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Capturing the Moment

Try these terrific tips for taking perfect photos this season.

Take the perfect holiday photo!<br />
Take the perfect holiday photo!

Whether your goal is a studio-quality family portrait in front of the tree or to capture the essence of the holiday through candid snapshots, these tips will help you master the art of picture-perfect shots.

1. Be Prepared
2. Learn the Basics
3. Perfect Portraits
4. Classic Candids
5. Click Away!

Terrific Tip #1: Be Prepared!
Before the holidays arrive, make sure you have the essentials: plenty of batteries and film. If you're using a digital camera, pre-holiday is a great time to get that memory upgrade you've been meaning to invest in. Now's the time to make sure you know how to use your camera, inside and out. Pull out the manual you never quite got around to reading and spend some time experimenting with the features. At the very least, make sure you know how to use the timer and how to turn the flash on and off before the hubbub of holiday activity makes it too noisy to think, let alone learn!

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Terrific Tip #2: Learn the Basics
Speaking of learning ... understanding the basic elements that make up every photograph will give you a solid background that will improve your own photographic results.

Film / Resolution
The right film is key to getting the best pictures. Different film speeds are designed to be used in different lighting conditions; the higher the speed — what's noted as ASA or ISO on the box — the less light each exposure needs. So if you're shooting indoors, you should choose a 400 ASA film so you don't always need to use a flash. Now it may seem like a good idea to always use a higher-speed film, but there's a trade-off: film gets "grainier" as the speed gets higher. Therefore, if you're taking pictures of children playing in the white, bright snow, use a 100 ASA film for great pictures that can be enlarged to 8x10 or larger while remaining crisp and clear.

There's also a trade-off with your digital camera. The higher the resolution, the more pixels or dots per inch (abbreviated dpi), each image contains. The more pixels, the larger you'll be able to enlarge your photos. But higher resolution pictures also take up more of your camera's memory. If you know you'll be in a situation where you won't be able to download your images, you may want to lower the resolution.

Lighting & Flashes
The word "photography" comes from the Greek words for "light" and "writing," and at its essence, lighting is the most important technical aspect for "writing" great images. A surprising fact to most beginning photographers is that bright, mid-day sun isn't the best light! The direct, overhead light casts harsh shadows and bleaches out color. If you're taking pictures on a sunny day, try to place subjects in the shadows and make sure the light is behind you, or else you'll end up with silhouettes.

As a general rule, the best weather for photographing people is a mildly overcast day. To keep these pictures from looking dull, use this Pro Tip: turn on your flash to fill the shadows even if your camera tells you there's plenty of light filtering through the clouds. It will reduce contrast and brighten colors.

For indoor photography, always get as much natural light as possible. A flash should augment available light. A picture taken using only a flash in an otherwise dark room will result in a harshly lit, white subject floating in a black background. Beware of mirrors and other reflective surfaces when using a flash — the glare will be an unwelcome surprise occupying the frame with your loved ones! Also consider the "flash range" of your camera: the light from most flashes only extends from 4-12 feet, so make sure you're in the right range.

The two best tips from pros regarding composition are: get in close and don't center your subject. When you're looking through your viewfinder or checking the LCD screen, ask yourself if you can move a foot or two closer. Fill the frame with the your child and cut out the sofa — after all, it's her face you want to remember ten years from now, not the couch! Then, use the rule of thirds to position your subject. Imagine a tic-tac-toe board is drawn in the frame and place your subject at one corner of that center box. So align the sky's horizon 1/3 from the top or bottom of the frame or place a tree in the left third of the frame.

To make sure your off-center subject is in focus, use the pre-focusing feature common on most cameras these days. Push the shutter button half-way down while focusing on your subject. Then, without releasing the button, shift your camera so your subject is placed off-center they way you want and press the shutter button fully. That way, you won't get a fuzzy subject with a very in-focus background.

Be aware of what's behind your subjects when composing your picture. A candid photo of your child opening presents is a great moment, but if it looks like the tree is growing out of the top of her head, the effect may be more comical than classic. Check for strong horizontal and vertical lines, which may pop out in unexpected ways or bisect the focus of the photo. In general, keep backgrounds simple. To avoid distracting backgrounds, remember composition rule #1: get in close!

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Terrific Tip #3: Perfect the Portrait
The holidays are often the only time the entire family is gathered together, making it a prime opportunity for capturing a full-family portrait. When setting up group photos, choose a location where you can arrange family members in a pleasant way and get everyone close together. Arrange members at different heights so you don't just have a family line-up — faces should fill most of the frame. To create a perfect indoor shot, pull the couch a few feet from the wall, which will prevent a flash casting harsh, dark shadows. Then you can also have people stand behind the couch as well as sit in front of it, so you have three tiers of faces. Consider switching up the traditional adult-above-children arrangement by having some adults sitting on the floor and some children standing on boxes. Don't try to perfect every aspect — you'll never get every cowlick tamed and shirt tucked. They're you're lovable, imperfect family, after all, and to truly capture their essence, let them be themselves. To ensure you don't get a family of red-eyed demons, ask your family to look anywhere but straight at the camera lens.

For small groups or solos, remember that the eyes and mouth are the most important features to capture. You'll want to be at eye-level for a close, intimate feeling. Decide how much of your child you want in the picture, then frame him so you're not cutting off his body exactly at the waist, shoulders, or knees. Just as you don't want to have your child's face dead center, his body shouldn't be facing the camera straight on. Instead, turn him about a quarter-turn away from you and have him look back at you. For a more connected result, make eye contact with your child before you click the shutter.

For a timeless look, consider using black and white for portraits. There is even black and white film called Chromogenic that can be processed and printed as if it were color film. Both Kodak and Ilford make this type of film. You may have to go to a photo shop to get a roll, but the classic results are well worth it.

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Terrific Tip #4: Take Classic Candids
Composition-wise, there are a few things to remember when taking candid photos. If you are taking photos of children, get down to their level. Crawl on your knees with toddlers and sit on the floor with children. For adults, who are naturally more camera-conscious, try to be as unobtrusive as possible so people don't pose but relax into the natural beauties they are.

The key to capturing people candidly is to always have your camera on-hand and ready to go. You never know when a photo op will present itself! Don't just pull out the camera while lighting Chanukah candles or opening presents.

Chronicle the whole hullabaloo that is the holiday. Follow your child making holiday projects such as greeting cards, watch the baking of cookies through your lens, snap each ornament as it's placed on the tree, shiver with delight all through the making of a snowman, or click through the wrapping of presents. And don't shy away from crying babies or spills and messes — these are part of the holiday experience too and you may make a pleasantly comic memory out of a moment that seems like a total tragedy.

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Final Terrific Tip: Click Away
The pros know that it sometimes takes an entire roll of film to get that one incredible shot. While this may be a costly choice with traditional cameras, the beauty of digital cameras is that you only need to keep the ones you like, so shoot away! Even if you choose to stick with 35mm photography, do take an extra shot or two to make sure some minor mishap doesn't ruin what would otherwise be a frame-worthy photo. A fun way to catch the holiday from every perspective is to give each family member a disposable camera. You'll not only record a plethora of precious moments, but also get a sense of what the holidays look like from the viewpoint of family members small and large, young and old.

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