photograph your christmas

by Melissa Stottmann

Christmas morning.  Everyone is looking top notch, straight out of bed, right? Well, not so much, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth remembering!  

I typically spend my morning behind the camera watching my two kids open their presents through the viewfinder while missing out on the memories because I’m so busy trying to preserve them.   I’m not even in the pictures so no one knows I’m there, but my poor husband is front and center for the whole event.

Last year, when going through my camera settings, I decided to explore the ‘interval timer’ further.   The heavens opened and I realized I didn’t need to take pictures during the upcoming Christmas morning, the camera could do the work for me with just a bit of guidance.  

So I set my camera up in the corner (on a coffee table with books piled underneath my 24-70mm lens to keep it propped up where I needed it) and I set the interval times to take an image once every 30 seconds.  These images are by no means perfect.  They are noisy, the light gets harsh in the middle and there is a golden yellow lamp glow.  You know what they are, though?  Real life.  Our morning.

Huge thank you to SongFreedom for the fantastic song used in the slideshow!

Seriously.  Do this. This year! It’s for your kids.  It’s their memories and THEY deserve to have YOU in their memories.

What you need:

  • Camera with an interval timer.
A room with light (I’m not even saying decent light, this is your Christmas morning, not a photo-shoot! Memories are memories whether you get perfect light or not!).
  • Presents.
  • Tree.
  • Coffee Table and some random stuff to jam under your lens to keep it upright and in place OR if you want to be fancy, a tripod.
  • Some sweet pajamas, coffee, and maybe a hair tie…


  1. Set your f/stop to be a bit more shallow then you typically shoot  (I used f/2.8 for these shots, but I was shooting at 24mm from decently far away.  This year I plan to use f/4.0 or f/5.6 ).
  2. Focus on someone in front of the tree/where the presents will be and then switch your camera into manual focus so that focus stays put.  I actually set the focus the night before and used my husband to stand in front of the tree.
  3. Set your camera to take one image every 30 seconds for about an hour and a half.  It did not take us that long to open presents but I wanted the time to be a bit longer because I could always stop the camera but didn’t want to restart the timer.
  4. Have the camera begin taking pictures right before the kids enter and finish it after the kids have made their messes and left.
  5. Position your fine self in a spot where you look half way decent (practice this beforehand – please don’t make your family wait long – you are beautiful, even before your teeth have been brushed!).
  6. Enjoy your Christmas morning and don’t touch the camera!

No interval timer? Set up the camera like I mentioned in steps 1 and 2 and buy a cheap remote.  Every 30 seconds or so, snap a shot.

Your pictures should show an awesome stop motion display of your Christmas morning with you included… scissor finding, kid helping, and happy smiles included.  Practice doing this beforehand.  Practice one more time.  And maybe once more.  Then, let go of perfection.  You bought your camera to get memories, now go get them!

photograph your christmas photoMelissa Stottmann, Delaware
CMU Instructor, CM Mentor
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Instructor of CMU’s Shooting 212: Photographing Your Family’s Everyday, Extraordinary Days, and Everything In Between, Melissa Stottmann is a newborn, children and family (including her own!) photographer from Wilmington, Delaware that is working on slowly getting her feet wet in the wedding industry. Shooting primarily with her D800, though using film occasionally, Melissa is often found with a 35mm or 85mm lens attached. Melissa believes that every moment is significant and uses her camera to bring attention to otherwise ordinary moments. Her portrait, lifestyle and documentary work revolves around the peaceful and serene life she craves.

Read all photography tutorials by Melissa Stottmann.

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73 Responses to “photograph your christmas”

  1. Jan 06 2014 at 12:36 pm #

    Melissa, I did this and I thank you. Not only am I in our first official Christmas as just the four of us (since all the other years we were with family and/or friends) but I live overseas, away from my loved ones, so this idea was phenomenal not only to be part of the images but to share too. What a fab, fab idea. It also made me think how to stop accepting that I’m the one forever taking the pics, I need to think creatively to include myself. THANK YOU!


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