How to photograph Christmas Day

Christmas is such a magical family occasion that it’s worth going the extra mile to ensure that the photos you take are equally memorable. From the moment your kids wake you up (at 5 am!) until you fall into bed full of mince pies and Christmas pudding, this sure-fire lighting set-up will produce the goods – and the beauty of it is that anyone can take great images using it, so you’ll get to be in some of the photos too!

Child opening presents at Christmas

Inspiration

This shoot idea was originally posted by Mr Strobist himself, David Hobby, who’s a source of inspiration for any photographer interested in using small flashes to improve their photos. We’re going to adapt it slightly, but still, “Thank you, David!”

Christmas Dinner

The gear

You will need the following:

  • Any camera with a hotshoe
  • Two flashguns – cheap manual models are fine
  • Two diffusion domes to fit your flashes
  • A radio trigger and receiver
  • Two light stands – although this may not be necessary

Mince Pies

The set-up

The idea of this lighting set-up is to create a large area of your living room or lounge where your kids and guests are bathed in beautiful action-stopping light. If you get it right, nobody will be able to escape it and anyone will be able to pick up your camera and take great images.

Here’s how:

  • Place your flashguns on your light stands – one with the radio receiver attached and the other set to optical slave mode
  • Set-up your two flashguns in opposite diagonal corners of the room facing towards the ceiling at about ¼ power, wide beam and two feet from the ceiling
  • Place the radio trigger on your camera, choose manual mode, and begin with an aperture of around f/4.5, ISO 400 and shutter speed of about 1/125th
  • Now take photos of your outstretched hand in various parts of the room and from different angles – the area you have a fairly even exposure over is your safe shooting area

You may find that you need to drop the shutter speed a little to allow the ambient light in the room to create some fill, but don’t let it go below 1/30th of a second or you’ll struggle with ghosting. If you find that your kids have panda eyes when they’re playing on the floor or opening gifts, add the diffusion domes to your flashguns and raise the flash power or ISO to compensate. The wider throw of light will fill in those eye sockets.

Christmas Pudding

This set-up is almost foolproof, and as long as you keep the flashes out of the frame you’ll create some magical moments on Christmas day – or any other party! You can immortalise the day by creating a collage and having those special moments printed to canvas as a “thank you” to your guests.