In the age of social media, holiday greeting cards with matching-sweater family photos have all but fallen by the wayside. But holiday photography hasn’t disappeared completely—it’s just switched mediums. This winter, make sure your snaps of holiday feasts, snowy landscapes, and festive outfits get all the likes they deserve.
1. ADD A LENS.
Professional photographers agree on one thing when it comes to capturing the perfect Instagram shot: Do not rely on the in-app camera. Instead, use your phone’s basic camera app to take the photo, then upload to Instagram. For the best wide-lens or macro shots, photographers recommend investing in a detachable lens to add to your phone. You can find pro-quality lens kits for under $100—put one on your wish list and watch the likes roll in.
2. UPGRADE YOUR FILTERS…
Instagram’s basic filters are great for quickly spiffing up your photos, but with the same ones available to everyone, they can make even the most original photos feel generic. Turn to a third-party app (VSCO Cam is a favorite among photographers) for fresh filters that will give your holiday memories the sparkle they deserve.
3. … AND USE AN EDITING APP.
For magazine-worthy results, you’ll need to go a step beyond a filter. Before uploading to Instagram, adjust your photo’s sharpness, brightness, and contrast in a third-party program, like the aforementioned VSCO Cam or Snapseed, which lets you edit specific spots in your photo—even editing in your phone’s camera app is preferable to editing in Instagram itself, photographers say. For picture-perfect holiday portraits, use an app like Perfect365 to instantly remove red-eye, dark under-eye circles, and wrinkles. For the truly vain, you can even become a virtual plastic surgeon, using the app to slim your face and raise your cheekbones.
4. FIND THE RIGHT ANGLE.
When setting up your shots, it’s important to think about your camera’s location. For photos of your holiday feast, for instance, it’s best to shoot from above, looking straight down at your food—don’t be shy, stand on your chair! Similarly, models and photographers agree that photographing people from slightly above makes for the most flattering results.
5. PAY ATTENTION TO COMPOSITION.
Your stack of presents may look gorgeous under the tree, but that doesn’t mean the setup will translate to a nice picture. Before pressing the shutter button, take some time to arrange your shot. One easy, photographer-approved trick is to consider the rule of thirds: Think of your frame as divided into three vertical and horizontal sections, then orient your main subject along those lines. Save symmetrical shots for settings with striking architectural features.
6. TRY AND TRY AGAIN.
Don’t expect to get the perfect photo on the first try. Photographers take dozens (sometimes hundreds) of shots to capture that one magical moment, so give yourself options. Take a handful of shots of the same thing, then choose your favorite to upload to social media.
7. GO HORIZONTAL.
Photographers also recommend holding your phone horizontal for better results. This orientation makes cropping easier later on.
8. SHOOT AT THE “MAGIC HOUR.”
Golden hour (the time shortly after sunrise or right before sunset) and blue hour (the brief time at twilight after the sun has disappeared behind the horizon, but has not fully set) are not photography myths. The lighting is often softer and less direct during these times, making them ideal for capturing gorgeous images.
Photographers also recommend deliberately underexposing your pictures—by holding your finger on a brighter section of the frame, such as the sky, to focus your shot before hitting the shutter button—for better landscape photos. This allows more clarity in details such as clouds or snowy footprints.
9. HAVE A FAST CONNECTION.
It’s called Instagram for a reason—you want to share your holiday traditions with friends and faraway loved ones in real time, not after the fact. In order to upload that video of holiday carolers quickly enough for your followers to feel like they’re enjoying the show with you, you need a speedy wireless connection.
10. OPTIMIZE FOR “LIKES.”
In 2013, a marketing platform analyzed more than 8 million Instagram images to see which qualities spark the most interest. Unsurprisingly, there were some clear traits that generated more engagement: Lighter photos fared better than darker ones; images with a single dominant color were liked more often than ones with many dominant colors; and textured images received more double-taps than smooth images, which bodes well for your “sweater weather” selfies.
11. USE YOUR HASHTAGS WISELY.
Hashtags can help you sort your own photos as well as reach more viewers—but only when they’re used strategically. Too many generic hashtags (#presents, #Christmas, #love) can clutter your photo. Instead, create a hashtag specific to your holiday celebration (#LoveTheSmiths2015) and share with your friends and family in order to see everyone’s holiday memories in one place.