Capturing your winter celebrations by Brian Worley, Canon Tutor

If you're photographing a party or special event this winter, it can be a good idea to spend a moment to think about what photos you'd like to capture before your celebrations start. The photographs you take early on are often the best. They'll show people, decorations and food looking at their best before the party is in full swing.

Your shots should have a focal point that holds your viewers' attention. At Christmas, Diwali or other seasonal celebrations there can often be too many things going on in your frame with people, decorations or food all in your shot at once. Try to de-clutter your images by focussing on the primary subject you want to capture. And remember to fill your frame by your using your zoom or moving closer to your subject.

Capturing your winter celebrations by Brian Worley, Canon Tutor - Canon
© Cliff - Canon EOS 5D

Read on and discover more ways to really capture the authentic atmosphere of an event by getting the most from the available light when shooting indoors and learn how to optimise your settings for whichever Canon camera you're using.


Turn your flash off and use Creative Auto mode

With many festivities and activities happening indoors, it's important to know when to use flash and when it's better to switch it off.

In low light and fully automatic mode, your camera will make the decisions for you, but with the Creative Auto mode on your EOS DSLR you can choose to use flash or not. Arrive to your event a little early and experiment by shooting with the flash and without. When shooting indoors, it might help to find a spot where you don't need to use your flash; you'll usually get more atmospheric shots without it.

Winter celebrations have a unique ambience and you can achieve great results by photographing people soaking up the mood. To capture an authentic atmosphere, try using your flash with a longer exposure (slower shutter speed). The night portrait mode, available on most EOS DSLRs will do this automatically for you. The night portrait mode is part of the scene modes. It combines flash with a slower shutter speed to produce softer lighting and brighter backgrounds. It's great for taking portrait shots at events like Diwali where you want to convey the ambience in the background. Once you're ready, you'll need to keep the camera still, so placing it on a table or tripod will reduce camera shake.

Capturing your winter celebrations by Brian Worley, Canon Tutor - Canon
© Chris_J

Try a wide-angle lens to capture celebrations

If you are indoors a wide-angle zoom lens like the Canon EF-S 10-18 will help you capture a room full of people in one frame.

It's perfect for photographing a festive dinner or the moment when the turkey is being brought to the table! Using a wider lens also offers more depth of field so you can capture the environment with the main subject and tell more of a story with your pictures.

Capturing your winter celebrations by Brian Worley, Canon Tutor - Canon
© Rene Schwietzke - Canon EOS 40D


Experiment with off-camera flash

There are times when indoor light at a seasonal celebration just isn't enough to get the results you want, for example at a candlelit carol concert. The built-in flash on your camera is handy, but sometimes won't give you the flattering light you want. Thankfully, many EOS cameras can use the built-in flash to trigger a Canon Speedlite flash.

Using a Speedlite opens up lots of new options. You can use it in daylight or total darkness, positioned on-camera or remotely, to gain more creative control over your photos. You still get automatic flash exposure but it can improve your photo's lighting. It will also be less obtrusive than a standard flash, allowing you to take photos at Midnight Mass without ruining the mood.

Balance flash and ambient light

Balancing the flash and ambient light is something your camera can do automatically when you use Aperture Priority mode (Av). The main purpose of using this mode is to control the depth of field so your photos will have sharp foregrounds and blurred backgrounds.  You can select this using the dial on top of most EOS DSLRs. It can offer good results when you want to capture the warmth and atmosphere of a celebration. Select the aperture setting you want and the flash will light nearby subjects, then the camera will ensure the background subjects are captured for a balanced exposure.

Some tips on using exposure compensation

Once you're comfortable using the more advanced controls of your EOS DSLR, you can use exposure compensation to darken the background a little but keep the correct exposure for the flash.

Exposure compensation means you are effectively overriding the camera's automatic exposure settings. The camera meter is designed on the basis that just about every subject has a mix of bright and dark areas that in a simplistic way can be averaged to mid-grey. However, this means that if your scene is fully white - a snow scene for example - the camera will make it look darker than it is. The result is you'll get grey snow. Similarly, if the scene is really dark the camera will try to render it more grey than black.

Exposure compensation is a control that lets you bias the camera's metered reading to light or dark. In the EOS models that have a control dial on the rear (EOS 70D, EOS 6D, EOS 5D Mark III) you can turn the dial to adjust the exposure compensation after taking an initial reading. Initial readings are made when you half press the shutter to focus the camera. Other models (EOS 1200D, EOS 100D, EOS 700D) have a button on the top right of the LCD marked AV/± pressing this button and then turning the main dial next to the shutter button will adjust the exposure compensation.

Using prime lenses

Prime lenses have a single focal length, in other words - no zoom, and typically have a fast maximum aperture. This ensures that your EOS camera is able to focus much better in low light levels, plus gives a pleasing separation between the main subject and the background which will appear blurred. This is great for capturing portrait shots in low light - for example when children are opening gifts by the light of the tree on Christmas morning.

A fast maximum aperture is one with a small number. Typically fast lenses have an aperture value of f/2.8 or smaller. In the Canon lens range a EF 50mm f/1.8 or EF 50mm f/1.4 USM are fast lenses.

A lens with an f/2 aperture will allow twice as much light through as a lens with an f/2.8 aperture, and a lens with f/1.4 will let twice as much light in as an f/2 lens.

Capturing your winter celebrations by Brian Worley, Canon Tutor - Canon
© Redcorn Studios [Matt] - Canon EOS 7D