As Christmas draws closer and lights, trees, displays and all sorts of festive activities (including snow in the UK!) begin to appear, you might be tempted to capture the moment on your phone. But while iPhones (and most Android phones) are decent point-and-shoot cameras, there’s more to capturing the perfect winter shots than simply pointing and shooting.
From framing to camera modes, there are many ways to turn a very average snap into something that looks like it was shot by a pro. Whether you’re taking photos of your Christmas tree, a snowy scene at the park or your family wearing matching Christmas jumpers as they tuck into Turkey on the big day, these dozen tips should help enormously.
So, without further ado, here’s how to get the most out of your iPhone’s camera this Christmas, including some tips and tricks from Tech Advisor’s resident pro photographer, Dominik Tomaszewski.
Clean your camera lensesFrame your shot wellTell a story with your shotsRemove any distractionsUse a telephoto lens where possibleDisable the built-in flashUse Night Mode at nightTry Burst ModeUse the Pro shooting mode or a third-party appShoot in RAWEdit your photos
1. Clean your phone’s lenses
Although a soft-focus effect might be what you’re after, it’s a good idea to check and clean your camera lenses before you take any photos – not just those at Christmas. Make sure they’re clear of any smudges, dust or other debris from your pocket or bag.
They can have a massive effect on the quality of the images taken – especially if there’s a big fingerprint on the lens.
2. Frame your shot
Framing is one of the most important factors, and it’s more difficult than you might think. Consider the subject of the photo, be it a Christmas tree, lights or even people in festive jumpers.
When taking group family photos, get far enough back (or use an ultra-wide lens) so you don’t cut people’s feet out of the photo. Alternatively, move closer for a waist-up shot.
If shooting only one or two people, put them off-centre for a more pleasing look.
Also, consider the background. Is it too busy or distracting? Move around until the background looks good. You can also do this to eliminate unwanted objects from the photo. Even though some phones can cleverly remove objects or people, it’s best to take the shot you want the first time.
The same goes for cropping. Don’t take all your photos using wide-angle with the intention to crop them later. Get the framing right when you take the photo.
Pro tip: take shots from your chest or hip. Taking photos from head height with your phone’s main wide-angle lens often results in slightly distorted objects, especially when taking them of other people. We’re all used to seeing this so you may not really notice it, but by changing to hip / waist height, you can make a big difference to the look of your Christmas photography.
3. Tell a story with your shots
While photos can exist in isolation, you’ll probably take more than one at Christmas. There’s the work Christmas party, the family get-together, Christmas decorations (indoor and outdoor) and – if you’re fortunate – snowy scenes to capture.
The idea is to look for interesting details, such as taking a picture of someone helping set up the party or picking up food at the buffet. These help tell a story, rather than simply having posed photos of people.
Ideally, mute your phone to silence the shutter sound and take photos without telling people. That eliminates the issue of awkward poses when people know they’re being photographed. The candid look is much more natural, and chances are, your friends and family will really appreciate the results.
Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry
4. Remove any distractions
If you want to get the perfect shot of your LED-emblazoned Christmas tree to share with your friends on social media, remove things in the background that might distract from the main focus of the shot.
That could be the corner of a sofa, people or pets standing in the background, or even a rogue plate of leftovers on a nearby countertop. A cleaner photo free of distractions will provide more of an impact and look more professional.
5. Use a telephoto lens where possible
The main camera of any recent phone – including all iPhones – is designed for shooting in both bright daytime conditions and low-light conditions. But if there’s one potential downside, it’s their wide-angle field of view, which isn’t ideal for every shot.
For portrait photos and other close-ups, use your phone’s telephoto lens – if it has one. Instead of capturing a lot of stuff that you don’t want to focus on, zoom in using a dedicated 2x or 3x lens if possible to crop the shot. Just bear in mind that this can reduce overall image quality as many telephoto cameras have a lower resolution than the main camera, or don’t perform well in low light, leading to noisy, possibly blurry photos.
Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry
6. Disable the built-in flash
Regardless of whether you’re taking a photo of your loved ones or trying to take a snap of the snow outside, it’s best to disable the flash. While it can be handy in some scenarios, the light from the flash is always obvious in photos and rarely results in a true-to-life image.
