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Stacey Haslem, www.staceyhaslem.com

The holidays bring families together to take stock of the year that is ending and the year that is beginning, and to take pictures, lots and lots of pictures. But it can be challenging to get everyone smiling for the camera and looking their best. Here are some tips and tricks for getting a great family photo this holiday season:

1. Location, location, location. Before everyone gets dressed and the kids start to get goofy, know where, when and how you are going to take your family photos. Pick two locations: one that you really, really want to use, and one as a back-up. Consider the following:

  • Inside: A great spot for indoor photos is in an open doorway or the entrance to your garage with the door open. The light is usually even, and you are protected from the weather.
  • Outside: Assuming the weather cooperates, it’s nice to get outside. Outdoor locations offer more depth and color, giving you more options on the day of the shoot. A fun, family hangout, is a great choice for photos because not only are you outside, but you are also in a place filled with fond memories.
  • Backdrop: Choose an area that has a single color palette, like fall leaves, rather than something filled with lots of bright colors, patterns or textures that could distract too much from your family.
  • Dimensions: Keep some distance between your family and the background to add some depth.

2. Light the way. Visit your location at the same time of day you plan to take the pictures. Avoid bright sun that creates shadows under the eyes or makes people squint. If you are indoors, use the light from a window or open doorway.

3. Dress it up. Try to avoid outfits with really bright colors, conflicting patterns or anything that matches. This is a great time to get the kids involved. Let them pick out their favorite outfits and have them help with what you wear. The more the kids are involved in the planning, the more interested they will be in the photo session.

4. Systems check. Before getting the family together for the session, make sure your camera works. Check the battery, the CF/SD cards, and take a few test shots to make sure nothing is wrong.

5. Hold it steady. Obviously, everyone needs to be in the photo, so you need something to hold your camera. Put the camera on the tripod, choose your settings, make a few test shots, and you’re all set. It helps when at least one of your family members is already in position so you have something to focus on while setting up.

6. Time it just right. A lot of cameras have a self-timer feature. The only downside is that someone has to run back and forth between the camera and the family. Investing in a remote trigger might make your session a bit easier since you can be with your family the whole time.

7. Strike a pose. Once the camera is set up, round up your family. Don’t forget to leave room for the person who will be setting the self-timer if that’s what you are using. It can be hard to catch everyone smiling and to keep the kids interested. Try these simple tricks:

  • Hold each other tight
  • Move from standing to sitting and back again
  • Create a “smiling at the camera” game and don’t forget the prizes

8. It’s what’s in between. If you are using the remote trigger, take photos of the times you aren’t “posing” for the camera. These are the times you will get genuine smiles and silly expressions and see the way your family looks naturally.

9. Let the kids direct. One way to keep the kids engaged is to let them direct what is happening. If they need a little help taking charge, try one of these ideas:

  • Have a tickle fight
  • Make silly faces at each other
  • Have a staring contest

10. Enjoy the moment. Remember, perfect moments trump a perfect smile. You might not all be smiling perfectly or looking at the camera at the same time, but that’s ok. When you look at the photos later, it’s wonderful to remember how much you laughed, how happy the kids were, and how much fun you had together.

Jen Bebb is a photographer, writer, event producer and the Director of CMpro at Clickin Moms. Clickin Moms is the largest online community and social network for female photographers in the world at www.clickinmoms.com.

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