The holidays are coming. You want to spend time with your family and friends, enjoy a good meal, and take some fantastic images to remember this precious time together.
Here are 12 tips on how you can take professional-looking photographs of your family during the holidays with nothing but your phone.
- Stage the Christmas scene
- Clean your smartphone camera lens(es)
- Turn flash of
- Zoom with your feet
- Create a compelling composition
- Try burst mode
- Use a tripod and remote shutter
- Pick a slower shutter speed
- Use portrait mode
- Or night mode
- Edit your images
- Print your favorite photographs
Sounds easy, right? Now let’s jump in and take a look at each tip separately. You can also check out these great photography ideas for the holiday season.
1 Stage the Christmas scene
First off, start with staging the Christmas scene. Think about what kind of holiday image you want to take. Is it a portrait of your family, a macro shot from the Christmas tree, or a photograph of the traditional dinner at a large table? Remove clutter, dress your family nicely, turn off bright lights, and use atmospheric lighting.
You can even use some props, for example, a Christmas tree, stocking, lights, blankets, candles, food, candy canes, bells, and reflecting balls.
We have put together some creative ideas to stage a perfect Christmas photograph.
2 Clean your smartphone camera lens
Make sure the lens of your smartphone camera is clean. Dust, dirt, and greasy fingerprints can easily ruin the shot. You can use a small microfiber cloth. Please don’t use chemicals or paper tissues; it can destroy your lenses.
You can read more about cleaning your smartphone lens in one of our most popular blog posts.
3 Turn flash of
You want to create a soft and warm atmosphere in your Christmas image. Smartphone flashes can be harsh, so it is best to avoid using them. Try using the Christmas tree’s soft lights, candles, and warm-toned light bulbs in your living room.
Luckily most of today’s cellphones have top-notch low-light performance software embedded in the native camera app. Therefore, try to find the night mode to create the best possible results.
4 Zoom with your feet
We always zoom with our feet. Why? Most smartphones’ zoom function does not work the same as the zoom function in a DSLR camera. Mobile phones often use digital zoom to get closer to the subject. It just zooms and thereby crops your photo, and the subject appears to be closer.
Here are a few smartphones with optical zoom lenses, which means that the lens adjusts its inner element to increase or decrease the focal length.
5 Create a compelling composition
Try something new this year! Create something you want to share and put on your wall of family pictures for years to come. Don’t be afraid to stage the scene. Try macro shots, use the Christmas tree as blurry background, or do something funny with stuffed animals or Christmas ball ornaments. Here are a few creative ideas you can give try.
6 Try burst mode
Burst mode can be an excellent function to use while taking family portraits. It is always challenging to get the perfect photo and have everybody looking smart at the same time. Your smartphone likely has a burst mode function in the native camera app, which fires a series of fast shots while you hold the shutter button (or remote shutter). Later you can pick your favorite image from the gallery and edit the picture.
7 Use a tripod and remote shutter
If you want to be in this years’ family portrait, you will have to use a tripod and a remote shutter. This way, you find your place among your family and friends while you take the shot from a distance.
Using a tripod will also make sure your shots are without motion blur while allowing longer exposure shots in low-light situations. There are all kinds of inexpensive tripod options out there. You can find our favorites here or build one yourself with an empty toilet paper roll.
A remote shutter will come in handy as well. You won’t have to touch the smartphone to take the image or set the timer and wait for the shutter to release. We bought a wireless remote shutter for a couple of dollars, and it works perfectly with Android and iPhones.
8 Pick a slower shutter speed
There is usually less lighting during the holidays. We tend to create a warm and cozy atmosphere with Christmas lights, candles, and dimmed warm-toned light bulbs. Therefore, you will need a longer shutter speed and a higher ISO to get enough light in your image without overexposing the photograph and creating noise, of course.
You will have to experiment with shutter speeds and ISO to create the best possible settings for your environment. Try starting your photoshoot with ISO 200 and a shutter speed between 1/30 and 1/90. The aperture of your phone will probably be fixed, although some mobile phones come with aperture settings. You will need to choose manual, pro, or professional mode in your phone’s native camera app to change these settings.
To create a shallow depth of field without changing aperture settings, you can try portrait mode. Shallow depth of field can significantly improve the ambiance by the illuminated out-of-focus background with Christmas lights.
