How to get better Christmas photos than last year

Improve your festive photography with these 10 easy tips.
On a lawn covered in frost, a child sits on a stepladder entertained by his parents. All three are dressed in warm winter clothing. Photographed by Lena Petrova.

Even if your Christmas is steeped in tradition, each and every holiday season is unique. So it's important to make sure you photograph the fleeting moments of family fun and Christmas get-togethers, whether you're at home by the tree, visiting relatives or just enjoying the winter scenery on a festive walk.

Family photographer Lena Petrova has perfected her method of capturing this special time of the year, both when it comes to the candid shots and the more planned festive photos. Her approach to family photography can be summed up in one sentence: "You will get good shots when everyone forgets about the photoshoot and just enjoys spending time with each other." So, wherever you're spending Christmas, it's all about having a jolly time while creating lasting memories.

Here are some tips that will give you plenty of Christmas picture ideas, from how to shoot beautiful bokeh using fairy lights to capturing the frantic action of opening presents without blur, and also posing natural group portraits.

With invaluable input from Lena, we'll show you how to take family photos at home and outdoors using your Canon EOS R System camera, and how to bring them alive with your Canon PIXMA or SELPHY printer.


1. Think of the background

Two boys play happily in the snow at night. Blurred in the background are a pair of Christmas trees twinkling with fairy lights. Photographed by Lena Petrova.

Lena advises choosing scenes based on your family traditions. "In addition to decorating the Christmas tree and unwrapping the gifts, there are dinner preparations, signing of cards and no doubt many other things that mean something to you and your loved ones," she says. In order to get good photos of children playing, meanwhile, the best thing to do is play with them. "Try to find out what the children want to do, and create a situation where they can show it off," adds Lena. "You get the best shots when everyone is having fun." Taken at 1/160 sec, f/2.2 and ISO 1250. © Lena Petrova

"For a family portrait, I look for a background that is calm, so it doesn't draw attention away from the people in the photograph," explains Lena. "But it doesn't have to be plain – you can include a Christmas tree, or fairy lights, to create a holiday atmosphere."

Remember to vary your festive backgrounds. Having every shot in front of your home tree can easily get boring. Consider which elements of the holiday are important to you and your family and focus on including those.

Make sure you get outdoors, too. You could take photos against snow-covered trees or head to a festive market on Christmas Eve. If there's a Santa's Grotto in your town, it's hard to beat the classic photo of a young family member sitting next to Santa.

2. Focus on the things that matter

"The things that create a cosy atmosphere in real life are not always suitable for a neat photograph, so when I shoot portraits in people's homes, I often move furniture and excess decorations from the frame, including pictures on the wall," says Lena.

For more candid shots, you can choose a camera angle that removes unwanted elements from your scene, or play with your composition and framing to ensure the viewer's eye is naturally drawn to your subject – try placing a subject centrally or using the rule of thirds. Alternatively, you can use a lens like the Canon RF-S 18-45mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM to zoom in and cut out distractions. You could also try using a lens such as the Canon RF 35mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM which has a super wide f/1.8 maximum aperture to blur backgrounds and draw extra attention to your subject.

3. Use props and decorations

A mother and child look at a Christmas display set up on a frosty lawn. They are both dressed in warm winter clothing. Photographed by Lena Petrova.

"Don't be afraid to overdo props; it's better to have a bit of everything rather than limiting yourself to one or two," says Lena. "Think of festive clothing, as well. It can look odd if your subjects pose in ordinary jackets while holding Christmas props and being surrounded by fairy lights. But make sure that the clothing doesn't distract from the faces in the picture by having too many strong or contrasting colours." Taken at 1/250 sec, f/2.5 and ISO 1600. © Lena Petrova

"For an outdoor Christmas photo, you will need elements in the frame that signify that it's Christmas time, such as trees, lights and decorations," says Lena. This could be as simple as bringing stockings or decorations out into your garden."

You don't have to force props and decorations into your shots unnaturally, though. Festive decorations are hard to avoid during the run up to Christmas, so you can include them naturally by shooting in a documentary style when you're out and about. For example, to include the Christmas tree, why not document the day or night you picked it up and struggled to get it into the car?

4. Choose the right lens

"It can be tempting to use a wide-angle lens to fit more people into the frame in cramped conditions, but short focal lengths will create distortions that your family won't like," says Lena.

Instead, you'll want to use a lens like the Canon RF 50mm F1.8 STM. This lens is wider than a portrait lens, so can fit more people into frame, but isn't wide enough to create barrel distortion.

A zoom lens such as the Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM or the Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM, meanwhile, will allow you to create a pleasant background blur. Simply move away from your subject, and then zoom in until you've created exactly the effect you want.

5. Embrace the weather

Two children hold oranges above their heads. The child on the left is also holding a red Christmas hat. Taken on a Canon EOS R100.

While the postcard snowy Christmas often isn't a reality, bad winter weather usually is. As such, it's important to embrace all types of weather and learn to use your camera in different scenarios. Taken on a Canon EOS R100 with a Canon RF-S 18-45mm F4.5-6.3 IS STM lens at 20mm, 1/320 sec, f/4.5 and ISO 800.

Even if you live in an area that gets extremely cold, remember that your Canon EOS R System camera can operate in conditions that humans find a struggle. The Canon EOS R100, for example, can operate at temperatures between 0 and 40°C.

In snow, the reflective white can make it difficult for your camera to determine the correct exposure, resulting in dark photos. Switch your camera from Evaluative Metering to Spot Metering (within Metering mode) and select something darker than the snow, such as a subject's face, to expose for that area rather than the whole scene.

