Pro Photographer Tips For Making Your Holiday Season Photos Stand Out From The Crowd

A bit of inside photography knowledge can turn your holiday snapshots into great shots, whether you’re using a small compact, or a fully-featured DSLR, as pro photographer Andrew Whyte reveals to RISING…

1. Separate The Scene
Winter street photography, like Whyte’s shots you can see here, often look very festive but there’s a lot going on, so how do you isolate the action? ‘It’s about observation – finding a point of view that lets you include your subject whilst minimising distractions in the background. I look for a single point of interest and then establish how to differentiate between that subject and the rest of the frame. Visual contrast is important: dark vs light; sharp vs defocused; still vs moving,’ says Whyte.

2. Boost Your Shots With ‘Bokeh’
‘Using a shallow depth of field to blur the background of a photo (bokeh) is a great way to isolate a subject and give your image a sense of depth. I tend to opt for longer lenses that give me a tighter framing around a subject. I’ll also seek a fast aperture to gather the most light and give me the option for differential focus: Sony’s FE100mm f/2.8 STF meets both requirements.’ Background blur, or bokeh, comes from a combination lens focal length, aperture and the distances between the camera, background and subject. You can also use smartphone apps, like Afterfocus, to get this blur effect although the results will never look as good as proper camera lens bokeh.

3. Timing Is Everything
In the winter the sun is lower in the sky, giving attractive light for most of the day. But things really get interesting around sunrise and sunset. ‘Natural scenes like grass and rippled water can be very effective when backlit by a low sun. Alternatively, urban scenes work well during early twilight, when levels of daylight are balanced with artificial light sources,’ says Whyte.

4. Use Settings Creatively
Modern-day cameras do a brilliant job of minimising vibrations when holding a camera, meaning shots in twilight without a tripod are possible. ‘However, if your scenes include moving elements or people, you may want to maintain a higher shutter speed to avoid them blurring as they move,’ says Whyte. ‘Then get creative when light fades to darkness – use a tripod and longer exposure times to present a creative interpretation of urban life. Shoot silhouettes of friends against abstract blurred backdrops, or simply defocus the lens to show a familiar city scene in a new way.’

5. Set Your Images Apart
Take a look at Instagram at Christmas and you’ll see the same kinds of photos again and again – so how can we avoid taking the same festive shots as everyone else? ‘There’s a time and a place for snapshots, which can encourage more natural moments, but one of the ways to elevate even these is by applying a look via post-processing from filters from your phone, or bespoke editing in desktop software, such as Adobe Lightroom,’ recommends Whyte.

‘For more considered photographs, think about the story you want to tell and shoot with a cohesive style, using extracts of scenes and small details to break up the broader narrative of portraits and people. In bustling environments, tune in your hearing to the stories and jokes doing the rounds, and position yourself to capture the reactions on people’s faces as the punchline is delivered.’

6. Go Into Territory That Smartphones Can’t
The cameras in most smartphones are pretty amazing these days, but they have their limitations – take advantage of this to make your shots different. ‘People are amazed by how a proper photograph can transform the scene in front of them. In this era of prevalent smartphone use it seems that a flash-lit image is a common benchmark for people’s night-photo perceptions, so I select cameras specifically for their low-light performance – people tend to be surprised by how much light they can gather even in dim environments.’

7. Capture The Festive Spirit
There are going to be lots of people in your festive photographs so apply Whyte’s three top tips for street portraits:

a) Be Respectful: ‘The law (in the UK at least) is pretty clear – in a public space you don’t need someone’s consent to include them in your photo – but ethics come from a different place. Avoid situations that’ll make the subject uncomfortable, be discreet rather than secretive and maintain a friendly smile.’

b) Include The Surroundings: ‘Shooting on the street can be as frustrating as it is rewarding, because you surrender so much control of lighting, timing and environmental factors – so make sure your photo conveys the essence of your environment.’

c) Focus on the eyes: ’Like, literally, focus on the eyes because sharply focused eyes offer the viewer somewhere to rest their gaze. A sense of eye contact is important, although it doesn’t have to be with the photographer/ viewer, more an understanding of where in the frame the subject is looking. It’s a guideline to uphold even if your framing or lighting doesn’t reveal your subjects eyes – in silhouettes, for instance.’

WHAT NEXT? Get out there and fire off some frames! But bear in mind that standing around with a camera in the dead of winter can get chilly. ‘I trekked across country to shoot Stonehenge blanketed in snow and illuminated by a full moon. It was -13º, pretty unusual for southern England. It’s the little things that accumulate as challenges – like needing to keep tactility and flexibility in my fingers (to operate the camera) and keeping my face exposed to minimise the radiant warmth and prevent steaming up when I put my eye to the viewfinder,’ says Whyte.

Winter photography tips and images were curated by photographer Andrew Whyte using the Sony SEL100F28GM, a lens designed for outstanding resolution and bokeh

Follow the writer @mattfitnessray