I especially love getting photo cards because I love seeing how our friends (and their kids) change from year to year and sending photo cards has been our tradition every year, too, even before we had kids and we forced our poor chocolate lab to don reindeer antlers for the picture.
Our Christmas card photos, however, have unfortunately not always been the greatest. Getting a good family photo is always a struggle and after a few years of begging non-photographer friends or neighbors to take our picture (often to less-than-stellar results), in the past few years we have resorted to using professional photos on our cards. And while the pictures are probably better, there is something SO impersonal about using professional pictures for our Christmas cards!
I will freely admit that I am nothing but a wannabe photographer. I don't have a fancy camera, almost all of the pictures I take are complete crap, and my desire to take great pictures far outweighs my ability, but I keep trying. Someday, perhaps, I may find a way to capture on film the gorgeous, artistic, professional-looking pictures I see in my mind, but for now I will have to just be content doing the best I can.
You may remember that last month I took a Simply Photography online class from Faith Raider at Simplicity. It was an awesome class, and although I was far from a stellar student, I learned SO much! Each week was broken down into specific lessons about different elements of good picture taking that were emailed to each student in weekly tutorials. The tutorials included specific examples and and assignments, which were then posted to the group's discussion group. Students could then comment on each other's photographs, and Faith provided constructive feedback on the various shots. It was amazingly helpful and I learned a ton. Even better, it was really fun, and I will definitely be signing up for another class after the first of the year (hopefully after Santa brings me a "real" camera....hint hint...)
I plan to take about a billion pictures this Christmas, and I would really like to end up with some "keepers" instead of the gazillion random mediocre-to-just-plain bad shots I usually end up with. Thus, I decided to ask Faith for some pointers on taking better family photos. As usual, she had some great advice! Here is what she said:
Despite being a photographer and photography teacher, the yearly Christmas family photograph still makes me nervous! Photographing one child at a time is easy enough but the more people I have to photograph the more difficult it is to get a good shot. Taking a moment to plan your shot will vastly improve your odds of success, so here are a few tips to help you improve your family portrait:
Choose the setting. The first step to taking a good family photo is choosing a good setting. Choose a spot with nice indirect light, like in the shadow of a large house or building or under a lot of trees (just watch out for shadows and patches of light!). The best time of day to take a photo is in the morning before the sun is high in the sky or in the evening an hour or two before the sun has set. Avoid taking your photo in a bright sunny area or you will get dark shadows on faces and squinty eyes. Also don't forget to pay attention to the background - it should be pleasant but not distracting.
Arrange the faces. My favorite pose is to keep the faces close together in a line or other symmetrical shape. Put the adults in the back and the littlest children in the front. Try to take some time browsing the internet to get some good pose ideas, there are several groups on Flickr for Family Portraits which I find very inspiring. Make sure that you can see everyone's faces and that everyone's eyes are in focus.
Set your camera mode. Most cameras have a portrait mode, this is the one to use. It will blur the background and give you a nice natural look. If you are taking your photo inside you will more than likely want to use a flash. Here are a couple tips to make the most of your flash. Take a step back: if you are too close the faces will look washed out and your image will look flat. Don't forget to turn on red-eye reduction as well - especially if you are photographing children with blue eyes. If you have rear-sync flash use that function.
Take multiple shots. If you snap one and call it good enough you are more than likely going to have a someone with closed eyes or an off expression. I take a minimum of three to five shots at a time.
Keep the mood light and cheerful! Stressing out about pictures will not give you good expressions. I have plenty of photos of my kids with big grumpy faces because I was getting stressed out about the photo. Keep it simple, especially if you have little kids, and try to remember that a great family photo isn't always about matching outfits, smart poses or elaborate props. The thing you want to capture is happy smiling faces!
Faith offers a variety of reasonably priced online photography classes for all different levels, from beginners to advanced, and her lovely blog is full of inspiration and photography tips. She recently began offering gift certificates for her classes as well, so if there is someone on your list who has an interest in photography this would be a really great gift. (To order, click here)
But there is even more holiday cheer coming your way, because Faith has generously offered to give one lucky reader a gift certificate to the online class of your choice. The winner of the giveaway is free to use it him/herself or give it as a gift!
Here is how to enter:
-Visit Simplicity and tell me which photography class interests you the most and who you would buy it for. (1 entry)
Optional Bonus Entries:
-Become a follower of Living Well, Spending Less via Google Friend Connect, Networked Blogs, or RSS feed. Leave a separate comment below to tell me how you are following. (1 entry)
-"Like" Living Well, Spending Less on Facebook. Leave a separate comment below. (1 entry)
-Follow me on Twitter. Leave a separate comment below. (1 entry)
-Tweet about this giveaway on Twitter or post it on your Facebook wall. Leave a separate comment below. (3 entries)
-Post a link on your blog to this giveaway. (3 entries) Leave a separate comment below.
Entries for this giveaway will be accepted through Monday, November 29th, and I will draw a winner at random using Random.Org on Tuesday, November 30th.