with Courtney Slazinik
6 Tips to Remain Present While Documenting the Holidays

Peeking into our stockings, we act like something unexpected is about to appear, but we all know exactly what is hidden inside. It’s Christmas Eve and our little family, myself, my husband, and my then 2 year old daughter, have just begun one of our most favorite holiday traditions. Our daughter’s eyes widen and she dawns a grin so huge as she pulls our her fresh set of festive PJs just waiting to be snuggled in for the very first time.

“Shall we get ready for Santa?!” I declare holding up sugar cookie mix and cookie cutters.

She grabs the snowman and gingerbread shapes out of my hands and races around the room squealing “Yep yeppy yep yep!” and we strip her down and put on her new holiday attire. Snow is falling out the window, lights are twinkling on the tree, festive music is playing softly in the background and your can feel the magic of the season in the air. She’s been bitten by the true spirit of Christmas which is exactly what I want, as I reach for my camera.

This is my perfect time to capture holiday magic so tomorrow I can put the big camera away to be present and enjoy the holiday with my family instead.

I feel at ease.

A year earlier, our holidays did not feel this easy. I was that mom who spent entire the holiday with my camera perched in front of my face. I missed out on so much because I was trying make the most of every. single. possible. shot. Instead of laying with her on the floor and showing her the shiny paper, watching her grin from ear to ear, and giggle and hug on her, I watched my husband do it all while I clicked away.

Now I know better.

There’s a fine line between documenting intentionally vs. obsessively and I’ve lived it. If you’re teetering this same tight rope, I want you to know that it doesn’t have to be this way. I’ve become awesome at ‘staging’ the holidays in such a way that I can both document them and enjoy them too.

Want to know my top 6 tips for staying present with your family and documenting the holiday season too? Keep on reading.

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1. Make a shot list of ideas before you pick up the camera
Right now grab a piece of paper and write down the ‘must have’ photos your like to capture this holiday season. Want glowing bokeh light backgrounds? Or your kiddos drinking hot cocoa and building gingerbread house? Or ripping into wrapping paper and making a mess? Write it all down so your ideas are fresh in your mind.

2. Set an intention for how you want to capture each part of the holiday season
Now that you have a shot list circle your top 5 shots. The ones that you MUST capture beautifully with a DSLR camera. The special ones that you want your kids to look back on and smile from ear to ear for years to come. Let go of the rest of decide that it’s perfectly ‘ok’ to capture them with your mobile phone, that pesky pop-up flash, or not at all.

3. Research technical tips for ‘must have’ shots before you take them
If you’ve written down a particular shot that you’re not quite sure how to capture on your own with your current knowledge, research how it’s done before you get to it! Not sure how to perfectly get a shot of your Christmas tree? Or how to get evening shots to not be a blurry mess? I know Click It Up A Notch has plenty of tutorials to help you out.

4. Dream up at least one new creative and engaging family tradition
One of the most important elements needed for beautiful holiday family photos are kids who are ready to smile, and laugh, and happily play for the camera lens. Coming up with a new tradition or activity is a great way to get them interested in photos. In fact, they’ll probably be so engrossed in what they’re doing that they may not even notice you snapping away! Some ideas: gingerbread house decorating contests, adopting a less fortunate family for the holidays and going shopping for them, family movie night spent watching your holiday favorites while you string and suck on candy canes too.

5. Know when to say yes and when to say no
Let your kiddos be your guide for when to pick up the camera. Last Christmas Eve I knew I had the green light to take photos because my daughter was SO excited to put on her PJs and bake cookies for Santa. Her happiness was my cue that smiles would be present.

6. Set a timer and stick to it
If you are constantly tempted to have your camera at the ready, or you must use your DSLR on Christmas morning because it’s the only time you’ll be seeing the grandparents or other family – a timer might help. Allow yourself 20 minutes to work your magic behind the lens and then promise yourself to put the camera away and remain present the rest of the time.

You’ll be glad you did.

I promise.

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Beryl Young – Guest Post

Beryl Ayn Young believes that there is magic hidden inside your camera, and she’s here to help you discover it. She is a professional photographer by chance and a teacher to the core. Pop over to her Momtographie site and register for a completely free one week photography class, One Ingredient Fix, beginning January 6th 2014.
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  • Joan Oland
    December 12, 2013 at 11:24 AM

    Thank you so much for this! It was a very nice read with great advice. Have a great holiday!

    • December 12, 2013 at 9:47 PM

      So glad you enjoyed it and you too!

  • Anita
    December 12, 2013 at 11:46 AM

    This is true for all holidays and special events.

  • Theresa
    December 12, 2013 at 12:41 PM

    Beryl, you always have such good ideas!

  • December 12, 2013 at 12:56 PM

    Love this! I always feel like in those special moments during Christmas morning like opening presents never really turn out that great and if I do print those images I just stick them in a drawer. For my family we try really hard to make Christmas more than just presents so I would rather not take pictures of that part and take pictures of the things i want my kids to remember like making cookies with grandma, passing out Christmas cards at the nursing home, or seeing all the Christmas lights downtown. So as much as it feel strange to say this I am the family photographer that never brings her camera to the big holidays :) because I would rather be there :)

    • December 12, 2013 at 9:52 PM

      Thank you so much and I love your perspective too!

  • December 12, 2013 at 1:57 PM

    Such an important and timely post. Thank you for making me more aware of my obsession, and making sure I PUT. THE. CAMERA. DOWN. Forever grateful, thank you!

    • December 12, 2013 at 9:53 PM

      Awwww glad this post helped! xo.

  • Ana
    December 13, 2013 at 8:01 AM

    Thank you so much for the great advice! I started jotting down ideas of the moments I’d like to capture for this holiday season the moment you said to write it down! However, I’m a little concerned because my family and I are going to the River of Lights at a Biotanical Garden and its so beautiful (I’m sure you’ve been to a few in the past as well). Spite how chilly it gets in the night, I love seeing the lights and I love watching the kids get excited, because its almost like this magical wonderland–and I want to try to capture that this year. The issue is that with my Nikon D3200, I’m a little apprehensive that I won’t be able to take the pictures without either flash (drowning out the lights in the background) or it being too dark to even see anything. Any advice or guidance on the best way to do this? All I have for now is a 55mm lens

  • Siobhan
    December 13, 2013 at 1:27 PM

    Thanks for sharing this. Last year I “watched” my daughter’s dance recital through my camera lense, only to lose all the photos (and many others) when my hard drive crashed. I feel so sad that I missed the event and don’t even have any pictures to look at! I’ve vowed to put the camera down and pay more attention. Your idea of sticking to a few pre -planned “must have” shots seems the perfect marriage of capturing some scrapbook photos and actually participating in my family.

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