Christmas photography is super popular. Holiday-themed photographs are fun to create and can be used in a ton of different ways. Families love to have Christmas portraits. Stock photography with a Christmassy theme never goes out of style. There are so many ways you can use your camera to promote and preserve Christmas memories.
Whether you’re a busy professional photographer or a keen amateur, Christmas time can be challenging. There are just so many ideas for Christmas photos it can be difficult to know where to start.
One key to success in Christmas-themed photography is to narrow your focus and specialize. Trying to be a jack of all trades, especially around Christmas time, will wear you thin. As the Christmas holiday season approaches it can be tempting to take on all the work you can, regardless of how much experience you have.
Our aim in producing this list is to help you create the most wonderful Christmas images. Any form of tradition includes variety but is based on certain foundational norms. As you plan your Christmas photographs aim to include some visual elements that make it obvious it’s Christmas time.
You’re sure to find a selection of ideas here that will work well for you and bring seasonal delight to many.
A note on copyright: How to protect your Christmas images
Christmas is a hugely commercialized time, making it great for photographers to focus on. It allows for lots of creative photography ideas. It also means there’s greater potential for image theft and copyright infringement. It pays to protect your images born out of your best creative ideas.
Most of us share at least some of the photos we take online. This brings more exposure and potentially more clients to working photographers. However, your images are always more vulnerable to being illegally used when you do. So it pays to be educated on best practices for keeping your photographs protected.
Check out this article to learn more about how to keep your images safe when you share them online.
1. Christmas Tree
What’s Christmas without a big, decorated tree? This is a great place to start your Christmas photography. There are so many ways you can use the iconic Christmas tree in your images.
A beautifully decorated Christmas tree makes an awesome backdrop for portraits. Pose an individual, a couple, or a family with a tree and your photos are unmistakably Christmassy. Use the tree and decorations as a background for your product photography. Or make the tree and decorations the main focal point of your photos. This type of image is always very popular on stock photography websites and can make some profitable sales.
Stock photography can be a great way to get your work seen and sell it. There are tons of agencies to which you can upload your photos and sell them. If you’re new to stock photography I recommend reading our article on how it works.
You don’t need to include the whole tree or even all the decorations. Light the tree to suit your style. Underexpose it, or overexpose it.
Think about the mood you want to create and control this with the type and positioning of the lighting you use. Even a blurred, out-of-focus Christmas tree in the background makes the photo about Christmas.
As with any classic subject, aim to photograph your Christmas tree ideas to be creative without being too cliched. At least not all of them. Include some ‘to be expected’ types of photos. But then challenge yourself to produce some images that are more unusual, yet hold well to the Christmas theme.
2. Pick a family theme
Christmas time is so much about family for many people who celebrate this holiday. Families often love to remember each year with a specialized Christmas-themed portrait. It pays for portrait photographers to always have fresh new ideas for making creative Christmas photos.
With stock photography and other commercial photography, bringing a family feel to Christmas photos is a great way to make truly festive photos. If you’ve been doing stock photography for a while you’ll know the best place to scan for ideas is your competition. Looking at images in online stock photo agencies will bring you more ideas of what to photograph than you can manage.
Niche down and don’t try them all. Look for ideas that resonate with you. With subjects you love. Add your own creative input and aim to make better images of ones you can see that already sell well.
In whichever way you photograph your family-themed Christmas photos, aim to capture the genuine joy of togetherness. Family photos that look obviously staged lack impact. Work with the family you’re photographing to get them relaxed and into the spirit of Christmas. This will return you the most vibrant, real results.
3. Behind the scenes - baking and making
Fitting with a family Christmas theme you can also focus on all the preparations that go into it. Making decorations and hanging them. Baking the Christmas cookies and building a gingerbread house. Stringing the lights and dressing up the garden. All of these activities can produce wonderful Christmas-themed photographs.
Get your subjects doing stuff. Have them more focused on what they’re doing than what you’re doing. This way you’ll capture more natural photos. Encourage kids to make a mess. Challenge dad to go the extra mile by adding more and more Christmas lights around the yard. And don’t forget to bring mom into the picture.
With any activity you photograph, capture a whole series of images you can use to tell the story. Make sure you take photos of each part of the process so you can use them together in a powerful illustration.
4. Focus on the Decorations
Another iconic aspect of Christmas time is how people decorate their homes and businesses. Even their whole neighborhoods.
There are many great ways to use these Christmas decorations as background and props for your photographs. It’s so easy to only photograph the decorations themselves as well.
Think classically and also think outside the box. How well can you photograph Christmas baubles? What’s the best lighting for the most beautiful door wreath? Is there a more interesting way to show off the Christmas stockings grandma made?
Think about the style of your photography and whether you take a full-on approach or a more subtle one. Christmas decorations, like the trees, are instantly recognizable. They scream one thing. Christmas. So how you include them in your compositions is important to the atmosphere you wish to create.
5. Everything green and red
Use the green and red Christmas color scheme to your advantage.
