Christmas Photography Tips and Ideas:
How to Capture Festive Images

Christmas, with its twinkling lights, vibrant decorations, and joyful gatherings, presents a perfect canvas for photographers, both seasoned and new. Whether you've unwrapped a camera this festive season or are seeking fresh inspiration to capture the holiday magic, you've come to the right place. 

We've pulled together our top Christmas photography tips, with help from product specialist Lizzie James at Jessops, so you can get into the festive spirit.

Experiment with blurry backgrounds

Transform your holiday photos with the beautiful effect of bokeh, a Japanese term for blur. This is the trick of making your subject stand out by blurring the background. You've probably seen shots of Christmas baubles hanging from the tree, with blurred Christmas lights behind. 

To achieve this look, you'll need a fast lens — which is one with a wide maximum aperture, preferably f/2,8 or wider (lower f-number). This allows a substantial amount of light to hit the camera sensor, creating a shallow depth of field. This means a smaller section of the image remains in focus while the rest of the scene takes on a smooth, blurred appearance. The smaller the f-stop number, the more blur you get.

To capture a stunning Christmas bauble photograph with a beautifully blurred background, follow these steps:

  1. Keep the Christmas tree in the background, but hold your bauble in front of it and as close to the lens as you can get it (while still being able to focus). 

  2. Now increase the distance between the bauble and the tree. When you focus on the bauble, the tree goes out of focus. 

  3. Experiment with different distances and angles, observing the varying levels of blur and how they complement your main subject. The further you move the bauble from the tree, the more blur you'll see in the background. 

  4. Once satisfied with the composition and the level of background blur, capture your shot.

This works pretty well with still-life photography like baubles and Christmas trees, but it works even better with people. Get lots of blur in the background and your subject will really pop out of the shot! Read our guide on how to capture perfect portrait photography to learn more.

“Don't worry if you don't have a super fast lens; you can still achieve a bokeh effect,” says Lizzie. “By creating more space between your subject and the background, even lenses with smaller apertures, such as f/8, are capable of capturing images with noticeable bokeh.”

“However, if you are aiming for that ultra-soft, creamy background blur, a faster lens might be just what you need. Our f/1.8 lenses are the perfect place to start.”

Capture the details

“Simple compositions can have much more impact than shots that try to include everything,” says Lizzie. “Find a small detail that communicates Christmas and concentrate your lens on it. It could be four simple gold baubles on a white background, kids' hands opening presents on Christmas morning or even your Christmas pudding set ablaze. These simple shots can really stand out and tell a story.”

Don't forget to play around with macro photography to really capture the tiny details and colours in your shots! Read our beginner's guide to macro photography to find out more.

Take street shots

Lizzie says: “Street photography is a fantastic way to capture the unique and special scenes that define the holiday season. If you're lucky, you might even get a bit of snow, making your photos look even more magical.”

Mirrorless cameras, with their silent shutters, are perfect for street photography. You can subtly snap people hurriedly buying last-minute Christmas gifts to shop fronts dressed with twinkling lights or even a solitary figure walking through a frosty morning, all without drawing attention to yourself. This way, you preserve the authentic atmosphere of the scene, capturing the holiday spirit just as it is.”

To learn more, read our mirrorless camera buying guide.

Capture light trails

“Light trail photography is all about playing with a slow shutter speed to catch the movements of light, turning them into bright, flowing streaks or trails in your final shot,” explains Lizzie. “It’s a fun way to bring a bit of life and movement into your photos.”

“When it comes to Christmas, this technique really shines. Think about all the festive lights and decorations around. You could capture the spinning lights of a carousel at a Christmas fair or the twinkling lights on a Christmas tree as they flicker.”

To create this effect: 

  1. Put your camera on a tripod — Find a stable surface to place your camera, but for the best results, use a tripod. This ensures your camera stays completely still during the long exposure, helping to keep everything in your shot sharp and in focus. 

  2. Adjust your camera settings — Lower your ISO to its lowest setting. This minimises any potential grain in your image, ensuring a clean and crisp final product.

  3. Choose your composition and focus — Pick a spot where you want to capture the light trails. Look for a location with a good balance of static and moving lights. A road decorated with festive lights is a great choice.

  4. Set your exposure time (shutter speed) — A longer shutter speed (exposure time) is used to capture the movement of light across the frame, creating the trail effect. The exact shutter speed you choose will depend on the speed of the moving lights and the effect you want to achieve. Slower moving objects may require a longer shutter speed to create a noticeable trail. A good starting point could be an exposure time of around 10-30 seconds, but feel free to adjust as needed.

