[Ed. note: Ah, the holidays — the time of year when we gather with loved ones, take pictures of loved ones, dress in festive reindeer sweaters, take pictures of festive reindeer sweaters, make an excessive number of baked goods, take pictures of an excessive number of baked goods, etc.
Basically, 'tis the season for lots of photos, which is why we've once again partnered with Tamron to bring you this quick guide to holiday picture taking. Below, Photojojo's Lisbeth Ortega instructs you how to make your seasonal shots the nicest they can be.]
1) Use white balance
During the holidays, light comes at you from every angle and from every kind of color temperature: Candles, trees, glowing Santas, you name it. You can avoid having your photos be too orange or too any-color-you-don't-want-it-to-be by picking the right white balance. You will most likely be met with tungsten lighting, which is what gives your photos an orange cast. House lamps, restaurant lighting, and candlelight usually fall under tungsten, as do most tree and outdoor holiday lights (unless they are LEDs). By using the tungsten setting on your camera, you can offset that orangey color. Another way to do it is setting a custom white balance. Use a grey card or something like the White Balance Lens Cap to get the color of your photo to look more like natural lighting. If you want to guarantee that the color temperature is just right, we recommend shooting in RAW, so you can edit the white balance after the fact using an editor like Lightroom.
2) Go manual
Getting the right exposure can be tricky during the holidays because you're often trying to photograph at night or indoors, where light is scarce. Your camera's also dealing with extremes in a single image (ultra bright light vs. ultra dark surroundings), so sometimes your lights can end up overexposed. When this happens, you lose detail in your image. To get full control over your photos, go manual. Start out with these settings: Set your f-stop to f/8, and your shutter speed to 1/30th of a second. Play with the shutter speed from there to capture the lights just how you want them. If you don't want to use a tripod, you can always up your ISO, but keep in mind, the higher you go with ISO, the noisier your photos will look.
Tiny dots of lights hanging everywhere you go is the perfect recipe for dreamy portraits. To get bokeh, you'll want a big aperture. That means something like f/1.8 up to f/5.6. The reason you're aiming for a large aperture is because that's what gives you a shallow depth of field, throwing the background out of focus. Another way to isolate your subject from the background is to use a telephoto lens. A long focal length gives you an even shallower depth of field. We like something like Tamron's 18-270mm lens because it has a wide range that lets you not only take wide shots and portraits, but also lets you experiment with a telephoto focal length without having to buy a separate dedicated telephoto lens. Lastly, your subject should be nice and close to your lens while standing far away from the background. This'll make sure they're in focus, and the background isn't. Oh, and did you know you can turn all those lights into different shapes? This DIY Bokeh Kit will let you do that.
4) Get your family to sit in one spot and smile
This can be hard to do, especially if you have wee little ones who are hooked on a steady diet of candy canes. The key? Make it fun! Photojojo has a fantab guide to taking the most-fun-ever family holiday photos. To name off a few, you can recreate childhood photos Young Me/Now Me-style, shoot your family holiday photos in a photo booth, light paint with tree lights, or set up your own cheesy holiday portrait studio (think ugly Christmas sweaters and Sears, 1978).
5) Use a tripod
There's no bigger of a bummer than thinking you got a great shot, only to find it's actually blurry or ever-so-slightly out of focus. We promise you this much: If you follow this one rule, you won't ever experience that disappointment again. If you have a shoot planned ahead of time, go for a sturdy tripod. If you have a light tripod, it might not be totally shake-free, so you can stabilize it with your bag (some come with bag hooks at the bottom). A little tip: Wood actually absorbs vibration better than steel, carbon or aluminum (here's a wooden tripod from Photojojo that's super stable). If you're more of a spontaneous shooter, we recommend something easy to carry in your bag or pocket, like a collapsible tripod such as this Folding Tripod, or a retractable stabilizer like this Pocket Pod (it uses your own weight for stability). If you're shooting with your phone, you might try something like this Gorillapod PhoneCam Tripod and an iPhone Cable Trigger. And if you're caught in a low-light place without a tripod, find a safe, sturdy place to set your camera down. Using a timer or a cable release with your camera will also prevent any camera shake that may result from you pressing down on the shutter with your finger.
Lisbeth Ortega is head editor at Photojojo, an insanely great photography newsletter and shop. Whether it's DIY tutorials or can't-find-it-anywhere-else photo goodies at the Photojojo Store, Photojojo's on a mission to inspire and share the good word about the greatest photo stuff in the world. You may have caught Photojojo in The New York Times, ReadyMade, Wall Street Journal, and the CBS Early Show.