Photographing “Xmas”

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Next weekend will be Xmas, and for the young people it is an event with much anticipation.  For many older folk it is a case of gritting one’s teeth until it is all over.  However, with the advent of social networking programs such as Facebook, and the wholesale acceptance of posting albums of photographs, let’s see if we can produce some great Xmas shots this year.

For all your friends, an event such as Xmas is an important milestone in their lives, in some way or another, and so the event deserves to be recorded properly.  And guess what, you cannot do it with one shot.  It takes a sequence of shots.

So to make sure that you can get the event in its entirety, here are a few hints.  The secret is to start long before you get to the event venue and sit down and make yourself a list.  A checklist, in fact.  What you have to remember at all times, is just what is this event all about?  Let us assume that the party you are going to record is a Xmas tree party.  Here’s what you should be thinking about.

What do you need to show?  Firstly you have to show that it is a Xmas, not just any old party.  Secondly you have to feature the person(s) whose Xmas party it is.  Thirdly you have to show who the people were who came to celebrate the Xmas and fourthly any significant gifts that were received.  Not even Henri Cartier-Bresson would be able to get all that lot into one photograph!

It should go without saying that you have checked your camera, it does work, you have spare memory stick/card and you do have spare batteries for the flash.  Here is the type of list I would draw up if taking photographs for your child’s Xmas:

1. Shot of Xmas children looking at a Xmas card (close up – this gives the visual clue that it is a Xmas)

2. Children opening Xmas presents (close up – more clues)

3. As above with parents and friends standing around (wide angle shot)

4. Mother getting ready for the Xmas lunch (classic clue)

5. Father carving the Xmas turkey

6. General shots of people singing and clapping

Now if the Xmas party includes a Santa, this gives a very visual central theme and you must include the shots of children sitting with Santa.  Go for close ups of the children’s faces as well.

Note that all these shots are designed to set the scene, show the participants and nominate the “star” which is always children at events like this.  There are varied shots, some close up, some group shots and together they make a package called “Xmas 2010”.

Probably one of the most important items to remember is my adage – “Walk several meters closer!”  When people are just small dots, you cannot pick out who they were, several months later.  Do not be afraid to walk in close – this one factor alone will result in much better pictures.

For many of the shots, you will also have to be prepared, because when the action happens at an event, it can happen very quickly.  For example, carving the turkey.  You can’t say, “Sorry, I wasn’t ready.  Can you do it again please?”  The name of the game is to know what you need to shoot, and be ready for it.

Now when you come to put them in the Facebook album, you have a nice group of pictures which many years later will continue to say “Xmas 2010”, unmistakably.  And you made it happen photographically.  Well done!

So next time you are going to photograph an important event, plan your shots, take them deliberately according to the plan and be amazed at how much better your results will be!

One final word of warning.  When you have become the ‘official’ photographer for any event, you cannot be the life and soul of the party until you have taken all the shots on your list.  You are being relied upon to come home with the goods.  You can’t do it with a belly full of gin and tonics!