Every mom knows the struggle of getting that perfect photo of the kids at Christmas. If you can manage to get your little ones smiling together for a shot, you want to make sure you get a great photo in as few takes as possible — you have mere moments before someone spills something on their festive pajamas or starts crying because their sibling pinched them. These days, most of us have smartphones with amazing cameras, but there are still some tricks and tips for maximizing those tools. Romper got the scoop on getting the best holiday photos on your iPhone this Christmas from Erin Brooks, a photographer and mom of two who's capturing the magic her daughters bring to her world using just her smart phone.
"I learned to shoot starting with my iPhone," Erin tells Romper via email. "I was just a mom capturing the everyday lives and interactions between my daughters, and I taught myself to slow down, observe, frame the shot, consider the light, and photograph them in as beautiful a way as I could." Erin says she got hooked, and a few years ago, a few of her photos of my girls were featured in the Shot on iPhone World Gallery.
"I believe photography is for everyone, and I love to teach others how to maximize the powerful cameras in their pockets and capture memories to keep forever," Erin says.
Here are Erin's tips for getting the most beautiful captures this season:
Tip 1: Turn Off Overhead Lights
When shooting around competing indoor lights, whether they’re artificial overhead, from a fire, or strings of them, due to varying light temperatures and directions, it can be very difficult to get a shot that isn’t too cool or warm in color temperature. I turn off overhead lights almost all of the time when I shoot indoors, whether it’s night or day, and no matter which camera I use. Aside from temperature troubles, direct overhead light can also create shadows on faces that aren’t flattering. (An off-camera flash can fill shadows and fix this, however unless you’re very practiced, using a flash just right can be tricky and take so much set-up, you may have missed the moment altogether.)
If it’s daytime, just turn your subject so that her face is toward a window and let the natural light fall on it, expose for her face (tap on her face) and the light will be beautiful, natural, and flattering. If it’s dark, turn your subject toward a from-the-side light source, like a lit-up tree as in the photo below, and again expose for her face by tapping on it.
This is especially important if you don't have the latest iPhone. When using regular mode instead of portrait, just make sure there’s enough light, so place your subject closer to a window during daylight, or close to holiday lights.
Even when you do these things, your shot may end up overall a bit blue in color/white balance. This is easy to fix: Just add warmth (yellow) to your photo using the native editing tools in the iPhone (tap edit in the top right corner, tap the icon at the bottom third from left that looks kind of like a little clock, tap color, and slide left to make your image cooler, right to make it warmer), or you can use any number of editing apps to change the white balance. Slide until anything blue that should be white in the photo, looks white (or even a bit cream if you want a warmer feel to your image). Be careful not to go too warm; always watch the skin tone!
There are also apps that can help you adjust the color in your images as well. I love to use Lightroom Mobile for control with white balance and tint, as well as Snapseed and Filmborn. All will allow you to make the color adjustment.
And if all else fails, and the colors are too wonky, a black and white conversion will remove that struggle, and also create a completely different feel, focusing on the light and emotion of a shot, plus it’s always a classic!
Tip 2: Use the Drama of the Darkness
If it’s dark, there are so many interesting things to do with light, and lack thereof. The first thing to do is expose for the light source you do have, so that the light itself isn’t blown out (lacking detail in the bright spots). When you expose for light in a dark set-ting, you instantly create a dramatic mood. Pay attention to angle as well — if you move lower or higher, can you get more light by way of a reflection on the floor, table, picture frame, etc? Unexpected light is always visually interesting.
A mini-tip: Watch your angle as you adjust to capture your shot. Make sure your background isn’t distracting: that walls, picture frames, trees, etc., aren’t crooked, before you press the shutter.
Because the iPhone XR uses facial recognition, for the first time ever with Portrait Mode, you can shoot through things like a string of lights, and the focus will fall on the face as you would be able to do with a DSLR. Use this to your advantage and try holding lights up to a face, or shooting through lit candles and tree branches, etc, to frame the face, light the subject, and create some fun visual interest.
In the shot above, I also took advantage of the iPhone XR’s adjustable bokeh feature, and added extra background blur by tapping “edit” and sliding the aperture to f1.8. This enhanced the drama of the shot, and drew the focus down even more to my subject’s face. The adjustable bokeh feature is an amazing tool to change the look and feel of a portrait mode shot.
Keep in mind that photos taken in the dark will have grain, sometimes a lot, and that’s OK. Grain gives a photo more feeling, it feels like film, and it adds texture and life. If you don’t like how much grain is in a shot, try converting it to black and white-grain looks different and very natural in black and white.
Tip 3: Be Creative
Along the lines of playing with your light source and learning to use it in interesting ways, taking photos in the dark allows you play with slower shutters. Try light painting: have your subject hold any (safe) light source: a flashlight, a string of lights, even a sparkler if they can do so safely and outside, and move it quickly as you take the photo. The magic in this is you won’t know exactly what you will get until you’ve shot it! And little ones especially seem to be willing participants in these fun shots.
Another fun creative trick is shooting purposefully out of focus. Because the iPhone has such amazing autofocus, it’s a bit difficult to do, and requires an app that will manually allow you to force the shot out of focus. It’s a fun effect to try!
Tip 4: Capture Emotion
At its heart, each holiday celebrated this time of year comes down to love and togetherness. Holiday photos are about these feelings, capturing them, and the cozy mood they evoke.
In addition to using your dramatic light to visually express that mood, snuggles, hot cocoa, fires in fireplaces, holiday PJs, and anything that feels just a touch saccharine is completely what this time of year is about. So embrace it! I often tell my girls a joke, or give them some hot cocoa and just sit back and capture what happens. The photos I end up loving the best are those where they aren’t looking at me and smiling, but instead are interacting as I capture a genuine emotion between them. A lot of times these shots aren’t perfect, but they’re perfect to me, and in the end, that’s what counts.
Check out more of Erin's beautiful photos on her Instagram account.
After a very frustrating first birth experience, this Deaf mother wanted a change. Will the help of two Deaf doulas give the quality communication and birth experience this mom wants and deserves? Watch Episode Four of Romper's Doula Diaries, Season Two, below, and visit Bustle Digital Group's YouTube page for more episodes.