Inspiration for shooting holiday photo themes

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Theresa St. John tips on holiday photo themesI love the holidays, mostly because of my parents. They didn’t have much but always managed to make the winter celebrations extra special for my sisters and me. Photographing Christmas brings back a flood of fond memories and all of the sweet nostalgia for my childhood and for when I was a young mom with two rambunctious boys of my own. 

Where to start? Here are four wonder-filled holiday photo themes to have fun with this festive season.

1. The Tree and All Its Trimmings

For me, the Christmas tree has always been front and center, from the handmade ornaments that little hands hang on the boughs to the finishing touches of tinsel and garland.

Inspiration for shooting holiday photo themes

Photograph the tree during all stages of the decorating process, starting with the bare branches. Capture the twinkling lights, strings of popcorn, dangling icicles, and treasured decorations of yesteryear. Don’t forget the smiles—take lots of photographs of each other as you trim the tree.   

2. Local Holiday Cheer

No matter what faith you follow, there’s bound to be some sort of holiday tradition taking place in or around the area where you live. And the holidays seem to be a time when people from all walks of life come together, learning more about each other’s traditions.

Inspiration for shooting holiday photo themes

Don’t miss the opportunity to capture the best time of year—when old and new friends and family look forward to spending quality time together. 

Is there a parade nearby? Go photograph it! In Saratoga Springs, we celebrate the season with the Victorian Streetwalk and the Festival of Trees. I’m there every single year, and my heart swells with joy when I see Santa arrive with his reindeer. I laugh as I photograph children forming a lineup and down Broadway, waiting their turn to sit on his lap and whisper the dream of what they’d like under the tree on Christmas morning. 

Photograph carolers, people dressed in their winter finery, and musicians singing on the side of the road. Photograph the decorations on every street corner. Capture the big pictures and the little details. You’ll be happy you did.

3. Friends and Family at Home

Photograph the chaos: people coming and going, serving dinner and cleaning up afterward. Smiling faces, toasting glasses, and sleepy-eyed children all tend to make great photo-ops.   

Inspiration for shooting holiday photo themes

I have many photos that aren’t even that “happy”—Mom with her head in her hands after another load of dishes. Dad, sitting on the floor, trying to gather all of the wrappings left by five daughters who have ripped their gifts open and run from the room to play.

Empty dishes, which always means the meal was a hit. Wine bottles on the counter. An open Christmas card. Anything and everything about the holiday—try to photograph it. 

4. Peaceful Scenes

Maybe it’s the newly fallen snow outside your window. Maybe it’s a snow angel made by your child before they came in to warm up with cocoa. Photograph that cup, those mittens, and their boots near the door. 

Inspiration for shooting holiday photo themes

Take that picture of a candle as it lights up the darkness in memory of a lost one. Take the joyful photos of the smiling faces and the bundled babies. 

Photographs make memories. They speak volumes to people. The gems can end up as fine art, stock photography, a moment on Instagram, or maybe a photo essay in a coffee table book. You just never know. (Editor’s Note: More tips on taking unique holiday photos here.)

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