Through the Gadling Lens: capturing your visit home for the holidays

Well, it’s the countdown to the holidays, folks — and whether or not this is your favourite time of the year, or you don’t celebrate any year-end holiday at all, chances are you’re about to get a few days off. Chances are also pretty good that you’re going to be traveling back home for the days to come; or, in the alternative, family is coming to visit you. So rather than dread the tension created by being around your family for an extended period, here’s how to capture some of the best of being back home for the holidays.
1. Snap a shot of the greeting. If you’re picking people up at the airport (or are being picked up), or are just doing the standard road-trip to the old homestead, have your camera ready to capture the hugs, the slaps on the backs, the “Wow, you’re looking great!” moments that happen as soon as you see loved ones. The greetings are often my favourite parts of trips — it’s when all the baggage tends to fall away, and the fleeting moment everyone expresses their genuine happiness to see each other. While, obviously, it would great to ensure that you’ve covered every technical aspect necessary to make a crisp perfect shot, this actually isn’t the time for posed images, or re-shots: so what if the resulting image is blurry, or slightly out-of-focus? The point is to capture the emotion of the greetings as best as you can — and even if the shots aren’t technically perfect, chances are you’ll cherish the images in years to come all the same.

2. Get portraits of the kids. If this is like most of our family gatherings, this might be the first time in a while that all the kids (i.e., all the little cousins) actually get together to play together. Let them go to it, and then, while they’re not paying attention to you, grab some shots of them enjoying each other. And grab some shots of them looking right at you as well. Not only will this capture some great holiday memories for you, but it will also mark their milestones as they grow (you’ll be able to remember when you took the picture because of the holiday associated), and likely become cherished images for them when they’re adults.

3. Capture some images of the everyday chores. Most family gatherings end up revolving around one main room in the house: the kitchen. Not only should you grab some snapshots of people hanging around the kitchen or sitting around the table, but go ahead and capture some images of Aunt Pearl making her world renowned pecan pie. Or the ingredients that are sitting on the kitchen counter, waiting to be turned into Cousin Brad’s famous blueberry pancakes. Or the flour-covered hands of the kids as they roll out the cookie dough. Or your dad lighting the fireplace on the first night. Even though these images might not be posed, they will capture the atmosphere of everyone as they relax into the daily routine of being family.

And if you are celebrating a holiday, be sure to capture some shots of some of the tasks related to the day: children’s hands hanging Christmas ornaments or lighting candles of the menorah, say. These shots will add some holiday meaning to your collection of images.

4. Rediscover your home town. If you’re returning to your childhood home, take some time to take a walk down memory lane: slip away from everyone, and go walk through your city’s streets, visit your favourite old haunts, marvel at how much things have changed (or how much they’ve stayed the same), and grab a few shots. There’s no reason to stick with your family 24/7 while you’re on your visit, and chances are you’re going to want some alone time. Take it — but take your camera along, as well.

5. Snap the iconic shots. If you and your family are celebrating a holiday, be sure to capture the iconic shots: the visit to Santa, the midnight wrapping of the Christmas gifts, the lit menorah or tree, whatever. It’s the holidays, after all! It’s important to capture the meaning behind why you are all getting together. And incidentally, if you’re the time that likes to send out greeting cards, as you take these iconic shots, think about which ones might make great greeting card images for next year’s holidays. That way, you won’t find yourself scrambling looking for holiday-themed images come November 30th, when you start panicking about what your cards should look like.

6. Grab a shot of everyone together. I know, I know — it’s cheesy, but this is one of those shots where it’s difficult to gather everyone together to do it at any time during the rest of the year, and besides — as silly as it seems now, these images are the ones you’re going to love 20 years from now. To make the whole experience less painful, here are a couple of tips:

a) If you use a tripod to take the shot, where you get everyone standing or sitting in place, and then you set the timer on your camera to give you time to run back into the shot and smile, then take two shots: one, where everyone is posed, and smiling and sweet, and then one where they’re not: where they all take a group family hug, or make a face, or turn their backs to the camera, or strike a ballerina pose, or a runway pose, or a whatever pose — something that will make you all laugh at the outcome.

b) To get some wonderfully natural shots, use a big mirror, situate everyone in front of it, and then snap away at your reflection as you all relate to each other in the mirror. This is actually how my husband, daughter and I take our holiday shots every year (this year’s shown above), and I’ve never failed to love the resulting shot.

Good luck getting all your great holiday shots! As always, if you have any questions on how to improve your travel photographs, don’t hesitate to e-mail me directly at — I’m happy to address them in upcoming posts. In the meantime, happy holidays, everyone, and safe travels!

Karen is a writer and photographer in Houston, Texas. You can see more of her work at her site, Chookooloonks.
And for more Through the Gadling Lens, click here.