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Holiday photography tips

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'Tis the season to be jolly... and stressed out as you try to get that perfect photo for your Christmas cards! Is there any way to make this nightmarish task... well, FUN? Here are a few tips to make this arduous procedure a success.

Whether using a professional photographer or taking your own pictures, here are 7 tips to help you turn those frowns upside-down and get some great holiday photos:

1. TIMING. Schedule your photo shoot when the kids are at their happiest. This means no early morning jaunts to the local studio or treks to your favorite rocky beach at naptime. You can't expect your child to be smiling when all he wants is his blankie and his bed! If you can work around your child's normal routine you will probably have the best chance to capture your family at it's best.

2. CLOTHING. Casual? Formal? Matching? Remember, the focus of the picture should be on you - not what you're wearing. Too many patterns detract from faces. Coordinate a color pattern so the overall scheme works, but don't dress exactly alike. If you really want to wear the same color, at least vary the items of clothing. If you want everyone to wear white - let Mom wear a white sweater, Dad a starched button down, Daughter a dress and Son a nice polo shirt. Or vary the shades. Have everyone wear slightly different shades of beige and white, creating variety with textures and tones. The coordination and flow is still there, but there is still individuality within the portrait.

3. ACT NATURAL. When my children were little, I went crazy waiting for the photographer to get all 3 of my children to sit still, look at the camera and pose and smile and still look natural. Goodness, I was happy if they were all looking at the camera at the same time and no one was crying! Skip the stiff poses and capture the family just hanging out together. Talking. Walking through the fallen leaves. Playing in the sand. When you capture these relaxed yet planned moments, the family looks natural and makes a great holiday photo.

4. BE CREATIVE. You don't have to sit side-by-side for a typical portrait. Lay down on the ground and have the kids circle around above you for a unique photo. Or have the kids lay down in the grass while you take a shot from a bird's-eye view. Climb trees. Make pyramids. Play with the dog. Try different angles or have someone standing, someone sitting, and another person kneeling. Think of some favorite photos you've received on Christmas cards and why you liked them.

5. COME CLOSER. You are taking photos of your family, so get their faces. Close-up. We don't need to see their sneakers or jeans. When you send out Christmas cards each year, it's hard for your friends to count your new wrinkles when the shots are full-length. Show off your 8-year-old's new braces with photos that are up close and personal - close enough to see those red and green rubber bands!

6. DON'T OVERDO IT. Plan ahead. Your preschooler is not going to enjoy a one-hour photo session as they get moved and posed and asked to smile over and over again. That is a recipe for meltdowns and tears. Let her play with her stuffed bunny or explore the beach while the lighting is adjusted and the camera is focused. When everything is ready to go, the kids should be the last ones to enter the stage. Keep it brief. Bring snacks.

7. QUANTITY NOT QUALITY. The beauty of digital photography is that you can take as many photos as you want and it doesn't cost a penny more! So go crazy! Snap away - take dozens of pictures so you can be sure you caught the one with everyone's eyes open and smiles on their faces. Be sure to shoot in-between poses to capture unexpected and candid moments (these might turn into your favorites!) With all of the photo editing programs, you can crop, edit, retouch, and experiment in all sorts of ways. Have fun with it!

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