  5. Take your shot — Once everything is set up and you’re ready, take the shot. If you’re using a tripod, consider using a remote shutter release or your camera’s timer function to take the shot without touching the camera. This prevents any potential camera shake, ensuring a sharper image.

If you want to add an artistic touch, you can edit your image in post-production. For instance, you could convert the image to black and white but keep one primary colour as an accent, creating a striking contrast and drawing attention to specific parts of your image.

Capture family moments

Christmas is the perfect time for capturing family moments, and you'll inevitably find yourself taking plenty of photos. So, why not take this opportunity and turn it into a fun photography project? 

Coming up with something a bit different is always a challenge. Anyone can position the kids in front of a Christmas tree and get them to smile, but the shot is so much more captivating when they're doing something. Blowing snowflakes at the camera, dressing up as Santa or just jumping up and down all make for more interesting photos. It's all about making it a bit different.

Why not capture the kid's silhouettes in front of the Christmas tree or focus on their reflection in a silver bauble? If you're feeling ambitious, have them read a book with a light hidden between the pages so the glow illuminates their faces.

“Candid photos on Christmas day are always a good idea,” says Lizzie. “Try to get some photos of people pulling crackers and family members laughing or tucking into Christmas dinner.”

“Just try not to over-complicate things — less is often more. Keep the shot simple and make sure your background isn't distracting.”

Shoot reflections

Photographers love reflections, so it’s no surprise we’re drawn to water. Whether it’s puddles on the streets from a light snowfall, a calm lake, or a gently flowing river, water offers endless possibilities for creating stunning reflections. And you know what works best of all in those reflections? Twinkly Christmas lights. 

Lizzie advises: “Shoot from down low for dramatic effect or go higher if you’re trying to show all the reflections. Just remember to use a narrow aperture, increasing the depth of field, if you want the lights to stay in focus throughout the reflection.”

How to photograph Christmas lights

Choose a lower ISO 

"When photographing Christmas lights, especially in dark surroundings, your camera's settings are vital," Lizzie advises."A lower ISO is best as it ensures the sensor is less sensitive to light, helping to avoid noise and maintain the clarity of the image. This is especially important in low-light conditions where higher ISO settings can result in grainy photos."

"However, using a low ISO also means that less light is captured, which could potentially make the image too dark. To counteract this, you could open up your aperture or use a slower shutter speed, both of which allow more light to reach the sensor."

It's all about finding the right balance to capture the twinkling lights in all their glory!

To learn more about these camera settings, read our beginner's guide to digital cameras.

Use a tripod

"A tripod is your best friend when photographing Christmas lights," says Lizzie. "It allows you to use slower shutter speeds and lower ISOs without the risk of camera shake, ensuring sharp and clear images. This stability also opens up possibilities for creative long exposure shots, capturing the lights' movement."

Check your composition 

"Pay close attention to your composition," says Lizzie. "The placement of the lights within your frame can transform a good photo into a great one. Experiment with different angles and perspectives to find the most compelling composition."

"When I capture Christmas lights, I prefer to go for a wide-angle shot to include as much of the festive display as possible within the frame. A wide-angle lens is great for this."

How to take Christmas images in low light

The shorter days and darker nights around Christmas time can make capturing the festive atmosphere a bit tricky, but with the right techniques, you can still create stunning images. 

Here are some tips to help you navigate photography in these low-light conditions:

Optimise your camera settings 

Embrace natural light 

“Utilise existing light sources such as street lamps, window displays, or even the Christmas lights themselves to enhance your image and bring out the details in low light conditions,” says Lizzie.

Avoid flash 

Lizzie says, "In low-light photography, steering clear of the automatic flash is crucial, as it tends to overpower the scene, resulting in a flat and overexposed image."

"Flash can also create harsh shadows and highlights, which may not be flattering for subjects in the photo."

Elevate your Christmas photography with Jessops

"Anyone can stand in a certain spot and press the shutter, but really good photos have something unique about them," says Lizzie. "And with time on your hands over Christmas, you have no excuse not to experiment!"

At Jessops, we have a wide range of cameras, lenses, lighting, tripods and supports, as well as accessories to help you capture your Christmas moments.

You can follow us on social media for more tips and tricks and remember to tag us in the images using #jessopsmoment. We'd love to see them!

If you need more advice and inspiration, check out our blog. Or, if you have any questions or you're unsure about which product is right for you, contact us today.

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