In snow and rain or on cloudy days, you might find your shots looking very grey and dull. To overcome this, change your camera's white balance to the Cloudy preset, which will brighten things up.

6. Consider shutter speed

It's important that you keep shutter speed in mind when shooting at Christmas. A shutter speed of 1/60 is usually sufficient to overcome camera shake and for people not sitting still. For deliberately moving subjects though, you'll want to use a faster shutter of 1/250 sec or quicker to avoid motion blur.

But remember that blur isn't always bad, and can convey a sense of movement in your photography. Using a slow shutter speed with your camera on a tripod can blur people moving through your frame, while keeping the surroundings sharp and in focus. You could, for example, focus on the Christmas tree, using a slow shutter to blur the movements of your family around it.

7. Make the group shot pop

A family of seven including a dog stands outside in Christmas sweaters and bobble hats. Behind them is a wall of fir trees. Photographed by Lena Petrova.

"Don't forget to take multiple shots, in case somebody blinks," encourages Lena of group portraits. Taken at 1/250 sec, f/3.5 and ISO 3200. © Lena Petrova

"For a group portrait, you almost always work with two rows of people," explains Lena. "To get all the participants in sharp focus across two rows, the aperture should be around f/4-5.6. Your goal is to place everyone's heads at different levels. See if you can find chairs of different heights, or use an armchair, and have one person sit on the armrest."

Many people wonder how to shoot Christmas group images, and certain Canon cameras can make the whole process so much simpler, including the Canon EOS R50 and Canon EOS R100, which both have a Group Photo mode.

"Try to avoid silence during your preparations for a group shot," Lena continues. "Often, novice photographers tend to concentrate on technical issues, turning inward and forgetting about the people posing for the photograph. Your friends and family members, in turn, get bored, and it shows in the photos. Tell them what you're doing, and put on some music to help people relax."

8. Photograph the photographer

Christmas is all about spending time with family and friends, but when you're behind the camera it's sometimes difficult to remember that includes you.

"By setting the timer on your camera, or using the Canon Camera Connect app to take the shot remotely, you can also include yourself in your family portrait," says Lena.

There are ways to get yourself into shots creatively, though, even if you forget to dive into the front of the family portrait. You could utilise the reflections of windows or water, or even mirrors in your home, to get yourself into frame in an artistic way.

9. Don't forget the pets

A cat wears a paper crown from a cracker while lying in front of a small Christmas tree. The crown is too big and slipping over the animal's eyes. Photographed by Lena Petrova.

Many Canon cameras such as the Canon EOS R100 and Canon EOS 5D Mark IV (used here) feature animal detection AF modes, so even if your pet isn't a fan of sitting still, you can get perfectly in-focus shots of them every time. Taken at 1/200 sec, f/1.8 and ISO 3200. © Lena Petrova

A cat wearing a red scarf and lying on an armchair turns its head to look at the camera. Blurred in the background is a Christmas tree twinkling with fairy lights.

Photos only serve as memories if you can tell what's in them, so it's important to avoid blur. Your Canon EOS R System camera will help you capture the true nature of your pet, whether that's mischievous, pensive, adorable or all three.

"Christmas bulbs and toys are new and exciting to pets, so there are good chances of getting funny, playful Christmas photos of them," says Lena. "You can tease a cat with gift wrap ribbon or fairy lights, and dogs will happily play outside in the snow with the children – all these are excellent subjects for fun Christmas shots."

You could also make some festive-themed dog biscuits and capture the look on your best friend's face as they dig in. Or why not visit a local rescue centre and ask if you can photograph their animals? Even better, volunteer your services for the day. You can take some amazing photos while walking the dogs or playing with the cats, and might even be able to help them get adopted.

10. Bring memories to life

A Canon SELPHY printer with a red bow wrapped around it and twinkly fairy lights all around it.

If you need tips for photographing families for Christmas cards and other gifts, look for candid moments as well as staged ones, as these natural reactions can often show loved ones as we know them best. You can then print them on your Canon PIXMA or SELPHY printers. Head to Canon Creative Park for endless printing and crafting options – from templates to printable picture frames and photo books to give as presents to your loved ones.

Once you've got your perfect Christmas photos, all that's left to do is bring your memories to life in print. The first step is to get your prints into shape using one of Canon's printing apps.

If you're using a Canon PIXMA printer, such as the Canon PIXMA TS5350a Series, the Easy-Photoprint Editor app has lots of templates, a layout editor and image editing tools to help you use your Christmas photos in creative ways, from printing for collages, calendars and scrapbooks to templates that allow you to print your own Christmas cards.

For anyone using a Canon SELPHY printer, such as the Canon SELPHY CP1500, the Canon SELPHY Photo Layout app gives you plenty of new ways to print your festive memories. Choose from a wide range of layouts, customise with stamps or text, and select from a range of finishes. The app also lets you add a QR code to your prints, which could link to an online album of family Christmas photos.

With these tips, you can make Christmas this year truly unforgettable!

Written by Pete Wolinski

Related products

Related articles


    Christmas card printing

    Style your own festive photo shoot and print bespoke Christmas cards.


    A winter papercraft challenge

    From Christmas tree toppers to snowflakes and baubles, create festive papercraft decor with a PIXMA printer and Creative Park.


    Fun & festive pet portraits

    Simple tips, tricks and techniques for taking striking pet photos this Christmas.


    Shooting for print

    Seven top tips for capturing memories to preserve in print.