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Good family photos at the holidays - 3 tips

Every year, my family snaps pictures of each other sitting around the tree on Christmas morning. Yet it's amazingly rare for one of us to look at those photos later and think, "Wow, great shot. That one really qualifies for printing and framing." They're just not great pictures, a lot of the time.

I've come to see that there are three main reasons why, and our family photos have gotten a lot better as a result. So I'm sharing these tips here, in case others find them helpful as well.

1. Sofa sitting. Too often, a photo is taken by a person sitting on a chair or sofa, of another person relaxing comfortably in a chair or sofa. The result is often unflattering -- the result of super-casual posture and a reclined head can be that the subject looks like they have enormous knees and thighs that dwarf the rest of their body, as well as a double chin or oddly long neck. So when you're ready to take a picture of someone, lean forward to take it, and have them lean forward to look at you. This will keep their body parts in proportion to one another, and generally produces a much more flattering result.

2. Avoid flash photography. Ornaments, wrapping paper, toys, glass-topped tables, drinks -- there are a lot of things in people's living rooms during the holidays that tend to reflect light, and exacerbate the glaring, unflattering effects of flash photography. If you want a family picture, don't hunker down in the midst of a mess of wrapping paper with the shades drawn and one lamp on. Try to get abundant natural light, so even if you do need to use the flash, it won't be the only source of light. Incidentally, getting folks to get up off the floor or sofa to cluster somewhere else is a great way to liven them up and get more energetic photos. You can even start a family tradition of posing in the same place -- for example, on the front steps with the annual evergreen wreath behind you -- each year.

3.  Don't take pictures of people with every gift they open. Does anyone really want to see Aunt Louise forcing a smile while holding up yet another pair of velour slippers? The exception is, of course, for kids -- kids open presents with a glorious look of anticipation and delight that it is far more precious than recording what the actual item they were opening is. So zoom in on them and capture that look on their face as they unwrap, discover what's inside and react. Those shots can be wonderful.

I hope this helps you with your family photos this season. May your holidays bring wonder, delight, and no red-eye.

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