If you do need some kind of fill light in your shot to add extra light to the scene, consider using another phone’s torch, a real torch, or turning more lights on.
7. Use Night Mode where possible
If using a torch isn’t going to work, then switch to the iPhone’s built-in Night Mode, available on the iPhone 11 and later. This really shines on the latest iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro range, but you’ll also find it on many Android phones.
The Night Mode, as the name suggests, is for low-light photography. This makes it ideal for taking shots of the snow or other outdoor features at night, with long shutter speeds capturing as much light as possible.
Jim Martin / Foundry
Pro tip: use a tripod or rest your phone on a solid surface. This not only reduces the shake from your hands when taking a long exposure shot, but it also allows you to capture more light, with the iPhone in particular offering up to 30-second exposure on a stable surface compared to three seconds when handheld.
You can also enable a short self-timer to trigger the capture, as tapping on the screen can introduce a slight wobble to shots.
8. Try Burst mode
The problem with flashing LED lights on Christmas trees and outdoor decorations is that they can change too quickly, making it harder to nail that perfect shot. The same can also be said of group shots, with it seemingly near impossible to get everyone to look at the camera and smile at the same time.
In scenarios like this, it’s best to experiment with the burst mode, which takes multiple images per second and automatically chooses the best – though you also have the option of manually browsing and selecting your favourite.
Activating Burst Mode on an iPhone differs depending on the model you have; if you’ve got an iPhone X or older, simply tap and hold the shutter button, while those with an iPhone XS or newer need to swipe the shutter button to the left and hold.
To review the burst images, tap the burst image in the Photos app and tap Select in the bottom-right to browse and select the main image. You can also discard all the other burst images once you’ve chosen, helping keep file sizes down.
On some Android phones you might find a similar mode, and it may even automatically select the ‘best’ image.
Jim Martin / Foundry
9. Use the Pro shooting mode or a third-party app
If you’re shooting in low light or other challenging light conditions, it’s probably a good idea to ditch the phone’s built-in ‘AI’ and manually adjust your camera’s settings using the Pro mode.
You can access pro tools in any iPhone built-in Camera app by tapping the arrow at the top of the camera UI, bringing up several icons that let you adjust elements like exposure, though we’d recommend using a third-party app like Halide if you’re serious about your photography.
Third-party apps provide much more granular control over elements like ISO, allowing you to capture the best possible image from your iPhone. It’ll take a bit of experimentation if you’re new to the world of photography, but the results are usually worth it.
10. Shoot in RAW
If you want to capture the best Christmas images possible, we’d recommend shooting in the RAW image format.
The RAW image format, available on select Pro models of iPhone, allows them to capture more data, making it much better for post-processing, particularly in dark areas. With standard shots, details in shadows and highlights can be lost, but these can be brought back with RAW shots and a bit of post-processing via the Photos app.
Lewis Painter / Foundry
You might find the same on some Android phones, but not all can shoot in RAW.
Don’t go too wild with RAW images though – they take up much more space than standard JPG or HEIC files. Save it for those special shots that really need to look their best.
11. Edit your photos
All phones do their best to automatically process images to make them look appealing, but you can usually improve upon this with a little editing to really make them pop.
That can be anything from adding a filter (the iPhone’s Vivid filter makes colours brighter and lights really stand out) to adjusting the exposure, brightness and other elements to give your image a specific look. You could also add a black-and-white filter to snowy scenes for an impressive effect.
Lewis Painter / Foundry
Whether you have an iPhone or Android, you could also use the Google Photos app which offers a similar set of editing tools. You can go even further and adjust specific parts of a photo in others apps, such as the free Snapseed, or you could go the whole hog and transfer them to your Mac or PC and edit them in Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop.
12. Take a power bank
If you’re headed out in the cold to take photos of local Christmas lights, we’d advise wrapping up (of course!) and taking a power bank with you.
The cold temperatures most of us experience over Christmas can have a negative effect on smartphone battery life, and you might find it running out faster than usual – especially if you’re using the Camera app often.
A power bank can provide extra juice when needed, and depending on the capacity you go for, they’re not that bulky or heavy. Take a look at our hand-picked selection of the best power banks if you’re unsure which to go for.