Step Two: Do a practice run (or two or three) prior to Christmas morning!
I strongly recommend trying out your camera and the lighting several days before Christmas so you can get your settings right. Do your trial run at the same time of day, or close to it, because natural lighting in your room changes throughout the day.
Now, I know for sure that when you have little ones, they will get you up at 5AM before the sun is even up and will want to open presents right then! So there may be some years that photos are dark for that reason. I totally get that, but I will say that there is tremendous value in preparing our children that they must wait until the sun comes up.
Yes, I am suggesting to you that your kids can absolutely learn to allow you to sleep until you get up and are rested enough to be able to enjoy the festivities. And yes, to have adequate lighting for photos. Our kids are older now, ages 10-14, so they are able to entertain themselves for a while and they KNOW not to wake us before 5AM unless someone is sick or an emergency. They also know that if we are all well rested we will have a much more enjoyable time.
For us, opening presents alternates according to the years. Last year we opened presents on Christmas Eve, this year it will be on Christmas morning. I still like to have these festivities when there is a good amount of natural daylight because it sure is nice to get good photos!
When you have decided on the time of day and know what kind of light you will have, then determine your best places to be to get good photos. Where we had our tree last year gave me three really good places to be: in front of the tree, behind the sofa, and in front of the fireplace. All of those places gave me great opportunities to capture each person AND to get the room overall.
Which also brings me to: how you do decide what photos to take? How do you decide when to put the camera down and just enjoy the time together? I have two priorities: to capture each child/person individually and to capture the essence of the room, ie. what is going on at this time.
So capturing each person is very important to me because I want each of our children to feel that they are being photographed and I want them to have documentation of their childhood not only as part of the family, but also as individuals who are loved and cherished. I prioritize which presents are the *big* presents, that I KNOW will get the most excited reaction from them, and get the photographs around that time. I snap snap snap as they are opening, and then I move to the next child and their important present. I do that once for each child/person in the room, hand the camera over for opening one of my presents, and that is it.
I also want to capture the feeling of the room, I want to capture the chaos of the wrapping paper and the motion so in addition to individual photos I will also step back and take photos of the whole room. You don’t have to spend lots of time on this, just 2-3 photos is plenty. While you are capturing the room, don’t forget to photograph the tree with all the presents underneath it. Take photos from several different angles and also from above!
Step Three: Practice and learn your camera settings.
I must admit that I cannot wait to see some of the Christmas morning photos that people will take with their iPhone 8 this year, because that is an awesome camera! But I have this amazing DSLR, and you likely have one too that you really want to use to get the best photos possible. For the purposes of this lesson I want to focus on DSLR abilities.
Photographing Christmas morning with your DSLR can be one of the most frustrating things ever, and I have been there! I want you to think about your photography as a journey, and your learning never really ends. We are always in process with our art, but if we know how to use our tools properly AND become comfortable with our own personal style, then we can have great photos no matter where we are on that journey.
So let’s look at the back of my camera. I am working with a Canon 7D Mark II. I love this camera and, while it is a beast, it does a phenomenal job. My lens last year was a Canon kit lens, the 18-55mm. Even though it was damaged at the time, it still did a great job and I do love that lens. This year I am using a comparable one from Sigma, the 17-50mm 1:2.8 lens. I am still learning this lens – and be prepared for anytime you purchase new equipment, you will have a little learning curve again – but I love it so far and know that it will do great!
Remember how I recommended doing a test run? During this test run is a great time to figure out how you want your camera settings to be. I recommend this any time you are shooting somewhere new, or somewhere that you know you need to be ready. When the presents start flying, you definitely want to be ready!
I invite you to do a test run with me right here on the back of my camera!