.
• Utilize Christmas lights. Using that same object, try placing a ball of lights behind it at various distances. Experiment photographing your object at different apertures from 2.8 to 16 and beyond. Notice the effect the aperture has on the shape of the lights. Are the lights emitting a round, glowy shape or are they creating a starburst shape?


2) Composition counts. Always.  Along with light, quality composition is always important. An oddly placed subject, a scene full of clutter or distracting figures in the background can cause an otherwise pleasing image to end up on the cutting room floor. In many cases, less is more.

Self-assignment ideas with composition:
• Using the same object and setting (table and window) from above, try photographing it “as is.” Don’t move a thing on the table. Just set it down and snap a few shots. Now, study the image you created. Take note of what elements are distracting you from conveying your primary message. Sure it might seem weird when a family member walks in and sees you studying an image of your kitchen table. That’s OK. Just blame it on holiday stress and move on.
• Now, attempt to make the scene as simple as you possibly can. Distracting tablecloth? Take it off. Yesterday’s mail, some car keys, stray pens in your way? Throw them on the floor. Are the blinds or curtains on the window distracting? Get them out of the way. Now photograph your object from the same angle and at the same focal length as your first shot. Did your efforts improve anything? Did the scene become more simplified? Is it stronger because of your actions?


3) Pay attention to your white balance: If you are indoors, you most likely have tungsten lights everywhere. The impact this has on your images can be warm….very, very warm. Sunburn warm. While the color temperature of your images can lead to creating a certain feeling, chances are this feeling shouldn’t require an aloe vera bath when done.

Self-assignment with white balance:
• Pick a scene, any scene. Take a photo of it. Without moving your feet, adjust the white balance to the next available option on your camera. Shoot the scene again. Repeat this until you have cycled through every white balance mode available. Now, either on the back of your camera or on your computer, rotate through the images paying attention to how the colors change.


4) Get Out:  Taking a walk or going for a hike before settling in to Christmas dinner with the parents, in-laws, nieces, nephews, neighbors, and possibly some strangers is an important part of making the holidays enjoyable. Consider it halftime between the morning present party and the evening dinner deluge. It’s a great time to wander around, get fresh air and photograph everyday scenes just for the fun of it.

Self-assignment while going for a holiday stroll:
• To keep things fresh, try venturing to a new neighborhood or part of town. Your own backyard will be there tomorrow and the next day. For now, commit to seeing something new.
• Take your camera and only one lens. In fact, take the one lens you use the least. How about that 45 mm tilt-shift that cost more than your first car. Or the lens baby that is so fun, but so under-utilized. Heck, you could even take that Holga sitting on your shelf collecting dust. (of course, when I say “your” shelf, I mean “my” shelf.  Sorry Holga.)


5) Don’t just shoot. SHARE:  OK, we get it.  It’s almost 2012 and there a bazillion ways to share photos. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, your blog, and the list could go on and on.  Still, just because you have an account on these sites doesn’t mean that your photos will share themselves. You know that little pang of excitement you get when you realize someone sent you a link to some of their photos…well now it’s your turn to return the favor.

Self-assignment with photo sharing:
• Shoot, upload and share your pics however you want. Don’t edit them. No cropping, straightening, de-saturating. None of it. Just get them out there. Take it upon yourself to initiate the photo sharing with your friends and family this year.
• OR (and this might appeal to the “i-still-like-paper” crowd), send your images as postcards. Yes, I am talking about using a stamp, the USPS, and a printer to send something tangible. It doesn’t have to be super fancy; it just has to get there. Consider printing a photo, taping it to a 5×7 piece of cardboard (think clear packing tape and a cereal box), turning it over, writing a message and then dropping it in the hands of the postal service. The result: Fun for you. Guaranteed smiles for them.


If you decide to take us up on these self-assignments, or if you created your own, we’d love to see the results. Send us an email with your images (max 600px long edge, 72 ppi), a link to your site, or better yet…a homemade postcard. We’ll share your results here on Paper Airplanes after the new year.

If you have different ideas for holiday shooting tips, share them here. There’s nothing to lose and your idea might just inspire someone else’s creation.


2 thoughts on “Holiday Shooting Tips from RMSP

Profile photo of Kathy Eyster

Kathy Eyster

Great article, Andy! Hope your holiday weekend is very merry.
P.S. We want to see some of your holiday photos too! 🙂
Send me the postcard variety…you have my address.

andy kemmis

Thanks Kathy. I appreciate you checking out the post. I will try to get a postcard in the mail to you soon. Happy holidays!!!


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