Thursday, December 1, 2011

Holiday Photography Tips from Captain Canada

If you've been following along for even a little while, you've probably figured out that I am slightly obsessed with digital photography.  I am the first to admit that I am very much a beginner, but recently, I have been getting some really positive, warm and fuzzy comments on my photos.  This could be because A) people are just blowing smoke up my ass really supportive or B) my photog skillz have actually improved since I first received my DSLR as a gift from the Hubs.  Perhaps the answer is a little from column A, a little from column B. 

Whatever the reason for all this positivity, I want to tell you about my secret photography weapon.  For the last few months, I have been listening the Two Hosers Photo Show, a weekly podcast created by two Canadians (ie. hosers) to help amateur photographers go from taking so-so photos to really understanding their camera's capabilities and getting the best possible photos out of their digital SLR.  One of those hosers just happens to be the photographer (and Daddy) behind Lisa's blog, Schwartz Chronicles, and today I'm excited to be hosting Captain Canada himself.  Today he's here to offer a few tips on making your holiday photographs the best they can be:

My name is Adam (A.K.A. Captain Canada on my wife’s blog) and like Amanda I truly enjoy photography. More specifically I love taking pictures of my kids. I am a father of two young children, Sarah is four and Jack is two. Like a lot of parents I got into photography with the desire to take nice pictures of my kids. Or at least that’s what I told my wife, to justify all the future photography purchases I planned on making.

What began as a hobby quickly turned into a passion for learning how to make my pictures better. A good friend of mine (Al Attridge), who happensto be a professional photographer, helped me a lot with various tips and insights as I progressed. Once he realized my dedication (and nerdiness), he suggested we create a podcast devoted to helping new DSLR users figure out how to make better photos. We chat photography with a dedicated weekly focus in a very casual light-hearted way.

With the holidays just around the corner, I thought I would provide a few tips that might help you take better pictures this season.

1) Get an external flash. With the weather getting colder and sundown coming earlier, be prepared to take most of your pictures indoors. With less light available to work with you are going to use your flash a lot. I don’t mean to burst anyone’s bubble but the pop-up flash on your camera is not very good. An external flash with a head that swivels should be on everyone’s holiday wish list. You will see an immediate improvement in your pictures.

2) Look for interesting light. This could mean using window light to illuminate the children’s faces as they open presents, or maybe strategic placement of a string of Christmas lights as the kids help trim the tree. Al took this picture last year of my daughter Sarah.

3)  Colour coordinating group photos. Sometimes just getting my kids dressed can be deemed an accomplishment, but when it comes to family photo taking coordinating matching colours and creating contrast from the background can make your holiday photos pop. I took the picture below for a few  friends in Steveston.

4) Make it happen. Sometimes a great photo just happens; your child decides to take their first few steps and you just happen to be holding your camera. Sometimes you can coax it a little. If you live in Vancouver, VanDusen Gardens is spectacular during December and catching the pure joy of the kids on the Stanley Park Christmas train is a great photo opportunity. If you don’t live in Vancouver, then maybe you should consider moving.

5) Take your pictures at magic hour. The first hour after sunrise, and the last hour before sundown, are great times for taking pictures. With the sun low in the sky you can use it to illuminate your subjects with its nice warm glow. You won’t have to worry about the shadows that might disguise those cute cuddly faces. If you decide not to buy the external flash, this is your bread and butter. 

Thank you, Adam, for sharing these valuable tips.  We already have our Stanley Park Christmas train tickets - now we'll have to go check out VanDusen Gardens as well!

If you are the proud owner of a DSLR camera but you find yourself shooting mostly in the camera's automatic modes, you need to check out The Two Hosers Photo Show.  Seriously.  You'll be amazed at how listening to two hosers talk about photography (well, not just any two hosers, but these ones specifically) can really improve your knowledge and your outcomes.  And possibly even your life.  (Witty banter?  Hells, yeah!)

The podcast is free and can be downloaded from or, better yet, subscribe to the whole shebang on iTunes and get new episodes as soon as they are posted.  If you want to stalk check out more of Adam's pictures, go visit Lisa at Schwartz Chronicles, and tell her I sent you.  You can also find the hosers on Twitter and on Flickr, where podcast listeners are encouraged to participate in weekly photo challenges.  So, what are you waiting for? Go out there and get shooting!

Let's BEE Friends
Also linking up with Bruna because,
hey, we're all friends here!


  1. These are so simple and so true. Love this post, can be applied to any camera and any level. Podcast, ha? OK, will have a listen :)

  2. What great tips. We have an external flash but we seldom use it and I hate how our indoor pictures turn out with the pop-up flash. I'd have to take it out for better pictures this Christmas. Thanks for sharing your tips Adam! :)

  3. I just took the handbook for my camera out of the box two days ago ... had the camera for over a year ;)

  4. Such great tips! My husband has a fancy schmany camera that we hardly use. I think it's time to take it out and use some of your tips!

  5. @Stasha Some of it might be a bit entry level for YOU, Stasha, especially the early episodes on ISO, aperture, shutter speed, and focus. But I bet you could totally rock the photo challenges!

  6. Great tips!! I'm taking an online photography class right now, and have learned SO much!! I asked my husband for a DSLR for Christmas, he said, "Haha, yeah right"...but maybe AFTER Christmas :)

  7. After reading this, I told my husband we need an external flash for our camera - for Christmas. Great tips!

  8. @Bees With Honey
    Make sure that you get one that swivels so you can bounce the flash off the walls or the ceiling rather than directly at your subject. Some of the cheap external flashes will only shoot straight ahead. Direct in the face flash looks pretty bad most of the time.

  9. @Jen
    Keep your eye out for the canon XS. It's canon's entry level DSLR and it's been discontinued. You will likely be able to find it as a doorcrasher holiday/boxing day sale for between $350-400. Fantastic camera to learn on.

  10. @By Word of Mouth Musings
    Manual is a great place to start. Then check out the website.

  11. @Stasha
    Even if you don't learn much you might get a few chuckles. We aim to provide a little of both.

  12. @Barbara
    Absolutely. Take it out and start messing around. The beauty of digital photography is the ability to delete.

  13. I love shooting natural light as much as I can, even though I own a DSLR. This really forces me to keep using shooter, aperture, ISO, exposure...I never stop learning a trick.

    I recently learned to shoot a x-mas tree at night, with no light other than the ones in the tree and no flash either, and all the tricks are there, S-A-ISO. Now, I just need a tripod.

    So funny about people need to move to Vancouver though LOL - but the backgrounds are just worth at least a trip.

  14. @Bees With HoneyI second what Adam said about getting one that swivels. I noticed a huge difference in my indoor photos as soon as I started using mine. Also, you might want to consider making it an early Christmas present so you can use it to catch the excitement on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning.

  15. Great tips. I love the morning and late afternoon light. I definitely need me some help with indoor photos. I think I need to have another talk with Santa about an external flash. :)

  16. These are great tips -- and goodness knows I NEED them!

  17. I just got my first DSLR a few months ago, shortly before we left for our trip. So far, the pictures have only been limited by my lack of ability with said camera, LOL. I will check out the podcast or website for sure, and guess I need to add both a new lens and an external flash to my wish list.

    Thanks! :)

  18. @onecrazykid
    Which SLR did you buy? If it's a canon the must buy lens is the canon EF 50mm F1.8II Lens. It's an unbelievable lens for around $120. With this lens you can get the blurry backgrounds you dreamed of when you bought your DSLR. Nikon has a comparable lens but I think it is closer to $200.


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