How to take great holiday photos of kids and family

Lots of us are trimming expenses where we can. For me, that means saving a few hundred dollars by skipping a visit to a portrait studio this holiday season.

While there is something hokey about it, I enjoy the way the photos turn out when the studio plops us in front of the Christmas tree backdrop, arranges our elbows on large plastic snowflakes, and hands us plush snowballs. I really do. But this year I’m toughing it out and taking the pictures myself.

But I’m not sure I have the skills. And that’s why I asked Kerry Allen, Consumer Reports’ senior project leader in electronics, to give me some pointers. Here’s his advice for smashing holiday-card photos—and holiday photos in general.

Dress-up time. Have everyone dress in colorful clothing, and avoid darker, somber colors. It’s more cheerful that way!

Get the light right. Unless you’re a photography hobbyist, you may not have studio lights handy. In that case, natural light is best, so try to have some window light coming in. The next best kind of light is from incandescent bulbs, which are nice and warm. Colored holiday lights in the background add color to your photo.

Stay still. Sure, you’ve got the steadiest arms out there, but a tripod will always trump you, and is the surest-fire way to get a blur-free shot. They start at as little as $25. Or simply place the camera on a secure surface that’s an appropriate height for your shot.

Get the right gear. If you’re in the market for a new camera, consider one with the wide-angle option in case you want close-to-expert-looking group shots. With this feature, you can include more people in your shot without having to back up—and avoid that huge expanse of wall over everyone’s head that takes up the top half of the picture. Cameras with wide angle lenses, at least “28 mm equivalent” are good for group shots. If you’re not in the market, most late-model cameras should provide a decent image, even from up to 12 feet away, as long as the shot is lit properly. Or take several photos with a few people in each rather than a large-group shot with inadequate light.

Portrait perfect. If you want individual, indoor photos of kids, Allen suggests you make your own backdrop with holiday wrapping paper. Then sit your kid down and pretend you’re the studio photographer! At about $5 a roll, it beats the portrait studio fee. Feel free to fill the frame for individual shots, or photograph the upper ¾ or so of your child’s body if you want to emphasize a special sweater or prop such as a wrapped package.

Take it outside. The outdoors is better for light—as long as there is not too much (such as the reflected light from a snowfall), or too little to expose the subjects’ faces. Since you want your holiday card to be cheerful, using a flash is not such a bad idea, even outdoors, to provide even light.

Great pyramid. If you have a lot of people in your family, composition is important. Try forming a pyramid with the tallest person in the middle and everyone else in descending order on either side. Then have everyone turn their bodies in, toward the center of the shot. Or reverse it, and have children or smaller family members sit in the middle, with everyone in increasing-size order on either side.

Candid camera. A self-timer allows for more candor than when someone is standing behind the camera. So set your shot up on a tripod or secure surface, and get in front of the camera with everyone else. A good time might be after the holiday decorations are set up, when you and your kids might be in a more jovial mood. Make it fun, Allen adds—“Give them a lollipop, at least.”—Artemis DiBenedetto
Source Consumerreports


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