Olympus Visionary Lou Manna: Tips for Shooting Photos of your Holiday Scenes

Capturing all the vivid colors and warm lights of the Holidays means you need to master shooting indoors. However, shooting photos indoors in low light, or mixed light, can provide a variety of challenges. Who better to share a little holiday photography knowledge than award-winning Olympus Visionary, Lou Manna? Manna has been shooting food and restaurant photos for many years – so you’ll definitely want to check out this article for a myriad of Holiday photo tips.

1. Camera Tips:

ISO: When shooting indoors without a flash, the ISO setting should be set to 800 or 1600 so that the camera sensor is more sensitive to the ambient light.

Exposure Compensation: View your photograph on the LCD screen to see if the image is too light or too dark. If you did not have the right exposure, adjust the exposure compensation to lighten (+) or darken (-) the photo. You may want to take shots at the camera recommended exposure, as well as at (+)1 exposure compensation, and (-)1 exposure compensation, so you can pick the best shot once downloaded.

An example of a photo taken with exposure compensation.

White Balance: The auto white balance setting in your camera normally does a good job for most lighting situations. If you are shooting indoors with household lamps (i.e., usually under incandescent or tungsten lighting) use the camera preset for tungsten white balance. If the lighting is fluorescent, then the fluorescent white balance setting will work better. The best method is to take a custom white balance reading using a white or grey card for a more accurate color rendition in your photo. You can see the huge difference this adjustment can make below. The shot on the left of these radish heads was taken with the “auto” white balance setting, while the shot on the right was taken using a white balance setting that better matched the artificial light that was available. For more detailed information regarding white balance, review your camera manual.

A visual comparison of two white balance settings

Scene Modes: If your camera has Scene Modes try the Cuisine or Food Mode, Indoor or Party Mode, and Candlelight Mode to explore the different effects they create. You may like one better than the others for your subject. Use a photo editing program to add a special holiday message to your photo and share with your friends.

A photographic greeting card from Lou Manna

Art Filters: Experiment with colors and moods by using the in-camera creative filters found on many Olympus cameras. Your holiday shot could look even more festive and colorful by using the Pop Art filter. The saturated color reproduction will enhance the mood and setting. Try the Soft Focus filter to capture the mood of a romantic dinner.

Macro Mode or Lens: To shoot close up, use the macro setting on a point and shoot camera, which is typically indicated with a flower icon. Use a macro or a close focusing lens on a camera with interchangeable lenses to get closer to your subject. If your camera has an “aperture priority” setting, try shooting with a wide open aperture setting to get a nicely out-of-focus background that will emphasis the details

Two images showing use of techniques for reducing camera shake.

Tripod: A tripod helps to avoid camera shake in low-light conditions and with slow shutter speeds (below 1/60 second). In the shot below, the use of a slow shutter speed of 1/15 second and a tripod allowed me to get a crisp shot of the chestnuts in the foreground, while having the flames of the fireplace appear soft and flowing.

Two-Second Self Timer: To reduce camera shake that will occur when using slow shutter speeds, set your camera to take the picture a few seconds after pressing the shutter release button. This will reduce the movement your hand might cause when taking the picture. This is also a good technique to use when a tripod is not available. Just place the camera on a stable platform like a table or chair, and use the self timer feature. With a DSLR, try the mirror-lock up feature to further reduce camera shake.

Video: With Olympus cameras’ video feature, you can capture special segments of your entire holiday meal event – from shopping at the markets, to cooking and enjoying your delicious meal together. The cameras are easily set to video mode and recording only requires the touch of a button. The video clip can be downloaded and shared just like a photo and will have the extension “.avi” in the file name.


Built-In Flash: Try to avoid using your camera’s built-in flash since this direct light flattens the subject and reduces texture and depth. It is better to use the available light from lamps and lighting fixtures in the room or natural daylight from a window.

A photograph demonstrating good lighting.

External Flash: If you are using an external flash unit and not a built-in flash, bounce the light from the flash into a neutral colored ceiling or a side wall to give your subject more dimension and create some shadow for depth.

Reflectors/Diffusers: Use household items such as aluminum foil, makeup mirrors and white napkins to reflect the light source into the shadow areas of the photo and capture more detail. To soften the light source, try diffusing it with wax paper – or diffuse light with a sheer white cloth to highlight details in the bright portions of the photo.


Subject: Try to have a main point of interest in your image. Avoid using too many objects that crowd the space and distract attention from the main subject. Keep it simple. Less is more – especially when it comes to food photography.

Placement: Whatever your subject, compose your photograph to draw the viewer’s eye to it. Keep in mind the “Rule of Thirds” in which you divide the frame into a tic-tac-toe design and place your subject at one of the intersecting points. A spiral composition leads your eye clockwise into the photo.

View: Lower and raise the camera to obtain unique perspectives. Get closer and crop into the subject to create a unique view and a dramatic effect.

A demonstration of attractive food styling. A colorful bowl of soup with complimentary garnishings.


Contrast: Strive to obtain contrasting colors, shapes and height of the food items.

Highlights: Be prepared to shoot as soon as the food is ready so that it looks fresh, moist, hot, etc. Lightly brush the food with vegetable oil to add shine and highlights.

Tools: Manipulate small food elements with tweezers. Clean up crumbs and food particles on the plates or elsewhere with Q-tips and paper towels.


Photo Editing Software: Use an application such as your Olympus camera software to touch up and enhance your favorite photos.

Brightness and Contrast: Adjust your image to ensure there is detail in your highlights and shadows. Touch Up: Remove small unwanted marks or distracting elements with the clone or stamp tool.

File Size: Reduce the size of your image file to 72 dpi (dots per inch) to use for emailing or for posting to social media sites. Remember to sharpen the image when you decrease the size.

A very attractive photo of a small pecan pie.
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