How to Take the Perfect Holiday Photos This Christmas

With the holidays here, many will be snapping photos at parties or special events, with some even seeking professional photographers for help capturing that picture-perfect festive memory. Unfortunately, a lot of us look back at our images over the years with disappointment and second guess our next photographic endeavors. From irritating photo bombers to blurry faces and poor composition or lighting — we understand your frustrations.

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(Photo: Getty Images/Pekic)

According to Nikon, Christmas is the prime picture-taking time of year. But shooting images amid the holiday hustle and bustle can feel rather difficult, inducing a wave of anxiety and apprehension. As Hoosier and natural light photographer Nicole Mehl of Nicole Mehl Photography reassures PopCulture.com readers, it isn't complicated!

There are efficient ways to preserve your holiday memories for years to come. Whether using a smart phone, point-and-shoot or seeking hired help, we share how you can make festive photographs stand out this season.

Cut the "Cheese!"

It might be fun to run around your party asking everyone to "Smile!" or "Say cheese!" but it's wiser to be more discreet in your attempts. Capturing the essence and spontaneity of what people are doing makes for interesting photos — from talking and laughing to opening presents and sharing a meal. While posed photos serve a purpose, Mehl shares it's essential to be looking for special, real life moments. "Allow yourself to interact with your family members as you would if the camera wasn't even there," Mehl tells PopCulture.com.

Establish Trust and Relax

When snapping photographs at festive events, many people complain or get shy about having their photo taken, with hopes of the experience being over quickly. As Mehl puts it, from her own familiarity of working with hundreds of clients over the years, establishing trust with the intention of a relaxed environment is essential. "There is a level of closeness, of trust that shows right through the lens of the camera," she said. "Connecting is essential to not just making an image, but to make images that you actually feel."

Set the Center Stage

As part of the set-up for the quintessential collection of holiday images, Mehl lists perfect setting points like a Christmas tree nearby, a tree farm, Christmas lights in the background, or even on a trip to outdoor snowscapes.

"Somewhere that will give you a clue to the time of year that you are in," she suggests. "If you are outside in the snow, wear clothes that are fitting to being in the snow. It looks odd to look at photos where people are outside in visibly cold weather and they are not dressed for cold weather."

While setting is important, Mehl believes it takes a back seat to the actual subjects: "The best spots are always simple and the secret sauce is always really beautiful, indirect natural light!"

Light Right

Good light is so important. Mehl advises to choose a camera setting that utilizes a good source of natural light because it gives better quality. If outside, try shooting an hour or two before sunset and do your best to keep the sun behind your subject so they aren't squinting.

Conversely, if indoors, Mehl suggests gravitating towards rooms with a lot of light coming in through windows. "I like window light to hit my subject on the side of their body, so instead of them facing the window straight on, they would be standing or sitting with their shoulder facing the window," she reveals. "If I am using the window as my light source, I always turn off any lights that might be on in the house. This will give you nice white light — standard light bulbs and fluorescent bulbs can give off a weird color cast."

Compose Creatively

Many of us frame our subjects in the center, but an asymmetrical layout where subjects are off to the left or right with negative space on either side works just as well. Not only can this look be artsy, but it also serves a purpose — it directs our attention solely to the subject. Mehl's technique is to keep the frame as close to what she can see with her own eyes. "Avoid tilting the camera at weird angles," she said. "If you wouldn't tilt your head in real life, don't do it with your camera!"

When composing, she advises to be mindful of everything that’s in frame and to position yourself so that you can exclude things that are distracting to the image's main focus.

Practice Makes Perfect

Mehl encourages novices that the key to taking good photographs is to practice — get to know your camera and lenses through its manual or free online resources. "If you have a camera that gives you the option to shoot in manual mode, learn how to use it!" she stresses. "Knowing how to utilize these settings will make a huge impact on the quality of images you create and give you so much more control over the look and feel of your photographs."

Going the Pro Route

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Whether finding the perfect photographer for a social or corporate gathering, Mehl recommends being selective. "Research their work and choose who moves you the most — select someone you can see yourself working with time and time again," she advises.

As someone who finds it easy and effortless to shoot in her clients’ homes, Mehl, like many other photographers enjoys festive photography. "I love capturing people’s real lives right where they live their real life, and what better time to do that than during the Christmas season," she smiled.