A child sits on a stepladder entertained by his parents.

Family photography

How to get better Christmas photos than last year

Even if your Christmas is steeped in tradition, each and every holiday season is unique. So it's important to make sure you photograph the fleeting moments of family fun and Christmas get-togethers. Russian family photographer Lena Petrova has perfected her method of capturing this special time of the year, both when it comes to the candid shots and the more planned – but still fun and informal – group photos.

Lena’s approach to family photography can be summed up in one sentence: “You will get good shots when everyone forgets about the photo shoot and just enjoys spending time with each other.” This means turning up the music, joking around and playing with the kids – having a jolly time while creating lasting memories.

Whether you’re planning on shooting your own family Christmas card photos this year, or simply want to capture the spirit and atmosphere of the holidays, Lena’s 10 tips below will give you plenty of Christmas picture ideas, and show you how to take family photos at home. Once you’ve got your perfect family Christmas photos, head to Creative Park for endless options to print them, including Christmas card templates, printable picture frames and photo books to give as presents to your loved ones.

Lena Petrova’s 10 tips for shooting Christmas photos at home and in your garden

1. Pick the moments that count

"For your candid shots, consider which elements of the holiday are important to you and your family. In addition to decorating the Christmas tree and unwrapping the gifts, there are Christmas market trips, dinner preparations, signing of cards, the excitement of meeting Santa Claus, and no doubt many other things that mean something to you and your loved ones. So make sure you always have your camera ready..."

2. Focus on the things that matter

"The things that create a cozy atmosphere in real life are not always suitable for a neat photograph, so when I shoot portraits in people’s homes, I often move furniture and excess decorations from the frame, including pictures on the wall. I don’t do that for candid shots, but luckily, there are several other ways to adjust the background using just your camera. Not only can you choose a good angle and frame the photograph, but you can also create a blurred background with bokeh by shooting with a wide aperture such as f/1.8."

3. Think of the background

"For a family portrait, I look for a background that is calm, so it doesn’t draw attention away from the people in the photograph. But it doesn’t have to be plain – you can include a Christmas tree, or fairy lights, to create a holiday atmosphere."

4. Use props and decorations

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"For an outdoor Christmas photo, you will need elements in the frame that signify that it’s Christmas time, such as trees, lights and decorations. You can also bring your own props, such as stockings, toys or candies. Don’t be afraid to overdo it; it’s better to have a bit of everything rather than limiting yourself to one or two types of prop. Think of festive clothing, too. It can look odd if your subjects pose in ordinary jackets while holding Christmas props and being surrounded by fairy lights. But make sure that the clothing doesn't distract from the faces in the picture by having too many strong or contrasting colours."

5. Use the right lens

"Stand at a distance from your subjects that enables you to use a 50mm lens. It can be tempting to use a wide-angle lens to fit more people into the frame in cramped conditions, but short focal lengths will create distortions that your family won’t like. If you don't have a dedicated portrait lens, stand as far as possible from the subject and zoom in using a standard kit lens."

6. Make it fun for the kids

"In order to get good photos of children playing, the best thing to do is play with them, lightly encouraging them, stimulating their imagination and confidence. Try to find out what the children want to do, and create a situation where they can show it off. You get the best shots when everyone is having fun."

7. Let the music play

"Try to avoid silence during your preparations for a group shot. Often, novice photographers tend to concentrate on technical issues, turning inward and forgetting about the people posing for the photograph. Your friends and family members, in turn, get bored, and it shows in the photos. Tell them what you're doing, and turn on the music to help people relax. I usually bring a portable speaker to shoots for that reason."

8. Perfect your group shot composition

"It’s vital to organise the group for a family portrait. Your goal is to place everyone’s heads at different levels. See if you can find chairs of different heights, or use an armchair, and have one person sit on the armrest. Usually, I start with the centre of the frame and work my way out, adding one person at the time. But if the family is big, I look into the viewfinder, determine the frame size and place two people at the left and right borders of the frame. Then all others are asked to occupy the space between them, and I make a few corrections to get the best composition.

By setting the timer on your camera, or using the Canon Camera Connect app to take the shot remotely, you can also include yourself in your family portrait. Don't forget to take multiple shots, in case somebody blinks."

9. Use the right depth of field

"For a group portrait, you almost always work with two rows of people. To get all the participants in sharp focus across two rows, the aperture should be around f/4-5.6."

10. Don't forget the pets

"Christmas bulbs and toys are new and exciting to pets, so there are good chances of getting funny, playful Christmas photos of them. You can tease a cat with gift wrap ribbon or fairy lights, and dogs will happily play outside in the snow with the children – all these are excellent subjects for fun Christmas shots."

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