Capture the Holiday Spirit with Nigel Barker

The holiday season is here with cheerful gatherings, holiday lights, hearty feasts, and the wrapping (and unwrapping) of gifts. For a few weeks, the world seems to slow down for a while with those dearest to you.

There are also plenty of photo opportunities for you to hold onto your precious traditions for years to come. But how can you capture the season and all of its moments?

Look no further — we sat down with our Creative Director, Nigel Barker, for his top tips on capturing the outdoors and holiday celebrations.

Snow can be a tricky surface to capture so try to shoot in manual mode

Photo: Nigel Barker, LLC

Snow can be a tricky canvas to capture. How can photographers avoid capturing a total whiteout when outdoors this winter?

The problem when shooting in the snow is usually underexposing the image, producing dark or even gray snow rather than nice white fluffy images! The reason being is that your camera’s internal meter sees all that white snow and overcompensates (usually by two stops).

So, when possible shoot in manual mode, setting your aperture and shutter speed to give you the results that you want. Pick RAW as that will give you the most flexibility when it comes to retrieving data in both the under- and overexposed zones.

If you aren’t confident in your photographic abilities, or only have an automatic camera or camera phone, you can aim your camera sensor into a dark area and let it meter from there.

It’s worth noting that cameras don’t work particularly well in frigid or wet conditions and quite often neither do we. Try to keep your camera acclimatized to the cold conditions. Otherwise, you will find your camera fogging up just when you need it.

Likewise, make sure you have dressed appropriately but don’t overdress. I get overheated easily so I try to wear layers that I can strip off quickly. Fingerless gloves are helpful, just make sure your head and feet are properly attired!

Trees and lights make great backdrops to holiday pictures

Photo: Nigel Barker, LLC

The holidays are filled with lights. What would you suggest for people trying to capture holiday lights from their phones?

There’s no doubt that holiday lights really help set the mood and instantly transform an image with that nostalgic quality. The problem is that when you try to capture the magic with your phone, the lights either completely blow out or they get underexposed to a point where you can literally see the light filaments but nothing else.

Once again, shoot in RAW when you can. The RAW format gives you a lot more information in both the dark and light areas that you can recover in post.

Failing that use, move your finger onto the exposure sensor to rest half on the lights and half in the darkness next to the light so your camera’s internal meter reads an average and exposes correctly.

Also — Photography 101 — make sure your lens is clean. Otherwise, all that radiant light will streak across your photo in a blurry, rather than attractive, starlike manner. Once you master your exposure have fun with the holiday lights and try things like having them frame your subject in the photo or have them close to the lens with your subject in the background creating dimension to the shot.

I am also a sucker for long exposure so I love to create dramatic effects with shutter drag and motion blur combined with a phone’s flash.

Think about what you want to wear in your annual holiday photos

Photo: Nigel Barker, LLC

It’s the season for friends and family to get together. How do you capture candid moments during celebrations?

There are lots of tricks to help capture candid moments — from setting as many cameras as you can spare around the party so you always have one at your disposal to shooting at unexpected moments rather than setting everything up.

You need to look at what is happening around the room and somehow get in close enough without getting noticed or ruining the moment. A long lens can help get you from one side of the room to the other. My go to is the 70-200mm zoom.

I also choose my angles carefully, shooting from the hip or from a vantage point where I get a sense of the environment too. If you point the camera right in someone’s face they are probably going to freeze and get self-conscious.

However, even when you are shooting those more set up group shots there’s no reason why you shouldn’t mix it up. Have everyone shout at once, jump or tickle each other, do something to create a distraction, and don’t stop taking pictures as it’s often the shots either right before or right after the action that works best.

Nigel recommends taking close up portraits every year

Photo: Nigel Barker, LLC

What photo details help tell the story of each year’s holiday season?

I am a big fan of capturing both candid, relaxed images and more formal portraits — especially when I am with my extended family visiting with cousins, nephews, and nieces who change dramatically with every passing year.

When I say “formal portraits,” what I like to do is one by one take each member of the family to a place that I’ve picked and I shoot more serious, intense portraits concentrating on the eyes and facial features.

These intense images juxtapose beautifully with big grinning silly shots and leave you with a series of images that tell the story of time not just of place. Also, shoot close and wide in general of things like the Christmas tree and a single bauble with the room reflected in it. Shoot the cake and shoot a slice of cake so you can see the layers of cream and sponge in detail.

Shoot in RAW when documenting holiday lights

Photo: Nigel Barker, LLC

How do you share your favorite shots with friends and family?

For years, my go-to way of sharing images with family and friends has been by making them mini photobooks. It started when a good friend of mine handmade a flip book of some images he had taken of my wedding day and gave it to me 20 years ago.

I was so inspired I started creating books with Apple and now, of course, with Mimeo Photos. People love the books I have shared with them over the years and we quite often pull the books from Holidays past and laugh at how we have changed… and how some things never change.

About Nigel Barker: Nigel Barker is an internationally renowned photographer, author, and filmmaker. He opened his New York City studio in 1996. Nigel is the Creative Director of Mimeo Photos. Learn more about Nigel’s work and follow along with him on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

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