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Holiday photo recipes

Great tips for winter holiday memories

Family, friends, and the sights and sounds of the season

One of the best uses of a camera is to bring it out at holiday time. First of all, it's a time when some of the more far-flung members of the family might make an appearance. Second, due to the many opportunities for fun and joy, you'll be likely to capture moments that have meaning and resonance. And they'll be ones that will echo down the years if printed for use in pictures frames, albums, or scrapbooks.

We encourage you to get a camera in your hands the moment the family gets together, because whether you're lighting candles for a celebration, playing in the snow, looking over mouth-watering treats in the kitchen, or scoping out amazing neighborhood lighting displays, there are photo opportunities galore at this time of year.

In our holiday catalog, we gave you some thumbnail sketches of things to consider in certain "holiday photo recipes." We'd like to take things a step further and have each of our photographers describe their approach to each shot and add a few tips for holiday photo success.

Taken with the Fujifilm X-100

You'll need a wide-aperture (f/2.8 or lower) lens for great natural light shots.

What's your recipe?

Zak, one of Crutchfield's most experienced camera slingers, took this wonderfully evocative shot while evaluating the Fujifilm X100 fixed-lens, rangefinder-style camera. Zak likes prime lenses (ones that have a fixed focal length, no zoom) with large apertures for holiday shots. Here's why:

"One reason is that a lot of shots are made indoors, in variable and dim light. Prime lenses can gather more light. Plus, you can dictate how people remember a certain event by focusing deliberately and drawing their eyes to a certain part of a photo...."

"For this shot, I chose a slow shutter speed (in this case, 1/8 second). I turned the camera 90 degrees for a vertical orientation, and stabilized it against the kitchen table. . I had set the ISO to 400, and the X100 chose f/5. The icing on the cake was composing the shot to include my daughter in the background as she ate her dinner."

Julie, Crutchfield's brand manager, is another very experienced hand with high-end cameras. She contributed two excellent photos to the spread, and added her enthusiasm for natural light photos where possible in the comments below:

"I do actually have a rather nice Nikon flash, but I am a huge fan of "natural" photos – no flash involved. So I tend to buy lenses with really large apertures, so I can get lots of light in there... The photo of the girls was taken with the Nikon 105mm f/2.8 lens. It does a great job for portraiture, sharp detail in my subjects and excellent bokeh (creamy, out of focus backgrounds), and is a "fast" enough lens that I can shoot flashless in lots of situations (it also doubles as a nice macro lens)."

Taken with the Nikon D80

Getting up close to your subject with a wider focal length really helps you emphasize perspective. You can almost taste these oranges.

Taken with the Nikon D80

Patience, a good eye for color and composition, and a good prime lens helped Julie capture a seasonal shot to treasure

Taken with the Nikon D90

Travis's Christmas tableau was created with a tripod, a fast lens, aperture priority mode, and some careful "set dressing"

"The photo of the oranges was taken with my 50mm f/1.8. That's my primary lens – I use it all the time because it's light, it's super-fast, and it's affordable, because being carried around all the time means it could get hurt."

Travis, our designer for the spread and a working photographer on the side, said this about his staged Christmas gift still-life:

"I started by using a Tamron 17-50mm zoom lens on my Nikon D90 and setting it fairly wide. Because I wanted the natural light in the scene to carry the feeling of warmth, I opted not to use a flash. Instead, I used a tripod and set my camera to aperture priority mode. Because this was shot in fairly close quarters, the wider angle helped give me the scope I needed, and the wide aperture let me make the most of the light I had to work with."

Additional tips for the season from our staff:

Julie Govan

When looking for great holiday candids and family memories, take advantage of natural light from a window. It's better to have a great photo of everyone in casual clothes, taken in the morning with light pouring through the windows, than a flash-lit, uneven photo of everyone in their best clothes before a holiday dinner.

A tripod can be very useful for indoor shots. If I'm going to be in the picture, I use my Nikon accessory remote too – if not, I just lock the tripod down and click away.

I believe in the shot-between-the-shot. Too many people methodically take a picture, check the viewscreen, and then take another. Don't waste your time with that; instead, snap away ferociously, checking only occasionally to make sure your shots are properly framed and your exposure is coming out right. I'll sometimes take 50 photos of a group of people in just a few minutes – but it's the best way to get a keeper.


When it comes to shooting winter scenes outdoors with lots of snow in the daytime, consider a good polarizing filter or neutral density filter. It will help you make higher contrast shots, avoid the effects of glare, and, in the case of the neutral density filter, give you the ability to open your aperture and enjoy the perspective-enhancing effects of a shallower depth of field.


I like using prime lenses with large apertures for holiday shots. One reason is that a lot of my shots are made indoors, in variable and dim light. Prime lenses can gather more light. Plus, you can dictate how people remember a certain event through focus choice. During the holidays, the details I like to selectively focus on are facial expressions.

Get the nearest eye in focus! I use the center focus point on my camera, focus on the near eye, recompose the photo (keep the shutter button halfway pressed as you recompose), then shoot.

When using a flash, the key there is not to point it at people, but to bounce the light off the ceiling or a wall behind you. I use manual mode, and expose so the background is two stops darker than the person or object I wish to illuminate. That gives you a nice, balanced photo that most people won't even know was made with a flash.

When photographing children, your shots will always have more impact if made from their eye level. A lot of pictures of kids are made from 5-1/2 feet at a downward angle. So squat, sit, or even lay down and you'll get your best kid photos ever. Try this with a compact camera: set it to face detection, keep it at its widest focal length, and just shoot pictures of the kids (no flash) from your hip without even looking at the screen.

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