Photography in its most purest form is all about creating memories -- Christmas is also about memories.
In addition, Christmas brings the promise of a New Year, a new beginning. Photography is about new beginnings, too.
I learned a long time ago that as a professional photographer you are only as good as your last image. Every day is a fresh start, a new chance to make a great image that might have a positive influence in someone's life.
Christmas is also about family and friends, and so is photography. What better way do we have to document the people who are important to us?
I urge each and every one of you to go out this holiday season and make great, honest images of the things and people you care about the most. It does not matter if you have the most expensive digital camera or a cell phone. Record the beauty of the season.
I remember, as a kid, my parents would always take a picture of the tree on Christmas morning with all of the presents underneath that Santa had left during the middle of the night. The camera of choice was a Kodak Instamatic and every now and then I run across one of these old photos. Of course we could not touch a present until the picture was made.
To make your own image of the family tree turn the flash off on your camera and turn on the tree lights. A flash will make the beautiful tree lights appear as if they were off and the tree will have a lifeless look.
The ISO setting on your camera makes the camera's pixels more sensitive to the available light. You will want to bump up the ISO on your camera to at least 800 to help capture the beautiful glow of the tree lights.
Make photos of your young kids tearing into presents left under the tree with wonder in their eyes. One tip that will help you catch great candid shots is to be ready -- anticipate the child's expression by having the camera trained on the subject and focused before he or she tears into the wrapping.
For these photos, you might want to turn the flash back on, as a slow shutter speed might create a blur in your images of the fast pace of the little ones tearing into the gifts.
Take a nighttime walk around the block and photograph the beautiful Christmas lights on the houses.
Here are a few tips to help make great nighttime shots. Turn off your flash and put your camera on manual exposure, and use a fast ISO -- I suggest ISO 800. To avoid camera shakes, use a tripod because you will need to use a low shutter speed of at least one second with a wide-open aperture. Also, if it has been raining, you can get some great reflections of the lights in the water.
Other great family photo opportunities abound during the holidays. A photo of your child riding that shiny new bike for the first time might make for some unique shots. The family cooking the holiday dinner together is another. The kids decked out in their new Christmas clothes.
And don't forget about a family portrait. There might be family members who don't make it to town often, so the holidays are a perfect time to get them together for a professional portrait. You can check out my website, www.jaysousa photography.com, for some family portrait ideas.
And for all of the kids, both young and old, that will be unwrapping a new, state-of-the-art digital camera with all of the bells and whistles, congratulations! You have just started a lifelong hobby that will bring you many hours of happiness because creating lifelong memories is the best gift ever.
If you need some help figuring out all of those bells and whistles on the new camera, you can visit my website and go to photography classes.
I just want to close by wishing everyone a great holiday season and thank you for reading my column.
Jay Sousa, a former Sun-Star photographer, has his own photography business in Merced, conducts private classes and teaches photography at Merced College.