Decoding Camera Secrets to Take Your Holiday Picture Taking Skills to the Next Level!

I recently was lucky enough to be invited to the Techlicious/Consumer Technology Association Lunch and Learn and BOY OH BOY, did I learn a LOT! I’ve always prided myself on being an above average picture taker.  By no means a professional, but I never settle for a poorly composed photo and every shot I take can always be improved. My general rule for Taking Better Holiday Photos is simple – Just get the shot! In most situations, a good editing software can make a horrible photo into something amazing. Here are some tips that you may already know, and some, that will just elevate your photos to the next level.


  1. BURST MODE. As I said, just get the shot and Burst Mode does just that, enabling you to take multiple shots with one press of the shutter button.
  2. SPORTS MODE. One of my favorite modes on my Nikon D3300, which has now been replaced with the Nikon D3400 [$499.99] with it’s amazing NIKKOR lens, is Sports Mode. Designed to help you capture a moving object while retaining all the vibrant color, it’s perfect for capturing shots during your child’s baseball game or swim meet.


  1. RAISE THE ISO LEVEL. Raising the ISO setting makes your camera sensor more sensitive to light. The more sensitive it is, the faster the camera can take a photo, which will reduce the amount of blur caused by camera shake. One caveat: If you push the ISO number up too high, you’ll start seeing noise, those grainy-looking imperfections you see most easily in solid-colored areas. So you’ll want to take a few shots to see which setting gives you the best balance between reducing blur without too much noise. But maybe you like the noise, it can also create a pretty artistic shot!
  2. HDR MODE. Many cameras have a shooting mode called HDR, for high dynamic range. Basically, in this mode, your camera takes two or more shots at different exposures and then combines them so both the light and dark areas of your shot are properly exposed. If there’s any movement, though, the shot will be blurry.
  3. USE A STABILIZER. One reason why so many low-light shots don’t come out well is that it’s really hard to hold a camera or phone still long enough to take a crisp-looking picture. Using a tripod or the ever so light and portable Tiffen Steadicam Volt [$199.99] takes the shake factor out of the equation. I am obsessed with it! World-renowned in the film industry, Tiffen has been using it’s Steadicam technology on rigs in some of the most iconic movie scenes for decades. That technology is now in the palm of your hands, turning your phone into a professional camera. Also, try using the camera’s self-timer mode to avoid the movement that inevitably occurs when you press the shutter button.
  4. USE FAST LENS. A fast lens will let more light through so you can take your pictures faster, reducing the potential for blur. You can tell how fast a lens is by looking at the maximum aperture (the shutter behind the lens), which is called the “f-stop” and notated as “f/X.X”. The lower the number, the wider the aperture and the more light the lens will let in. A good camera choice will come in at f/2.8 or lower. The Nikon D3400 [$499.99] with it’s Nikkor lens shoots incredible pictures in both low light and fast speeds.


  1. PORTRAIT MODE. Your focus is the person. You’ll find you’re able to capture better skin tones and usually there’s a shorter depth of field so the background is slightly blurred to put emphasis on the person.
  2. HIGHLIGHT YOUR SUBJECT by using a telephoto lens or change your aperture setting. If you have an interchangeable lens camera, use a telephoto lens to isolate the subject. The lens’s shorter depth of field will blur the background a bit, making the person or pet pop in the image. You can also lower your f-stop to increase the camera’s aperture, giving a similar effect.
  3. USE A FLASH ON SUNNY DAYS. WHAT?! Yes! Many cameras come with manual flash and faces often look dark in bright scenes because the camera adjusts the exposure to the brightness around your subject. You can have your subject face into the sun for more light, but lose the squint by having them face away from the sun and use the flash to brighten their faces without the squint.
  4. DIFFUSE LIGHT SOURCE to reduce harsh shadows. Unless you’re going for a dramatic black-and-white character shot, it’s usually best to find a diffuse light source to soften the shadows. Blinds or sheer curtains are particularly good at creating a diffuse light source to eliminate harsh shadows, so sit your subject near a window with the blinds closed for better lighting.
  5. GET DOWN to eye level when shooting kids and pets. When shooting kids and pets, get down to their level for a more natural photo with better scale.


  1. WIDE ANGLE LENS. Capturing the entire holiday crowd can be a challenge, especially if you’re in a small space. A wide-angle lens will capture a wider angle, letting you get the entire group, whether family or friends, into your photo. This lens field of view is referenced as a “35mm equivalent focal length”, where smaller numbers mean a wider angle. For true wide-angle shots, look for 28mm or below. One important additional benefit of wide-angle lenses is that they have the largest depth of field (unlike telephoto lenses, which have a short depth of field), so they keep more of the scene in focus from near to far and the kids in the front row will be just as in-focus as the parents behind them.
  2. COMPOSITION. Use candles and lights for an interesting background. Out-of-focus lights, whether they’re tree lights or candles can make an interesting background. Make sure you use a low f-stop (e.g., f/2.8, f/1.4) or telephoto zoom to make your background blur.
  3. NIGHT PORTRAIT MODE is perfect to capture a person and the background scene at night.  You need to expose for both the person and the background and Night Portrait Mode is specifically designed to perform this task using both the flash and a slow shutter speed to pull in more details from the scene.
  4. EXPOSURE COMPENSATION to make your snow whiter and your skies blacker. To make snow look whiter, use positive compensation to increase exposure, i.e. overexpose the image. For nighttime scenes, underexpose the image for inky black skies. Look for the exposure compensation option on your camera. It’s usually a +/- button or icon.

Can’t wait to see some of your amazing shots!

{ disclosure: I attended a lunch & learn sponsored by Techlicious and Consumer Technology Association. A sample of the Tiffen Steadicam Volt was provided for my review.No compensation was received. As an avid memory maker, I loved learning all about the latest and greatest! As always all opinions expressed here are my very own! }