Photo Tips for a Harmonious Holiday

BlogHer Original Post

Do you like to take the pictures at the holidays so you won’t be in too many? Yeah, me too. It’s a well known fact - if you are BEHIND the camera, you cannot be in FRONT of it.  

If you are the self-appointed photographer during family celebrations, you need to document the event without irritating all your friends and family.

Here are a few suggestions to help you get the shots you want without inspiring angst or anger among those nearest and dearest. Or ending up with candidates for Awkward Family Photos, as BlogHer Laurie White describes:

Say "awkward family photos" and the first thing that comes to my mind is my grandmother's house, any Thanksgiving between the years of, say, 1978-2004. We were all forced to gather around one end of the table in a too-small dining room, while she tried to operate a camera that always - always - malfunctioned [...]

Anyway, pushing the correct button on a camera that was typically low on batteries just in time for a special occasion required intervention from people who had to leave the shot to "help," much bickering and forced-smile-holding, possibly standing next to someone you weren't incredibly fond of for minutes that seemed like hours, my grandfather yelling "ROBERTA THE FOOD IS GETTING TOO DAMNED COLD" and then a do-over with her in the shot. Then a do-over with just her and my mother and her brothers. Then the grandchildren. Then we all did shots straight out of the turkey.

These aren’t technical tips; there are far better sources for that sort of information than me (see tip 11). Think of it more as your holiday photographer survival guide.

1. Shoot candids. It’s okay to take a few posed shots, but don’t overdo it. Everyone is together to celebrate. It’s more important to have a good time than it is to create a one-dimensional record of the event.  It’s digital - you can delete the crummy ones.

2. Don’t stalk your family members. Seriously. Get shots of everyone, but don’t keep waving your camera in their faces. Guaranteed to get you struck from the will. If someone really resists having their picture taken?  Let them be.

3. Keep your equipment simple. Most of the time, I use an 18-270mm lens for maximum flexibility but for the holidays, I’ll pull out the 18-55mm. Or use your point and shoot.  The less they notice the camera, the better your pictures.

4. Be considerate. If you know Aunt Bessie thinks her butt’s too big, don’t take a picture of her from behind.  Doesn’t matter what you think. (BTW, this goes double if it actually is. )

5. Have someone else take the camera for a bit to get a few shots of YOU. Otherwise, you become the ghost at your family celebrations.

6. Look for small moments among the big ones, as BlogHer Karen Walrond did for her daughter's first day of school.

7. Buy disposable cameras for the kids. It will protect your equipment from grabby hands and kids often get interesting shots that adults wouldn't or couldn't get. Your mother may threaten you if you dare to take a picture of her, but she'll have a harder time resisting her grandchild's request. Trust me on this.

8. If you must have video, don’t shoot the whole event unless you plan to go into the editing studio. It gets old, fast. Instead capture a single story within the event that has a lot of action. For example, when my son was younger, we filmed him opening his Santa presents on Christmas morning.

9. If the party is at someone’s home, arrange to arrive early and get some shots of the holiday and party decorations before the other guests arrive. The host has done a lot of work to prepare for the party and will appreciate the gesture.

10. Use caution when posting photos to public websites like Flickr, especially if other people’s children are in the shots. Typically I post all family photos to Family only and then selectively make a few favorites public.

11. For technical photo advice, don't ask me. Instead, check out these great sites:

Susan Getgood is a marketing and social media consultant. She blogs professionally at Marketing Roadmaps and also writes a personal blog Snapshot Chronicles and a family travel blog Snapshot Chronicles Roadtrip. She is a co-founder of, and recently started work on her first book.

What's on your family's digital holiday list? New phone? New camera? Figuring out how to use the one you already have? Tell us in the Family Connections Group.


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