Christmas Cards: Seven Tips for Getting Card-Worthy Shots

So....who still hasn't tackled their Christmas cards yet? (*raises hand sheepishly*) This time of year, the to-do list increases exponentially while the funds tend to DECREASE in much the same way, LOL. Since not everyone has the desire or the ability to invest in a DSLR, I thought I would offer a few solid tips to get a good Christmas photo no matter what kind of camera you're using. I hope you'll find it helpful!

1. The LIGHT. I put this first because if you don't get anything else from this post, get this. Warmer, softer light is more flattering. Period. The best light for shooting is either in the morning (before 9 a.m.) or in the evening (this time of year, you could even shoot at 3:30 and be okay).

(taken around 4:30 p.m.)

(taken at 4:15 p.m.)

(taken around 9 a.m.)

--If you have no other choice but to shoot outside in less than ideal light, look for places of open shade. If you're shooting under a tree, watch for areas of dappled light (places where the light streams through the leaves) and not have it hit your subjects. (see below).

2. Plan ahead. Apps like Instagram would have you think that good pictures can happen on the fly without any preparation, and that might be so... if you're taking a picture of your salad. But when it comes to family pictures, even a tiny amount of planning will make a difference. Plan outfits ahead of time. Are you wanting to be in the picture, too? Make sure you know how to set and operate your camera's self-timer, or purchase an inexpensive wireless remote (see an example here). OR, ask a friend or neighbor to simply press the shutter button for you once you have the shot set up the way you want it.

3. Look around before you shoot. Pick a location that's not too busy. If you're outdoors, pick a spot that doesn't have a lot of low-lying branches or any other kind of objects in the background that would distract from your subjects- you want YOUR FAMILY to be the main focus. And also, people love to photobomb. So...you know. Watch out for that, too.

4. The rule of thirds. This is really just a fancy-pants way of saying, "don't make your subjects be at the exact center of the frame." You want to mentally divide your image up using two horizontal and 2 vertical lines (like shown below) and position your elements or subjects where those lines meet. The idea is that, compositionally, these kinds of images are more pleasing to the eye and make better use of negative space, as compared to images where the subject is framed in the exact center. Is this a hard and fast rule? Nope. As with any type of art, there are times to adhere to the "rules," and times to throw the rule-book out the window. But by and large, this is a good starting point when looking at composition.

(Image credit: Andreas Wonisch )

5. Overshoot. I like to take at least 2-3 frames of each pose during shoots, events, weddings and especially group/family photos. My reasoning is- the bigger the group or family, the more chance that at least ONE person is blinking, looking away, wiggling, etc. Better to be safe than sorry! Also, believe it or not, it's often worse to count to three. Do the fake-out: say "ONE..." and then start shooting. It usually works!

6. Don't say "cheese." Go ahead and say the word "cheese" right now. (Unless you're in a public place, because then people might give you weird looks). I'm going to be honest: my children's "cheese" smiles are pretty bad. They're just not natural at all. I've actually never seen a good cheese face. Instead, think of some other alternatives to get natural smiles. Maybe sing their favorite song and use silly words, or have them get in a tickle fight (those always make for cute candid shots). If you've got really little ones, have their favorite toy on top of your head or have someone hold it over the camera to get them to look at you while you shoot.

7. Don't go for perfect. You might have done all of the previous things, but when it comes down to it, some of the best shots are the ones that aren't posed or staged. (I know this all too well!). Maybe it's a funny moment when your family dog jumped up in your son's lap, or maybe your littlest one is screaming bloody murder and it's just so awful, it's cute. Life with kids is completely unpredictable and sometimes, the best thing we can do is embrace it! Don't let yourself become so focused on the end result that you forget to keep it fun! (Also, a little bribery never hurt anyone. Know what I mean??).

***Some other tips:

If you aren't comfortable shooting in manual, you can put your camera on "P" (portrait mode), which will give you a more open aperture and blur the background a bit to make your subjects stand out.

Download free editing software programs like Picasa, Picmonkey, or Gimp to tweak your pictures and add some final touches to them!

Happy Shooting!!!

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