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All week long on the podcast we’ve been talking about creating holiday memories; first by noticing, then by pausing to appreciate, and finally by creatively capturing those memories in some way–most often in the form of a photo or video. Smartphone photography has come incredibly far in the 12 holiday seasons I’ve had as a mom (I’d argue that the biggest leaps have been in the last five years especially), and while I enjoy getting out my DSLR camera throughout the season, most of my photo memories are snapped with my phone.
What I love about the connection between photos and memories is that they are related, but not exactly the same. A photo captures a scene or just a fragment of a scene; my memory fills in the experience with everything else that was happening around that time. When I look back at photos from holidays past, it’s the everyday moments that catch me, not the posed shots with Santa. So when I think about taking holiday photos, I think about what I’ll love looking back on years from now.
If you’d like to be more intentional this year about your smartphone photography and capturing holiday memories, here are six things to think about:
1. Capture the chaos.
I have many, MANY photos in my archives of a toy-strewn floor or a bed heaped with laundry. I don’t know why, but the absurdity of messy early motherhood always seemed to need memorializing. There’s something lovely, though, looking back at those photos, and realizing how far we’ve come.
This photo (below) was taken the morning after Thanksgiving. The remnants of an adult poker game were still on the kitchen table and I’d put on YouTube videos of The Nutcracker for the kids while I cleaned the kitchen. This moment represents one of my favorite days of the season–the day after Thanksgiving (we delay the delights of Christmas music and movies until then, so it’s so much fun to indulge in those things as soon as the ban is lifted). In the photo I see chubby little hands and kitty pajamas, “the red iPad” that these days nobody wants to use anymore because it can’t keep up with their apps and games, and a kitchen table surface that has been the backdrop for so many meals, and so many photos.
2. Feel a feeling; snap a photo.
Often when I take a photo during the holidays, I’m not trying to capture that thing in the image; I’m trying to express the way that thing makes me feel. I feel a feeling, and then I snap a photo to try to remember it (and since feelings don’t have human form, the photo could be of literally anything).
The photo below was taken Christmas morning, of a video chat (was it Skype then? Or FaceTime?) with my husband’s mother and grandfather who were celebrating three time zones and two thousand miles away from us and our little family. I remember feeling like the technology we were using was some form of magic, and being profoundly grateful that the then-85-year-old on the other side of the laptop could connect for a wild, sugar-high minute with his great-grandchildren on the other side of the country. I remember loving the internet age in that moment, as we virtually clinked bloody mary glasses with our distant family.
(I also love the uneaten cut fruit on Christmas china. Wasn’t I cute to try to get my kids to eat fruit on Christmas morning?)
3. Lean in on low light.
Well, it’s a dark time of year. There’s no getting around that. It gets dark early and good photos usually love daylight best. But looking back at my holiday season photos over the years, I’m always drawn to the ones taken in low light.
If you don’t already do so, try this. When you’re trying to capture a scene in low light, tap on your smartphone screen where you want the focus of the photo to be. Then try tapping it elsewhere, off in the background or near a corner. Observe how your phone tries to adjust for the best light (it’s smart, but it isn’t THAT smart; it doesn’t know the aesthetic you’re going for). Take a few photos with different auto-adjusted lighting and then later delete the ones you like least.
Here’s a photo from last Christmas season of my mom reading to my girls:
4. Learn how to edit.
Back in the olden days of early-Instagram, “editing” photos meant slapping one of the filter presets over your grainy photo picture and calling it a day. Looking back, I realize that both Instagram and I overdid those filters, and today I prefer a lighter touch with some specific objectives.
I’m self-taught for the most part when it comes to both capturing and editing, but I learned a ton from Jill Krause and her eBook Picture Play. Jill’s tips helped me learned to use photo editing apps (they’re free or very cheap, and there are lots of good ones; it’s not about the app so much as knowing how to use it) to get the effect I was looking for, regardless of the original photo. Filters are fun but offer less control to the editor; the same one will look great on one image and terrible on the other.
Here’s a photo (below) from two years ago that I just adore. The edits are simple: rotating to get the horizon line straight, cropping to get rid of the “extras” on the right and put the subject where I wanted him, and a little boost in structure and saturation for a little more drama.
5. Find a fun angle or frame.
The pros call this part of the conversation composition: same subjects, captured from a different angle, distance, or perspective. If you’re used to pointing your phone at your kids and asking for a smile, it might feel straight to get up high or down low or way back from afar or right up close. But there’s no wrong way to do it–just try something different!
I stumbled on the photo below and don’t even remember taking it. I love that you can see the marmallows in their cocoa and how they’re kind of an extension of their perfect little-kid smiles with teeth in various stages of coming and going. I love that they’re using a chair as a table and that there are piles of lights in the corner and an unhung ornament. It’s tree-decorating night in-progress. From above.
6. Photos or videos?
In the podcast episode about capturing memories I talked about how I prefer short video clips to long ones. They take up less space, are easier to compile or string together later (I like iMovie on my phone), and often tell as much of a story as a longer clip.
When you’re taking videos, get in the habit of pushing the little photo capture button while the video is running. Your phone will save these as still photos, and while the quality is a little diminished, the still captures are often as great as the videos themselves.
Here is a series of stills of my oldest opening up a gift hand-picked by the littlest. Could their expressions be any cuter?
As we talked about in the episodes this week, making memories begins by slowing down to notice and appreciate the little moments that make up your life as a mom right now. And the capturing piece should be fun for you, not an obligation or a reach for perfection (we have enough of that this time of year, right?). Enjoy the season, mamas, and happy memory-making!
Thanks to Chatbooks for making our Creating Holiday Memories series on the podcast possible! You can start creating photo books by downloading the app from your browser at Chatbooks.com. Starting 11/25, get 20% off photo books (ends 12/4) and 40% off holiday cards (ends 12/8)!