Cardinal rules for holiday photos: Don’t cut anyone off at the neck, and don’t position someone so it looks like the Christmas tree is growing out of his or her head.
Sounds simple enough, but if that really were the case, there wouldn’t be so many bad holiday photos out there - and we’re not just talking about the awkward kind. No, despite what the advertising propaganda will tell you, there’s a lot more to taking good holiday photos than pointing, shooting and hoping for the best.
Carl Hinkle, manager of Casey’s Cameras on East Tropicana Avenue, who teaches photography through the Education Outreach program of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said one key to remember is that anything that’s in the frame will be part of the photo.
"Remember that the camera sees everything," Hinkle noted. "You’re looking at the subject, but the camera sees everything."
Look around the edge of the frame, he said, to ensure there isn’t anything distracting. (That would include, he said, anybody who you don’t want in the picture, but we’d guess it applies to photobombers, too.) He suggests zooming in until distractions are minimized and the focus really is on your subject.
"What doesn’t add to your picture detracts from it," Hinkle said.
Be aware of mirrors in the background, especially if you’re using flash, he said.
And speaking of flash: If you can, minimize or alter your use of it to make the lighting in the photo look as natural as possible. If you have a separate flash unit, he suggests bouncing it off the ceiling (assuming you have a conventional white ceiling at a height of 8 to 9 feet) instead of having it flash straight at your subjects.
"Bounced flash always looks more natural, because the light looks like it comes from above, and we’re used to seeing things lit from above," he said.
Better yet, try to do without a flash at all.
"With a lot of digital cameras," he said, "you can crank the chip very high, so it works in low light without a flash, so you get the ambience of the room."
To do that, he said, go into the camera, look for the ISO setting, and set it to 1600 or higher.
Some point-and-shoot cameras, he said, have low-light settings.
"Use that, and that way you don’t destroy all the nice lighting in the room with flash," Hinkle said.
Use a self-timer, he added, so that you can get in the picture yourself; "a lot of times, the person who takes the pictures in the family isn’t in the pictures."
Get a nice shot of the holiday table, laden with food.
If you’re photographing kids, he said, get down on their level.
If the kids are going to be trying their hands at photography, he advises letting them experiment. Explain to them how to use the viewfinder, and let them have at it.
"Sometimes it’s better not to tell them anything and to see what they come up with," Hinkle said. "Digital is cheap; it doesn’t cost them anything to shoot."
Be sure, he said, to prepare for the unexpected. Get the camera ready the night before so that on Christmas morning, the battery is charged and there’s a memory card and you can just grab it and shoot.
"And keep the camera handy," he said, "so you can get the shot when the 2-year-old, instead of playing with the toys, is eating the wrapping paper."
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Here are some more tips, from Shutterfly.com:
■ Get your family in action rather than standing stiffly. Pass the camera around for others to try, you never know what a 6-year-old will come up with.
■ Experiment with different angles. Toy with traditional seating patterns. For instance, make a pyramid. Better yet, get the shot of your kids trying to make the pyramid. Or take a shot from a bird’s-eye view of the kids lying down.
■ Capture relationships, not just people. Shoot between shots to capture candid, fun and unexpected moments.
■ Ask a neighbor or friend to take your family photo, and then do the same for him or her.