You can choose to only include green and red colors in your photos. This can mean a ton of organizing, but once you have you’ll have so many options for great photos. Think of how you can best include this color scheme in all your photos. Even with elements that are not necessarily related to a Christmas theme.
For portraits, set your subjects against a solid red background. Add just a touch of green. Maybe a small tree or some other decorations. This will be enough so people know it’s a Christmas-themed image. Or you can take a more indirect approach and add just a touch of green and red to your photographs.
Start looking for green and red elements, objects, clothing, etc. to include in your Christmas photos. You’ll start seeing them everywhere! Pick the items with tones that work well together. Deep reds and soft greens may or may not work well together. Be aware of this as you’re arranging your compositions.
6. Get that modern Christmas vibe
Not everything at Christmas time is green and red these days. Modern-themed Christmas trees and decorations can be in almost any color you choose. I’ve seen electric blue Christmas trees trimmed with white decorations and lights.
These colors are hardly traditional, but what is, makes them stand out? You can’t mistake a Christmas tree for anything else. No matter what color it is.
Including some traditional aspects of Christmas will help make your alternative images stronger. Tinsel. Baubles. Wrapped gifts. All of these and more can be turned into great photos for your Christmas photography portfolio.
Always think about how you frame your Christmas subjects to make the most of them. Be extra careful when working with modern-styled props to ensure you still get the Christmas message across clearly.
7. Make the most of the season - snow or sand
Much of the world’s population who celebrate Christmas live in the northern hemisphere. It’s cold at Christmas time. There are also lots of people who enjoy Christmas in the summertime.
Christmas barbeques at the beach are a staple for many New Zealand and Australian families. So you don’t have to wait until winter to take your Christmas-themed photos. Make the most of the weather and set up some fun photo sessions on the beach with all the Christmas trimmings.
Make the most of the fall weather and prepare your Christmas photos ahead of time when you want to take more classic-styled images. Even in the southern hemisphere Christmas decorations often feature snowmen and winter-themed props. This is because the visual portrait of Christmas time is so ingrained.
8. Giving and receiving gifts
Christmas is all about the giving and receiving of gifts. This is another iconic aspect of Christmas that translates easily into great photographs.
You can photograph carefully wrapped packages along with other Christmas items. Doing this will build a more interesting story with your photographs. Or you can portray the anticipation of opening gifts, the unboxing, and the enjoyment.
Aim to employ all your camera skills. Don’t only rely on having great-looking props, whether they’re actual gifts or not. Use interesting compositions, the best lighting, and careful depth of field management. Always aim to make the best series of photographs possible. A good subject does not always make an interesting photograph. A goodphotographer can always make even the coolest subjects look even better.
Giving and receiving gifts always includes a human touch. Having one or more people to work with will help bring this series of photos to life. You don’t have to include a whole person in every frame. Come in close to a child’s hands tearing open the Christmas wrapping paper. The delighted expression of someone receiving a gift. A tight frame of dad wearing his new slippers. Think outside the box as you work on these photos.
9. Recreate an old Christmas photo
We’ve all got favorite Christmas photos from when we were kids, or from when our kids were young. As families gather to celebrate Christmas it can be fun to bring out some of these old pictures and use them as inspiration to create new ones.
Flip through your old family photos and pick out a selection of Christmas pictures from years past. See how closely you can recreate them. Look at what people were wearing. See if you can find the same location or one that looks the same. Choose some of the same props and decorations to use when you recreate these images.
They don’t have to be exactly the same but do your best to capture the same feeling the original image portrays. Think about what makes the photo special and use this to come up with some fresh ideas.
Then, in another five years or ten years, pull out these photos and repeat. Making a historic series of photographs in this way will build wonderful memories.
You can make use of this idea as a professional photographer and ask clients to hunt out old family photos that you can recreate for them.
10. Don’t forget to include the big symbols of Christmas
The two figures most identified with Christmas are Jesus and Santa. You may be more interested in one than the other. Having at least one of these characters included in your portfolio of Christmas images will make it stronger.
Take some of the timeless, classic Santa or baby Jesus photos. But then put your imagination to work and come up with some fresh ideas. Think about the stories of Christmas and where they come from. Challenge yourself to make great photos that include Santa and Jesus in meaningful ways. Do it in such a way that others will recognize, but may not have thought of themselves.
The final word: The best Christmas photoshoot ideas should come naturally
Christmas is steeped in tradition. This makes it easy to photograph, yet it can be challenging to come up with fresh ideas. As you’ve seen with our short list of the best ideas of what to photograph for a Christmas theme, there’s no end to what you can do.
Aim to keep your photos traditional but fresh enough that they’ll grab the attention you want them to. Finding the balance between what people expect to see in a Christmas photo and something unique is up to your imagination.
Take your time. Make the most of the decorations, props, and all the visual stimulation a Christmas theme provides you. I’m sure you’ll come up with a superb portfolio and continue to build on the ideas we’ve given you.