Every year, the holiday season whizzes by in a blur of parties, decorations, and shopping. And as we stumble into January with a hazy recollection of the festivities from the month before, we realize we forgot to share evidence of a holiday well spent on our Instagrams. But what is considered an Instagram-worthy holiday moment? How do you balance enjoying the holidays without getting sucked out of the cheer?
Great Instagram photography is a blend of being vulnerable, capturing organic moments, and pairing that imagery with honest storytelling. Sharing moments that are real and relatable will outperform any Norman Rockwell-esque scene you try to engineer with your holiday photography. But at the same time, a perfunctory selfie that’s poorly framed and taken in haste will also not help your Instagram brand. So rather than trying too hard to orchestrate holiday memories by getting all of the kids to sit still for a group photo focus on the elements that make the holidays special to you. Observe the action and listen to the stories as they unfold, because those are the stories that will resonate most on Instagram. So keep your camera at your hip and keep an eye out for these Instagrammable moments.
Though time in the kitchen might seem boring and mundane, it’s actually a great place to capture some holiday action. But photography in the kitchen doesn’t have to focus solely on the food. The real story of the holidays is what’s happening around the food preparation.
Cooking, especially for the holidays, is a social activity. It’s a chance for multiple generations to gather, swap family recipes, and connect over food. How are your family members interacting with one another? What stories are they exchanging? What are they laughing about? Listen just as much as you are watching what’s going on in the kitchen because quotes and stories along with the candid moments you will capture will make for beautiful holiday moments. Moments like the ones that will unfold in the kitchen are a window into the traditions and rituals that makes your family holiday celebrations unique, so use these photos as a way to spark a conversation with your audience about the holiday traditions of their families.
Here, is a tender and vulnerable moment of a son and his mother putting leftovers away after a holiday meal. Including that they were discussing his son’s upcoming proposal makes this Instagram post even more personal. Shooting with an aperture priority helped to emphasize the orange, evening glow in the kitchen.
Photographer's Tip: Kitchens can be tight, so use a wider lens. A 24mm prime works well and can be less intrusive. It’s hard to capture candid moments when everyone is acutely aware of how large your camera is.
I would also recommend shooting aperture priority, especially if a kitchen with a window. Late daylight from the window paired with indoor lighting can be challenging to work with.
The holidays are full of surprises. Gift exchanges, greeting distant relatives, a tree lighting, or sharing good news like a proposal or baby announcement, are all moments that make the season bright. But as magical as holiday surprises can be, our reactions to them are even more exciting. That’s why when news is being shared, or gifts are being given, I am watching the faces around me. I’m not focusing on the surprise itself, but rather trying to capture the peak of a person’s reaction.
Capturing a reaction is a very powerful story for your Instagram. As empathetic creatures, we instinctively recognize facial expressions and have the ability to emotionally relate to those experiences. A photo of a reaction paired with a story will connect deeply with your Instagram audience.
This is a photo of friend playfully teasing another friend during a Carnival celebration in Germany. An Instagram caption talking about his love of the Saw movies and riddles brings more of his character to this photo.
Photographer's Tip: I use burst to capture all the subtle changes in facial expressions!
What makes the holidays different than any other time of year? Sure, the change in weather and the shorter days, but without the unique ways in which we celebrate the holidays, this time of year would merely be a long streak of cold and seemingly endless nights.
Show your Instagram followers how you celebrate the holidays by capturing what cultural traditions you and your family participate in. An inside look at your culture is the kind of human-driven storytelling that helps you connect more deeply with your Instagram audience. It’s a type of storytelling that is engaging and relatable. There are hundreds of holiday traditions, all unique and beautiful and waiting to be shared.
A popular holiday drink in Germany is glühwein, a warm, mulled red wine served in a commemorative ceramic mug. This photo not only communicates that I’m at a Christmas Market in Hamburg, Germany in 2010, but it’s capturing a German holiday tradition that I am sharing with a second glühwein drinker.
Photographer's Tip: To capture steam like I did in the above photo, you need to consider contrast. Make sure that the lighting is soft and the subject you’re shooting is on a darker background. I recommend shooting at 35mm, 55mm, or 80mm.
If you’re taking photos of your family tradition in action, be sure you have your camera set to capture the movement. If you don’t want blurred movements, raise your shutter speed and use shutter priority, turn on continuous shooting mode if you have it, make sure you’re using the center focal point.
Decorating is one of the most popular holiday past times. What other time of year do you adorn your house with lights, evergreen wreaths, holly, and shiny ornaments? Capturing homes illuminated by the soft glow of twinkling lights is an iconic Instagram story. But an even more impactful story is to take a photograph of a familiar landscape or cityscape.
In this photo, a Christmas tree and a market can be seen in front of Philadelphia’s iconic City Hall. Incorporating City Hall into the photo gives the photograph a sense of nostalgia for people who have been to the city, or it can be an inspiration for others who hope to someday visit.
Photographer's Tip: For shooting at night you’ll need a camera that can do shutter priority for long exposure shots. Play around with how long the shutter stays open for different types lighting effects. Moving the camera slightly will cause light streaks in your photos, resulting in more abstract photography.
A popular trend in social photography is the deconstruction of elements. It’s most commonly used in food photography where the dish is surrounded by its ingredients in their raw forms. For instance, a butternut squash soup placed next to a whole butternut square, fresh carrots with their stems intact, and salt rocks and peppercorns sprinkled on the table.
But the technique can be applied to everything from holiday packing, decorations, gift wrapping materials and more. A little staging is required, but it gives you the chance to express what elements represent the holidays to you in a creative manner, creating a holiday mosaic that is unique to you.
Another similar technique can be to zero in on an object. Here is a close up photo of only a portion of a wreath. But since all of the elements are there, your audience can still guess that it is a holiday wreath. Making it off-center makes the photo more dynamic.
Photographer's Tip: This type of photo doesn’t require a fancy camera. This can be achieved with a phone camera.
Take Photos from Above
Shooting from above takes away from distracting backgrounds and focuses the eye on the subject. Also, with no people in the photo, it’s easier for your Instagram audience to imagine themselves in the moment.
This is a style more commonly used with food photography. In this photo, there is a plate of beautifully decorated cookies onto a festive table cloth. It’s taken from an angle that shows off each cookie and gives the illusion that you can reach down into the photo and take one!
Photographer's Tip: Stand over the subject and point your camera straight down. If you can’t get high enough above, try to find something stable to stand on or raise your camera above your head, though the latter technique may take a few tries to get everything centered.
Point of View
Your Instagram is moments in your everyday life. So incorporate photos taken from your perspective. These don’t have to be serious photos. The more inconspicuous the better to capture those raw, imperfect moments.
Here’s a photo from a recent holiday meal. Not only does it show what I’m eating for dinner, it also captures two other dinner guests enjoying their meals.
Photographer's Tip: The best point of view photos can be taken with a phone. It’s small and doesn’t draw too much attention to the fact that you’re taking a photo. That way, you’re more likely to capture authentic moments.
Pets are part of the family and are always trending on Instagram. #CatsofInstagram and #DogsofInstagram are not going away anytime soon. Bring your pets into the holiday fun by snapping a shot of them playing with a holiday toy to play with or taking a photo of them trying to take off those fake antlers.
But a classic moment that performs well on Instagram is a classic shot of your pet underneath the Christmas tree. Cats are especially easy for this type of photo since they are enamored with anything shiny.
In this photo, I didn’t even have to position my cat amongst the gifts under the tree. She did it on her own. I was just ready with my camera to catch the moment. For this, I simply used my phone, but if you’re using a DSLR camera, a 50mm lens works well for portraits in low lighting situations.