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Five Fun Ideas for Making Festive Holiday Images


In December, cities and suburbs decorate with a blaze of holiday lights and color. Even if it’s not your usual thing, gather up a few friends for a fun photo walk to create some beautiful and colorful holiday images.

Bring a tripod or don’t – you can make do as you go along. Your goal is to have fun and to make images that capture the essence of the season. Embrace the colors, look for holiday lights, keep an eye out for seasonal blooms, capture miniature moments, and photograph the music around you. Read on for tips and ideas for making beautiful holiday images.

1. Embrace colors

Over-the-top holiday decorating is filled with color. Department stores like Macy’s use festive decorating as a way to lure customers into the store. It’s a lure for photographers too. Just look at this red lighting in Macy’s!

Five Fun Ideas Holiday Images 1

Believe, The Walnut Room at Macy’s in Chicago, IL
Canon 5DIII, Canon 24-105L @ 24mm, ISO 3200, 1/90th, f/4, hand-held

Inside a department store, the ambient light will be low and you probably won’t be allowed to use a tripod. The solution is to crank up your ISO. You’ll want your shutter speed as fast as possible to prevent motion blur. If you have a steady hand or if your lens has stabilization, you’ll be able to hand-hold at lower shower speeds but a high ISO – think 2000 to 4000 – should give your shutter speed the boost it needs.

Composing your images

In addition to the riot of holiday color, department stores are filled with signage, bright spotlights, and people so be creative when you compose your images. Try unusual perspectives to help you avoid distracting elements. Here at the Walnut Room in Macy’s Chicago you can photograph the tree from the ground floor, from the elevator, and from the upper gallery. The first image above was shot from a low vantage point. The result emphasizes the angled red ceiling and the word “Believe.” The second image looks down, emphasizing the size of the tree.

Five Fun Ideas Holiday Images 2

The great tree, The Walnut Room at Macy’s in Chicago, IL
Canon 5DIII, Canon 24-105L @ 24mm, ISO 3200, 1/30th, f/6.7, hand-held

Sometimes it helps to zoom in when you compose. Don’t worry about fitting the entire tree into your frame. Instead, move around and find a composition with repeating elements, like the smaller tree projected on the wall.

Five Fun Ideas Holiday Images 13

Pink Christmas, the streets of London, England
Canon 70D, Canon 18-55 @ 36mm, ISO 200, 1/13th, f/5.6, hand-held

If you don’t have an iconic location like Macy’s Walnut Room near you, head to your local shopping mall or main street shopping district. Shop owners work hard to make their storefronts look beautiful. Again, think outside the box when you compose your images. The trees in the image above caught my eye because they were pink and purple, rather than the traditional red and green. These two trees flanked an open shop door. Since the inside of the shop wasn’t very attractive, the solution was to stand to the side, get low, and focus on the sparkly pink snowflake. The tree on the opposite side of the door then fades into a lovely blur of bokeh.

2. Look for lights

Cities are great places for holiday photo walks and image making. Make sure to check out large parks and plazas that usually have lighted trees. Super large outdoor trees make great focal points. They also make great backdrops when using larger apertures because the twinkly lights blur into a beautiful bokeh.

When shooting in the city, arrive just before dusk to scout your location and find good backgrounds. A beautiful time of day to shoot the holiday lights is the hour after sunset because the