How To Take iPhone Holiday Photos That Will Light Up Instagram

Photo: Courtesy of Erin Brooks.
Holiday photos can get a bad rap. This is usually because the label denotes family group shots with color-coordinating ensembles or worse, matching sweaters.
But if you set aside the embarrassing family holiday cards of years past and think about a different kind of holiday photo — one that involves cozy flannel, steaming cups of cocoa, Christmas tree lights, and snow-topped hills — the connotation is much better. These winter wonderlands are the things Instagram gold is made of, practically screaming "'like' me" to followers old and new alike.
Still, capturing all this December magic in a way that makes your photos stand out on a crowded feed isn't always the easiest. That's why we reached out to a pro for a help. Ahead, photographer Erin Brooks shares her top tips for mastering any seasonal scenario, using just your iPhone.
Holiday Lights & Snow
String lights and snow share something in common: Besides belonging to the same season, both can cause your photos to look blown out. To keep shots in check, Brooks recommends purposely underexposing your image.
To lower the exposure, tap and hold the part of photo where you want the focus to be. A yellow box will appear onscreen with a sun icon to the right. Slide your finger down, but not too far. "Darken only enough to where there are no bright spots without any details," Brooks advises. "So for example, with holiday lights, darken until you can see the outline of the bulbs."
Photo: Courtesy of Erin Brooks.
Lowering the exposure too much can cause your photo to look grainy or add extra noise, she says.
The Christmas Tree
If you're shooting your tree in regular or square photo mode, try to stand farther back to include the entire tree in the image for scale. If you're shooting in portrait mode, keep the focus on another object, such as an ornament, and the tree in the background, where it will be part of the beautifully blurred bokeh effect.
"Focusing on an ornament held out in hands might be a fun twist on an image, that draws the eye somewhere unexpected," Brooks says.
Delicious Food
The foodie Instagram shot of choice seems to be the overhead shot these days, which can work well with a handheld mug of cocoa with marshmallows or decadent Christmas Eve spread. But when you want to show off a beautifully decorated yule log or other baked goods, Brooks advises adding depth by shooting from the side with portrait mode. Just be sure to find a neutral background that won't overpower or distract from the main focus — the sweets.
Photo: Courtesy of Erin Brooks.
Family Group Shots
We know, we know — family group shots are the bane of holiday photo existence. But forget the cheesy, overly styled shoots of your childhood, and take control of the images this year.
If you're planning to use Portrait Mode you'll want to find a place where the background will look beautifully blurred behind everyone. When shooting outdoors, look for a cluster of trees with sunlight filtering through them. "Try to position your subjects with a lot of distance between them and the trees, and use Portrait Mode for a soft, golden bokeh background," Brooks says.
Photo: Courtesy of Erin Brooks.
But remember, she adds: In order for everyone to stay in focus in Portrait Mode, and not become part of the background blur, you'll all need to stay in a straight line next to each other and be an equal distance from the camera.
When indoors, look for an area that gets a fair amount of natural light. Brooks suggests playing with angles: If you're shooting adults, try shooting above. With little nieces or nephews children, get down on their level.
And, of course, if you want to be in the shot yourself, just put your iPhone on a tripod of prop it against a level surface, and tap the self timer burst along the upper camera toolbar. Select a three or 10 second countdown to the photo.

More from Tech


R29 Original Series