Getting the best Christmas photo
December 21, 2012
It’s that time of year. Members of families throughout the land inevitably will be lined up at some point for the dreaded family photo.
Usually this is a production that starts with coaxing the most reluctant members to actually stand up and take their places among the others, or waiting for at least one family member to come back from the bathroom, another to finish a conversation in the kitchen and join the group, or a child to surrender the popcorn ball long enough to crouch in the front row – asked to please just, please, will you smile normal and not make that face?
On the slopes, it’s a given someone will be facing the wrong way when the family gets organized, forcing the family to stand there patiently in calf-crushing ski boots, waiting for him or her to high-step and side-step into place without crossing tips. Or, if it’s a snowboarder, hop and wiggle into place before buckling knees for a kneel. Meanwhile, all are hoping no one falls over, further delaying this torturous but ever-necessary capture of time.
There’s always painstaking arranging. Someone usually cracks a comment that makes everyone chuckle.
Then there’s “Say Cheeeese!” or “Say Sneeeeeeze!” or something like that …
Oops … the lens cap is on.
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OK, ready? And PHOTO.
Will you take one with my camera? Another with a smart phone. Next, “ooohh, this is a FANCY one! Where do I press?”
The owner of the camera has to abandon his or her place in the group and show the photo-taker where to press, meanwhile the entire ensemble starts to crumble one-by-one triggered by the most impatient of them losing interest and beginning to wander off. The owner of the fancy camera gets mad and yells for everyone to get back into place.
Finally, after the umpteenth picture taken with the umpteenth camera, the gang is let loose to get back to whatever – munching, sleeping, watching football, trying to persuade Millennials to play Pictionary. Camera holders soon take a look at the photos just taken. There is usually a tinge of disappointment.
Thus, the purpose of this piece is to offer some very simple tips for the very novice holiday photo-taker.
I begin with a personal anecdote to illustrate the first, and most important, tip.
It was the mid-80s. We the cousins were put in place for one of a series of family photo combinations. We stood lined up in front of the fireplace. I was the youngest, so I stood in front.
Waiting for someone to finally press the button on the camera, an overwhelming and rancid smell permeated the room.
It came from my cousin Karen. Her hair was on fire.
She had stood too close to a candle flickering on the fireplace mantle.
So, Lesson No. 1: Don’t stand too close to candles burning on the fireplace mantle, especially if your hairspray use hasn’t let up since the ’80s.
For holiday family-photo-taking Lesson Nos. 2-8, I consulted Sky-Hi News photographer Byron Hetzler.
He struggled for a moment when I asked him for tips on capturing the wonderfully twinkly-lit Christmas tree in the living room. For some reason, Christmas trees we work so hard to decorate never look as good on “film.”
He said it all depends … time of day, placement of tree, lighting in the room, do we want ornaments as well as twinkly lights in the photo? Then place a person in front of the tree, and it’s a whole new spectrum of challenges. So tip No. 2 is actually a disclaimer: Experiment with your camera, flash, no flash etc. before taking your Christmas tree photo.
As a rule of thumb, if it’s Christmas morning and the tree is in front of a window, and you want to capture the kids sitting in front of the tree as well as the tree’s twinkly lights, pull the shades down or the curtains shut so the ambient light doesn’t overpower the tree lights, then take a photo, probably with a flash to light up your children’s faces. Do the same on Christmas Eve, including pulling shut the curtains so not to have a giant glow of light in the photo from the flash. The room should not be completely dark, otherwise there’s a giant flash on people and everything else is lost in darkness.
If you want to take a photo of just the Christmas tree and all its glory, don’t use a flash, and make sure you hold the camera really still. But if you want to capture Saint Nick munching on cookies in front of the fireplace, do use a flash.
Lesson No. 3: Ditch the Christmas-tree family photo altogether and have everyone go outside on a cloudy day and take a photo.
Lesson No. 4: The more people in the photo, the more photos you should take.
Lesson No. 5: On the slopes, if you refuse to throw down for Sharpshooters, do not pose the family facing the sun, unless you like everyone squinting in your photos. The sun should be off-center behind the subjects in the photo. A camera flash will help light up everyone’s face. If it’s a smart phone camera, have people stand in front of trees or blue sky, not glaring sun or snow, then take the photo with the flash. And remember to have everyone remove goggles and sunglasses.
Lesson No. 6 has to do with composition. Unless you’re taking family mug shots, don’t have everyone stand against a wall. Be creative with large groups by creating “levels” of folks. And be conscious of what is in the background. You don’t want a lamp sprouting out of grandma’s head.
And here’s a little tidbit for Lesson No. 7 that many may not know: Your iPhone headphones have a volume button that doubles as a remote camera trigger. It’s much handier than the little camera-icon button on the screen. The volume-up button on the phone also takes a photo.
Our final lesson is for the subjects of a photo: Tilt eyeglasses slightly downward to prevent glare from a flash. Also, everyone should extend their necks slightly, sticking out the chin a bit to prevent the double-chin effect. You’ll thank me for it.
Now bring on those matching sweaters.
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