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5 Tips for taking great photos this holiday season (even with a smartphone!)

Lisa Julia Photography

Lisa Julia Hill-Sutton - published on 12/20/16

A professional photographer offers advice on capturing perfect snaps you'll treasure

With Christmas just a few days away, now is the perfect time to hone your skills so you can transform ordinary snapshots into gorgeous portraits you will treasure. Don’t worry about what type of camera or smartphone you have; they say the best camera is the one in your hand! So here are some quick tips to help you along the way.

1. Read the manual that came with your camera or smartphone: Everyone hates this tip, because it seems daunting, and some of the manuals can be quite large and boring! I still think it’s worthwhile because the more familiar you become with your camera, the better the results. While it’s very tempting to simply point and shoot your shiny new DSLR, you will find over time that the more you understand the settings, the more control you will have over the end results.

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Lisa Julia Photography

2. Coordinate colors and patterns: There’s no need for everyone to be perfectly matched, but some colors, patterns and textures work better together than others. When I give clothing suggestions to my clients, I usually recommend building a color palette around one family member. If you’re incorporating a bold print, have each person pick a solid color that’s found in the print. For example if Mom is wearing colors in a warmer palette, select one or two of those same colors for other family members to wear. Your photos will be easy on the eyes when clothing compliments everyone instead of being a distraction.

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Lisa Julia Photography

3. Available Light: Whenever possible, try to compose your photos without using any flash. Sometimes that’s not an option, especially at night, but if you’re outside during daylight hours, look for an area with open shade. Pose your subjects where the sun isn’t blinding them and causing them to squint. This eliminates “raccoon eyes.” Experiment by positioning your subject in different locations. If they’re squinting or they’re in a space that’s too dark, move them to a spot with a nice, even, natural looking light that washes gently over them. Compare your shots in different settings, and don’t be afraid to practice at different locations and different times of day. One of the best times of day to shoot is early in the morning before the sun is too high, or about an hour or two before sunset, also known as the “golden hour.” Capturing precious moments around the Christmas tree using only available light may be tricky. Sometimes you have to rely on a combination of window light along with ambient lighting from the room. Even so, if you can position your subjects so the available light is sufficient to cast light on their faces, you will find you have much better portraits. And unless you are deliberately trying to create a silhouette effect, you want to avoid having windows behind your subject, or in most cases the camera will focus and meter on the brighter area and you will end up with the dark faces caused by under-exposure. Lighting is everything in photography, and getting it just right is one of the best ways to create a stunning portrait.

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Public Domain

4. Composition: One of the easiest ways to transform a snapshot into a great looking portrait is by learning some rules of composition. Even if you are new to photography, you may already be familiar with the “rule of thirds.” This simple guideline is useful because it allows for a more visually appealing photo. The easiest way to apply this rule is to look at the scene you want to capture and imagine that there are two vertical, and two horizontal lines going across. This will divide the area into nine equally spaced blocks. Ideally the focal point, i.e. your subject, will be placed along one of the lines, and at the intersection of a horizontal and vertical line. Most of the newer cameras, including smartphones, even have a setting or app that will allow you to turn on a grid for this purpose. You will find that with a little planning and attention to your layout, the results will be more interesting portraits. So whether you are using a DSLR, point and shoot camera, or even a smartphone, taking the time to plan and compose your photo will elevate it to another level.

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Lisa Julia Photography

5. Be creative: Especially when photographing a group, don’t be afraid to have some fun with different poses. Not everyone has to be standing in a straight line. Play with different angles. If you’re capturing a generational family photo, have the older family members sitting in chairs or on a comfy couch, arranging the younger children in between them or on their laps. Other adults can stand in the back, but be sure nobody’s face is obstructed by another person in the group.

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