"Here's the craziest thing I heard in the last week: more than 380 billion photos will be snapped this year," begins Jason Thomson, a professional photographer and curator of the Frame One website for novice picture takers.
"A good bunch of those are going to be taken in the next 60 days," he continues," at office parties, family gatherings and midnight kisses."
Thomson says the challenge is to make sure these photos are special, whether they were taken with a camera or smartphone. "You can start by getting in 'shooting shape.' Don't wait for the next festive event to ensure your shots look fantastic."
With this in mind, Thomson shares four simple tips to start:
Shoot better in low light.
It's dark. It's a party. You turn on the flash and it fries just about everybody in the frame. You can do better. Herd everyone near some light. Put your camera on something steady and use it like a tripod. If you've got the option, turn up your ISO. If you have to use flash, put some opaque tape over top of it to soften up the light a little bit and get closer to your subjects so the flash lights the background too.
Make your groups look better.
You know the look — five people standing in a row like they're in a prison line up. Change this up so that the group looks more interesting. Have them all do something. Stagger them into a couple of rows. Turn their shoulders so they don't look flat in the frame.
Try the unexpected.
There are all sorts of ways to get a really cool shot that nobody expects. Shooting holiday lights outside? Wait until dusk and turn your white balance onto tungsten. This makes the sky turn bluer and the lights pop out. Doing a gift opening? Try photographing the reflections in the shiny ornaments on the tree (definitely turn your flash off for that one.).
Here's the sure fire, no-fail way to take a great photograph of the moment. Blur the background. Most cameras allow you to play with the aperture — essentially the size of hole inside your lens. When you increase the size of that hole, you get the double bonus of more light into the camera and a nice blurry background. Get close to your subject, turn the aperture up (confusingly, a higher aperture has a smaller number like 2.8) and make the magic happen. Check your manual. It's easier than you think.