Christmas photography is the subject of most photographer’s minds right now. While it’s easy to use traditional portrait techniques, creating Christmas photos that are a little different can be challenging. That’s why I’ve created this list of outdoor Christmas photography ideas for you to try. Moving outdoors gives you far more options for composition and creativity; here are some of my favorite ideas!
1-Falling Snow Scenes
Few things are more Christmas-inspiring than falling snow. When shooting Christmas images in the outdoors, snow is mandatory unless you live in the Southern Hemisphere. Falling snow adds to the mystical atmosphere of an image and creates a playful character. Your subject can use natural guided posing techniques such as looking upwards while allowing the face to be highlighted by Golden Hour rays of sunshine. Looking back over the shoulder, forming a snowball…Falling snow outdoor portraits have endless potential.
2-Classic Color Combinations
As we all know, the colors of Christmas are gold, red, white, and green. White is the master color. White is the color of purity and can also be matched with any of the other colors for a holiday atmosphere. White and gold create a classic, almost old-fashioned Christmas theme while white, red, and green are more punchy and modern.
Snow in the outdoors gives you all of the white you could ever need. Combine that with holiday clothing, rich in reds, greens, and golds, for images anyone will recognize as Christmas-inspired. Other environmental choices include trees, preferably pine or spruce, for greens, the sun for gold, and poinsettias for red.
3-Holiday Light Strings
Christmas lights can be a pain to work with. They tangle easily, often short out, and always need adjustment from parents with a critical eye. But what if instead of placing them high above one’s head, you used them as props for Christmas portraiture?
Short strands of colored lights make great additions to any image; both multicolored and single hued strands can work, depending on your tastes. Give some thought to what you’re wearing as well as the background of your eventual portrait. Multicolored stands work best with scenes and clothes already bursting with color, for example. A scene and subject with a few dominant colors are better served with monochrome strange of red, white, gold, or green, the traditional colors of Christmas.
You’ll want a fast aperture lens for holiday light portraits. These lenses have wide apertures of f/2 or below. By creating a shallow zone of focus (depth of field), they render the background pleasingly blurred and create blurred balls (bokeh) from out of focus light sources while leaving the in-focus area razor sharp. While the standard for classic portrait photography, fast aperture portrait lenses can create an almost mystical halo of colored light around your portrait subject!
4-Documenting the Preparation
While taking pictures of the finished outdoor display is mandatory, what about the creative steps leading to the final product? What about the candid laughs, jokes, stories, and other heartfelt moments leading up to finally turning on the lights or making it to the end of a hike with family?
Documentary photography is a powerful way of telling the story of your outdoor holiday excursion because it’s so honest. Rather than posed, perfect moments, you share with the viewer real intimacy and connection through the lenses of your camera, family, and self!
Even planned events can lead to great documentary images. Invite your kids to play in the first snowfall with new Christmas hats and gloves! Children are some of the best documentary photography subjects because they’re so great at forgetting about the camera. Soon, you’ll have images of snowball fights, Christmas light strings being untangled, jokes on the porch with hot cocoa, and all of the other steps leading up to the result!
Environmental portraits are best captured using a normal to wide-angle lens and background that tells a story. Normal focal lengths use lenses ranging from 35mm to 50mm. Anything more than 50mm is considered a telephoto view; narrower than what our attention usually takes in. And anything less than 35mm is a wide-angle view, or wider than what we usually pay attention to.
By including backgrounds with Christmas trees, decorations, falling snow, winter clouds, and other storytelling elements, we create an image with far more depth than a simple portrait. Environmental portraits are also challenging because managing everything within the frame takes attention. It’s harder to get shallow depth of field with a wide-angle lens so the photographer can’t easily blur away any distracting elements.
If you live in or near a region with stunning outdoor scenery, why not visit a park instead of a studio for your Christmas photos? Falling snow in a sunlit forest is an even more beautiful background than anything a studio could provide. Mountain preserves, riversides with ice floes to mark winter, and even outdoor Christmas displays designed by the local council are all perfect for environmental portraiture!
Rather than cozying up in the living room, how about creating a set in the outdoors? A heavy wool blanket in the back of a pickup truck laid out and covered in ornaments, gifts, and other props make for a mobile, creative set that’s perfect for outdoor Christmas photography!
Alternatively, wrap yourself up in the blanket with a partner, as if exploring the forests on a whim, before taking your portraits. Falling snow, whispering trees, and the white skies of winter all add new depth to your image. Monogrammed gear adds personality as well; mugs, hats, and scarves with personal character are well worth buying for planned outdoor Christmas photoshoots!
Outdoor Christmas photography is an art that thrives more on creativity than tradition. Since we take holiday pictures every year, it can be hard to create photos that shake things up with passion and artistic delight. By incorporating some of these ideas into your next photo shoot, you’ll have images that you’ll want to revisit every year, not just on the holidays!
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