How to Capture Your Holiday Traditions with Photos

December 5, 2012

in Holiday Photography Tips, Photography Tutorials

How to Capture Your Holiday Traditions with Photos. Photography Tutorial via
Holiday Traditions. We all have them. Especially come Christmas time. No matter what your race, religion or economic status, traditions are sacred and bring such comfort every year. You may have traditions happening you aren’t even aware of!

When I sat down to write this piece I realized how many things I do each holiday season that are a repeat of years past. And of course, even before the days of me going pro, that camera was always with me capturing and preserving these special moments.

The goal of this article is to remind you to shoot…and to shoot a LOT during this time. To capture these traditional moments before they are inevitably replaced with new tradition.

The Tree

My Mom took so many pictures growing up, she’d often be met with grunts and groans from my family. As a kid, I was totally annoyed. But as an adult, I am totally grateful. She always had me sitting in front of the tree on Christmas morning, sometimes before I even opened a present! She wanted the toys and gifts to surround me. How hard it was to sit there while all the goodies eagerly awaited me, but I’m so glad she did that. And now with my daughter, I am doing the same. I love this tradition because it also shows the growth of the child from year to year, the fashion, the haircuts, and the pop culture of the day. It’s like instant nostalgia shooting in front of the same backdrop- aka ‘the tree’ every year. You can do this regardless of faith. Just pick the symbol of your holiday to shoot in front of yearly. And keep it consistent.

Here’s me under the tree circa 1970’s:
Ideas for Capturing Your Holiday Traditions - Photography Tips via

Ideas for Capturing Your Holiday Traditions - Photography Tips via

The Holiday ‘Creations’

This is a fairly new tradition that I started with my daughter 2 years ago…the making of the Gingerbread House (below is our first year). Now, I’m certainly not as crafty as Amy Locurto. I’ve been known to bake and burn quite frequently and I’m the running joke in my family in regards to the kitchen. So I buy the pre-made house kit and I’m good to go. I focus on her little fingers (rapidly growing each year) as they place the gumdrops on. Or her little tongue that sticks out in concentration. I adore detail shots and man, do you get them when a child is building their masterpiece. So don’t just focus on the end product, but rather photograph the process. And speaking of process…

Ideas for Capturing Your Holiday Traditions - Photography Tips via

Details of Decorating

This is by far my most favorite tradition to document with my daughter. The tree trimming. I remember as a child how special it was to open up the boxes of ornaments and decorations and feel such a familiar comfort. It was like rediscovering old friends. My daughter gets to decorate the bottom, and I the top (with a little shifting here and there when she looks away if you know what I mean). Here again I focus on the whole moment and love to capture her expressions as she pulls things out of the storage containers. People always ask me how I get such natural reactions. Well, if you place a child in the moment and shoot silently and allow everything to unfold, it’s like magic.

Ideas for Capturing Your Holiday Traditions - Photography Tips via
Ideas for Capturing Your Holiday Traditions - Photography Tips via
Ideas for Capturing Your Holiday Traditions - Photography Tips via
Ideas for Capturing Your Holiday Traditions - Photography Tips via

Lunch with Santa (Well, Kind Of…)

We started a tradition once Emma could walk of eating lunch every year after visiting Santa. I photograph everything. Lunch is no different. Just one shot, not a million, but something to mark our annual lunch after Santa time where we talk about the excitement of seeing Santa again, if she thinks she has been a good girl, WHY she thinks she has been a good girl :)…

Ideas for Capturing Your Holiday Traditions - Photography Tips via

The Reaction Photographs

I Heart Faces recently did a great post on where to put that little Elf every year. But do you have an actual date the Elf hits your home? That is the perfect start of the Elf tradition. Pick a date. For us it’s Thanksgiving morning because Chippy likes to see the whole family and kick off the holiday season with us. Photography your Elf and photograph him often. But don’t forget to capture your child’s reaction to the Elf. All the images I see on Facebook and in people’s feeds are JUST of the Elf. Catch the surprise when your child actually finds the Elf especially if you got all creative with your bad self. THOSE are priceless. Reaction shots rule. In fact, this is my most favorite reaction shot from last Christmas. The moment my daughter realized Santa had eaten all the cookies. Her ‘proof’ was there and a shot I will always treasure.
Ideas for Capturing Your Holiday Traditions - Photography Tips via


My grandmother was my second mother growing up. Holiday time is when my heart breaks for her. Having images of Emma with her 90 year old great grandmother are growing more important each year. It doesn’t matter how busy, we travel out to see her right around Christmas and I try for that same shot of hugs and love every year. My grandmother was a huge part of my childhood traditions, and sadly in life we have to make new traditions as some fade into the past. This I know is the last of my traditions with her. Document those in your life that have greatly impacted you with your own children. I don’t think there is a more important ‘tradition’ you could capture.
Ideas for Capturing Your Holiday Traditions - Photography Tips via
Ideas for Capturing Your Holiday Traditions - Photography Tips via

Final Note:

As a professional photographer, at this time of year, I’ve learned to capture these traditions with whatever camera is handy, as you will see with the images in this post. My biggest piece of advice is let go of the technical, ‘I need this to be perfect’ mentality when capturing these moments. You don’t want to miss a moment in the tradition because you are fumbling with settings. In fact, AUTO is my best friend at holiday time. I want to be sure I focus on the moment, and not the technique. That said, to feed my artistic soul, I always go for a few photos each season with my good camera. Everyone does them. If you haven’t tried they are super fun. The Christmas light bokeh shot (tip: small aperture, have child stand at least 3 feet from the tree) and the reflection in the ornament shot. I love those and know you will too.

Ideas for Capturing Your Holiday Traditions - Photography Tips via

Ideas for Capturing Your Holiday Traditions - Photography Tips via

Happy Holidays I Heart Faces Community!

Jennifer Tonetti-Spellman for I Heart FacesJennifer Tonetti-Spellman is a die-hard, natural light, lifestyle photographer in New York who loves to search for the light. Like her on Facebook  to continue being inspired by her beautiful work!





[Google ad 250×250]

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Don Smith December 10, 2014

Thanks for the great article and one I plan to pass on to my Daughter, who already has a great ‘eye’

I’m assuming that you meant large aperture (small F number) in the Christmas light bokeh shot tip. Just had to insert that in case someone doesn’t know.


DebZorn December 15, 2013

Thanks for the tips. The last photo of your daughter is absolutely darling.


Kathleen Maca December 12, 2013

Wonderful advice, beautifully written!


Jennifer Tonetti-Spellman December 11, 2012

Thanks everyone, glad you liked it! Hi Stephanie, I shot these all with a 50mm 1.4 lens :)


stephanie sellers December 6, 2012

What stunning pictures, these really capture ‘a moment’ one you’ll both look back on fondly in years to come! Can I ask Jennifer Tonetti-Spellman what lens you have used to capture these beautiful images.


Declan Mc Glone December 5, 2012

Capturing Your Holiday Traditions With Photos #photography


Melissa Jean December 5, 2012

Oh my goodness… she is an absolute doll! SOOOO freaking adorable!


Angie December 5, 2012

Great tips from @iheartfaces on how to capture beautiful photos of your holiday traditions! #christmas #photography


Becca jones December 5, 2012

This was such an inspirational post! Thanks for sharing!


Leave a Comment

{ 5 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post:

 Pinterest Instagram youtubeI Heart Faces Photography Community Free Forum
Get free daily updates!
enter your email