The holiday season is almost upon us, and you know what that means: fun, festive family photos to share with all your friends and family! But sometimes making these magic moments happen isn’t so easy.
Professional photographers are great, but they aren’t cheap, and booking this time of year can be difficult, too. Doing it yourself would be so much easier, and you actually have everything you need right in your pocket: your smartphone.
With beefed up resolution, multiple lenses and amazing low-light capabilities, today’s smartphones—like the latest iPhones, Google Pixel and Samsung Galaxy devices—can arguably do just as good a job as a pro shoot or complicated DSLR, all from the comfort of home.
Here are some helpful tips on how to get that great festive family shot using your smartphone.
1. Dress for the occasion
As a general photography rule of thumb, it’s best to dress the family in neutral colours with no loud patterns that can be distracting and lead to potential photo editing issues later. If you’re going for more of a classy, elegant family photo, consider seasonal colours like reds, whites, silver and greens. On the other hand, fugly Christmas sweaters, reindeer baby onesies and Santa hats are a blast and help get everyone in a festive mood, so if that’s your jam, go for it.
2. Create your own DIY photo studio
Gathering the family around the Christmas tree or the fireplace is classic and pretty easy to pull off. But another great option for photographing the kids or getting a great solo shot of your newborn is to use festive wrapping paper as a backdrop. It’s cheap and you can pretty much hang it from anything, like the side of the crib or some chairs. A quick search on Amazon and you can also find inexpensive and fun patterned backdrops, like fall leaves or snowy scenes. Add a cozy rug for some floor texture, set it up with the backdrop facing a window with nice natural light, and snap away.
3. Tripod, tripod, tripod
Using a tripod will make sure your shots are super stable, reducing the likelihood of movement blur, while also allowing longer exposures in low-light. You’ll be able to fine-tune and set your framing, so you can focus on wrangling the family, and if you don’t have someone behind the camera snapping pics, a tripod makes it easier for you to set a timer and jump in the shot. And there are all kinds of inexpensive tripod options out there–from pocket-sized to ones with bendy, grippy legs for mounting on just about anything (again, Amazon is your friend here). If you already have a tripod, you can simply add a smartphone attachment to it.
4. Say no to flash
Smartphone and compact camera flashes can be harsh, so it’s best to avoid using them, full stop. Luckily, today’s smartphone technology scoffs at low-light situations—most devices are able to produce bright, clear images in almost any situation. Ideally, you’ll want to shoot in the best natural light possible, but for dimmer situations (like for that fireplace family shot with beautiful glowing ambient light), a phone with a ‘night’ option is best. The latest iPhone 11, for example, has a new Night Mode feature that comes on automatically when needed. Multiple images are taken with its dual cameras, that are then combined and aligned to reduce blur, adjust contrast and fine-tune colours for a balance final image. If you’re an Android person, you’ll find night-mode options in Google’s Pixel 4, the Huawei P30 Pro and Samsung’s Galaxy S10 smartphones.
5. Use burst mode
There’s nothing worse than finally getting that perfect shot, only to find upon closer inspection that your little guy decided to, um, dig for some gold right when you snapped. Your smartphone likely has a burst mode, which fires off a series of fast shots as you hold down the shutter button. This way, you can go into the phone’s gallery and select from the burst shots just before or after the offense. This feature is pretty standard on most Android and iOS (Apple) devices.
6. Use portrait mode
Using portrait mode is a great way to deliver that shallow depth of field, or blurry “bokeh” background that makes portraits so beautiful. People and faces pop while lightly fuzzing out those twinkling tree lights or falling snowflakes. The iPhone 11’s dual cameras again work together to pull this off intelligently and the feature can now be used in both its wide and ultra-wide modes, for those with extra-large families. Plus, you can fine-tune the amount of background blur afterwards with the edit function. Again, most smartphones have this feature nowadays, and while Apple and Google tend to do it best, you also can’t go wrong with the latest devices from the likes of Samsung or Huawei.
7. Get creative with selfies and video
While most of us will be printing and mailing our holiday cards, in this social media age, you might also be sending out digital cards or messages. This opens up several new and fun ways to wow family and friends with your adorable brood. With cool features and apps like time-lapse, Boomerang, filters and more, your smartphone can do a lot more than snap a pic. If selfies are your thing, the latest iPhone 11s offer a new “slofie” feature, which allows you to use the front-facing camera to record a short slo-motion video. So get the kids outside for a slofie snowball fight or gather around the tree and toss some tinsel up in the air. The results are festive and tons of fun.
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