You can read all about low-light settings in this blog.
9 Use portrait mode
Portrait mode is a term used to describe the artificial bokeh effect produced by mobile camera apps. It will keep the subject in focus while the background is blurred. Your Christmas images will be much more dynamic and professional-looking.
The smartphone’s software and camera hardware work together to apply the shallow depth of field. The effect is not produced by using the smartphone’s lenses. You can find portrait mode in the settings of the native camera app on your smartphone. In general, most mobile phones with at least two lenses paired together can create portraits.
➽ More on using portrait mode in this blog post.
10 Try night mode
Most new smartphones come with a built-in night mode. You will have to switch it on in the default camera app of your mobile phone. It will be called night mode, bright mode, night sight, or something similar.
Night-mode typically works similar to HDR photography. It will stack several images with different settings on top of each other to create the perfect low-light photograph. There is a downside to using night-mode, though; it does not work well with moving objects.
11 Edit your images
After taking the perfect Christmas photograph, you will want to edit it in one of these apps.
Snapseed is a straightforward and intuitive application for both Android and iOS. It makes editing and sharing on the go very fast and easy.
You can read more about how to use these three editing apps in the blog “The Best 3 Smartphone Photo Editing Apps For Android And IOS In 2020.”
How can I easily edit my Christmas photos with my phone?
Here is a short step-by-step process of easily editing Christmas photographs. It is the same process you can use on general photos but with a bit more attention to the holiday details. This is one way to edit your images; there are many different ways to do so.
- Pick your favorite images
Don’t try to edit all your Christmas images. It is better to have 5 to 10 superb images than 25 or 50 mediocre ones. Choose the ones that are appealing to the eye and are focused.
- Open the image in Lightroom
You can use the ‘auto’ settings to get a baseline to work with. The software will adjust the images according to their preferences. It will adjust blacks and whites, highlights, contrast, and exposure.
- Adjust exposure and highlights
Change the values of the exposure and highlights according to your taste. If you want the overall image to be dark and let the Christmas lights do the magic, decrease the exposure and the highlights. Are you a fan of brighter and lighter images, increase the exposure and the highlights.
- Increase saturation and vibrance
Next, you can adjust the saturation and maybe the vibrance. It will increase the amount of color that shows up. How much you want to adjust the settings depends on the individual picture. You might even want to go black and white.
- Change the temperature
If you want a warm-looking image with lots of red, orange, and yellow tones, you can increase the temperature. If you like a cooler tone, decrease it.
- Save the image and open in Snapseed
Crop the image to the desired size, depending on how you want to use it. Do you want to print it or share it on Instagram? You might want to choose different croppings.
- Use the brush tool
With the brush tool, you can change exposure, temperature, saturation, and dodge & burn a certain part of your photo. For example, you can brighten the eyes or the entire face of your family and friends or darken the background, so the subject pops out even more. To change the size of the brush, you will have to zoom in.
- Try the healing brush
While you probably don’t want to use the healing tool regularly, you can give it a try. It can touch up certain parts of the image like dust on the table, pimple on a face, or smudge on a wall. Please be aware that it has the desired effect. In some cases (big objects), it won’t work very well.
- Add a vignette
If you like, you can add a vignette to your image. It will create a reduction in brightness and or saturation on the edges of your photographs. The effect will draw the eye to the center of the image.
- Save your Christmas image
Lastly, save the image and share it with your friends and family via social media or print.
After you have edited your favorite Christmas images with your smartphone, you can digitally share or print them. You can send your favorite photos directly from your phone to your printer using Google Cloud Print or AirPrint when you have an Apple device.
You can also use photo printing apps like Shutterfly, Print studio, or Freeprints. If you want to share your images immediately, you might consider buying a small mobile photo printer like the Canon Ivy Mini, Polaroid Zip, or Kodak Mini 2 instant printer.
➽ Read more on printing from your smartphone here.
Creative ideas for this year’s Christmas photos
Here are some creative Christmas photo ideas for the upcoming holidays. Give them a try, and don’t be afraid to stage the images. You will get great results by looking at your home differently.
We wish you a lovely creative Christmas time with family and friends and hope you will now take amazing shots of the holidays.