Holiday Horrors: How to take your family photos from awful to awesome
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Holiday Horrors: How to take your family photos from awful to awesome

The holidays — a time for spreading cheer, eating too much of grandma’s sweet potato casserole, and chopping off family members’ limbs and heads.

Wait, that’s not how you recall it? But it seems like every time we look back at family photos there’s a collection of severed extremities and gloomy exposures. Oh well, that’s just the camera, right? Wrong! No matter how basic the camera, you can make major improvements to your photos with just a few tips. It’s time to fix the family photo and take the horror out of the holiday memories.

First, let’s talk about what we mean by “chopping off limbs.” Think about every photo you’ve ever taken of someone. It’s only natural to point the frame’s center at someone’s head. This often leaves useless space above the group’s heads and cuts off legs at the ankles. So the next time you lift your camera, make an effort to fill the frame with the entire person and not leave all that dead space. Follow this one rule and you’ve already dramatically improved your basic family photo.

Now that we’ve told you that rule, let’s talk about when to break it. Sometimes you want all of that space above if you’re at a cool location. Standing in front of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree in New York? Fill the frame with the tree and have a little you in the bottom of the frame for dramatic effect.

Confused now? The most important thing to remember here is to fill your frame. Your frame is a canvas and you should be filling it with valuable information.

Now, onto the lighting. It’s the most misunderstood facet of photography. Photography is the capturing of light, and yes, this even means for a basic family photo in front of holiday decor or around the Thanksgiving table. For these types of photos, follow one rule: The more light the better. There’s always that one person who wants to turn down the lights or close a curtain to get “mood lighting,” but unless you’re a pro you probably don’t know how to work with low light. Boosting your light will help balance out shadows, reduce noise (which makes your photo nasty and grainy) in the picture quality and keep the flash on the camera from being so harsh.

If you are taking photos near a window you may have a problem with backlight. Just as if you tried to put someone’s backs to the sun, you’ll be dealing with glare. A good general rule to go by is to keep your light source in front of your subjects, not behind them. If that doesn’t make sense, think of it this way: You want your light source (whether it’s a flash on the camera, the sun or a lamp) on the same side of your subject as the camera, not behind them.

While we’re setting these “rules” for making your family photos better, as with any craft there are exceptions. If you want to play around with making your photos a bit more artistic, learn about the rule of thirds. While we discouraged backlighting for a basic family photo, if used well the lens flares you get from backlighting can make some beautiful images. Click this link to learn more about lens flare.

The best way to learn how to take better photos is to do it more often. Find blogs, such as Light Stalking, that post photos often so you can see what other people are doing with their portraits. A little inspiration goes a long way.

Do you have any photo tips or favorite photo blogs? Please share them with us on Twitter.

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