Holiday photos should feel warm, authentic, timeless. Here, Offset contributor Vira Simon-Nikulina shares her creative tips and inspirations.
Vira Simon-Nikulina has made her living as a stock photographer for over a decade, taking gorgeous pictures of everything from scrub brushes to puppies, but she’s probably best known for her holiday photos.
“To me, holiday photos are a special responsibility,” she says. “Before taking them, I always do a lot of research. I look at trends and the works of famous photographers, watch Christmas movies, listen to Christmas music, and visit antiques shops, searching for unusual things that might inspire me.”
Her holistic and earnest approach has served her well, allowing her to carve out a niche for herself in the highly-competitive stock photo industry.
And, while she has trouble pinpointing exactly why her photos are so popular—“I really don’t even know!”—she has plenty of tips and tricks for photographers looking to make their mark in the holiday photo space.
1. Start by Asking Yourself What the Holidays Mean to You
Are they about gifts? Family? Cozying up by the fire? What is it about this time of year that makes it special to you? Because that’s what you should be photographing.
“I love Christmas,” says Simon-Nikulina. “My husband and I get together with the whole family. We give gifts, eat delicious food, and listen to Christmas songs.”
Until you know what the holidays mean to you, you can’t photograph them creatively.
2. Make It Personal
To avoid clichés, it’s essential that you feel a personal connection to what you’re photographing. This will allow you to connect with the viewer in a more significant, genuine way.
“When I think of the holidays, I think of my parents’ house,” Simon-Nikulina says, ”and I try to recreate the warmth and comfort of that space [in my photos] by using warm, saturated colors and vintage objects that remind me of pieces in their home.”
Simon-Nikulina also fully commits to the imagined reality of the scene she’s photographing. “If I’m wrapping a gift for a photo, I will actually wrap something up for my family and think about them as I do it—I think [the viewer] can feel that.”
3. Give Yourself Time and Space to Let the Ideas Come Naturally
While Simon-Nikulina is a big believer in the importance of consistent, regulated work output, she doesn’t force her shoots. She does her research, sets the mood, and lets the plan develop naturally in her mind.
“It’s important to create the right atmosphere and think through all the details,” she says. Put on some Christmas music, watch some old movies, and let the ideas come to you.
4. Honor Your Values in Your Work
“One of the great things about photography is that it allows you to express yourself and show other people what the world looks like through your eyes,” says Simon-Nikulina, whose own interests in ecology and environmentalism are often reflected in her holiday photos through her use of recycled gift boxes and vintage props.
The fact that concern for the environment is trending across the globe certainly contributes to the popularity of these images, but it’s her own genuine interest in these issues that people can sense and that allows them to really connect with her photos.
5. Keep Your Eye on the Trends
While it’s important to figure out and remain true to what makes you and your work unique, if you want to be successful, it’s essential that your photos reflect the world around you.
“New trends in photography coincide with trends in life,” Simon-Nikulina says.
“The struggle for equal rights, concern for the environment, the emergence of new technologies—all of these things can and should be reflected in photography.”
Even in holiday photography.
6. Focus on What Is Real
When taking holiday photos, it’s all too easy to slip into a world of pure fantasy—one where the pandemic never happened, where everyone is happy and beautiful, laughing over their eggnog and opening presents in front of the tree.
But, that’s not really the world we live in and those photos don’t resonate with people like they used to.
“I love that more and more, photos are showing real people with real emotions in their own homes, as opposed to models in a studio,” Simon-Nikulina says. “At the same time, many people today cannot be with their relatives during the holidays because of the pandemic. Instead, they are communicating with their families through technologies [like video calls] and reflecting these realities in a major trend.”
While it can be tempting to ignore the less pleasant aspects of the current moment, especially when taking holiday photos, if you can embrace the world for what it is and still find beauty and joy in it, that is when you’ll create your best, most impactful work.
Cover image via Vira Simon-Nikulina.