See seasonal celebrations in a new light
Different countries and cultures celebrate the year end in lots of unique ways. These often reflect their identity, history and traditional stories. Part of the magic of the season is the diversity it brings, the window it provides into other ways of life - and the chance it brings to capture beautiful, exciting and extraordinary photos which tell a tale of their own.
© Ben K Adams - Canon EOS 6D
Christmas stories from around the world
Perhaps the biggest of all winter celebrations is Christmas, a religious and cultural event in many parts of the world. Countries and cultures around the globe mark the occasion very differently, often using a mix of Christian, pagan, traditional and folkloric customs to tell their own stories around the event.
In Europe, countries like Germany, Switzerland and Austria host markets which are a treat for all the senses. These often begin a month or so before Christmas Day and are a great place to capture action-packed photos of crowds enjoying fairground rides or ice skating. At night, a typical market is enchantingly lit and beautifully atmospheric offering you the chance to capture the essence of the season's spirit. Try using a wide angle lens or a wide angle setting on your camera to shoot the whole scene. Or experiment by using night or low light modes on your camera for beautifully lit results. See our tutorials to learn more.
© Matteo Paciotti - Canon EOS 5D Mark II
In many European countries, Christmas Day or Eve is marked by a feast with family and friends - another good time to make sure your camera is close to hand. In Denmark, the most anticipated part of the meal is a traditional rice pudding, baked with an almond inside. Whichever guest receives the almond is said to be guaranteed good luck for the year ahead.
Celebrations in the southern hemisphere
In other parts of the world, Christmas is celebrated very differently, offering scope to capture photos which tell a different Christmas story.
Las Posadas is a traditional winter holiday celebrated in Mexico, Guatemala and southern parts of United States of America, between December 16-24. It's often marked by a series of processions in a local town or village which can make an unforgettable spectacle if you happen to be in town with your camera.
The leader of the procession will carry a candle inside a paper lampshade and visit houses where residents will sing songs. Children join in to play games and win gifts from hitting a star shaped piñata (usually made from clay). The nine days represent the nine months of Mary's pregnancy with Jesus and the ceremony remains a significant part of celebrations throughout many communities in Latin America providing excellent opportunities to capture unique photos.
Below the equator, December arrives in the height of summer so Christmas celebrations in Australia or South Africa are more likely to take place around a barbecue on a beach than around a blazing Yule Log. Shooting with bright sunlight can produce great images, especially early on Christmas morning or late in the afternoon when the light is at its most magical. Try shooting a photo collection with a difference, featuring beautifully saturated colours, the sillhouettes of family and friends against a sunset or kids playing with their gifts at the beach.
Christmas celebrations don't end on 25 December. At the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas, January 6th, comes a day called Epiphany, also sometimes known as Three Kings Day. This is celebrated as the day the three wise men first saw baby Jesus and brought him gifts.
On this day in Spain many children receive their presents rather than in December. And in Puerto Rico, before children go to sleep on 5 January, they leave a box with hay under their beds so the kings might leave them presents. Meanwhile in France, a 'King's' cake is baked with a coin or little toy hidden inside it to celebrate the occasion. These occasions also provide the chance to take candid portraits or tell the story of these traditions. Whether you're staying at home or going away this season, investigate what makes Christmas unique in your part of the world and have your camera ready.
Seasonal celebrations in other countries
Not all countries or cultures celebrate Christmas so it's worth finding out what other winter celebrations are happening near you and taking your camera along to any events. Group shots and public celebrations can make really striking and memorable photos.
© Stig Nygaard - Canon EOS 50D
Buddhists across the world celebrate Bodhi Day on 8 December to commerate the Day of Buddha's Enlightenment. In Buddhist homes and places of worship, you may be able to photograph the sacred fig tree. Decorated with multi-colored lights and beads to symbolise the way in which all things in the Buddhist universe are united, it can make a impactful image.
Hanukkah is the Jewish Festival of Lights and is usually celebrated in November or December. It's marked by lighting one candle on the Hanukiah (an eight-stemmed candelabrum) on every one of eight days - so prepare to switch off your flash, get close to the action and fill your frame with beautifully atmospheric candlelight. You can create beautiful 'bokeh' or blurred background effects by taking portrait photos of family and friends against the candlelight. Make sure faces are in focus and get close to your subject to make the most of the atmospheric light.
Capturing Chinese New Year
One of the most visually spectacular seasonal celebrations is Chinese New Year, a two-week winter holiday celebrated in the latter part of January or early part of February, or during the first lunar moon, by the Vietnamese, Koreans, and Chinese.
© IQRemix - Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Its feasts, festivals and energetic parades make it a must-see if you're interested in photographing temples, dragons and martial arts action! You don't need a professional DSLR to get great shots. Just take a look what's happening in front of you, consider how best to frame it for dramatic effect, get close up or use your zoom then take a few shots of the action.
In China this celebration is called Spring Festival, where it marks the end of the winter season. It starts on the first day of the Chinese New Year and ends after fifteenth day, when the Lantern Festival is celebrated.
Chinese New Year celebrations are held by Chinese communities all over the world, making it a good opportunity to photograph the emotion, energy and excitement of the event in a city near you.
Photographing Diwali - festival of light
Diwali, the festival of light, offers lots of opportunities to take beautiful photographs.
In India and all around the world, Hindus celebrate this spiritual festival which signifies the victory of light over darkness. Each autumn, places are lit up with candles and lamps, people are dressed in colourful clothes and the skies are brightened by stunning fireworks.
© Premnath Thirumalaisami - Canon EOS 550D
You can shoot candid close-ups of people celebrating, long exposures of the lights or fireworks or simply point and shoot to capture the atmosphere.