Whether you’re attending a few festive parties, reuniting with family and friends, or capturing the little one’s first encounter with Santa, the holidays have plenty of opportunities to snap heartfelt photos. Unfortunately, taking the perfect picture is harder than it looks. In order to prevent your precious pictures from ending up here, we talked to Andrew Kowalyshyn, a Denver photographer and owner of Stout Street Studio and Sky Photo, Inc., to gather some helpful tips for making your photos something to cherish this holiday season.

  1. Don’t splurge on equipment: It’s not about the camera; it’s about who’s looking through the viewfinder. Today’s digital cameras are downright amazing. So, if someone tells you that you need to drop $2,500 on gear to be a great photographer, ignore them. Knowing the basic techniques (aperture, ISO, shutter speeds, and focus) and having an artistic vision are key.
  2. Location, location, location: Photographers sometimes get lazy by photographing people only in the places they know. (You know the shot: That cliche photo on the stairs or in front of the fireplace.) Do some location scouting before the big day. Try a nearby park, move the furniture, or change the lighting.
  3. Stretch your legs: Don’t take every photo standing with your legs locked. Sometimes getting a great shot requires changing your physical perspective. Bend down. Kneel. Get on the floor. Stand on a chair. You get the idea.
  4. Maximize your shutter speed: Since most holiday events take place in the evening and the winter months offer a limited supply of daylight, having a grasp on low-light photography is critical. To make sure you’re getting every last drop of light that you can, push your shutter speed to its lower limit. By making your shutter speed the inverse of your focal length, (e.g. if you’re using a 50mm lens, shoot to 1/50th of a second), you’ll avoid motion blur while getting a good shot.
  5. Flash it and bounce it: While flashes can be tricky and technical, newer models implement automatic metering features that make using flash much easier for novice photographers. If you’re in a room that has a relatively low, white ceiling, aim the flash straight up. Bouncing the light off the ceiling generates a more diffused light field, which creates a more flattering look.

—Image courtesy of Shutterstock