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Photography Tips, Photography Techniques, and Photography Ideas By

Photo cards are a very popular way of creating unique holiday greetings with a very personal touch. Everyone loves to see the smiling faces of the people they love (and far-flung family members especially look forward to seeing how the kids have grown over the past year!) Taking a photo that truly captures the love and joy of the season requires a little preparation and planning, but you really can do it yourself. You don't even need to visit a photographer, invest in expensive equipment, or book out a whole afternoon for the project.

Cheerful Chuckles

Beyond the Selfie: Using Your Smartphone for Stellar Photos.

Cell phone cameras have come a very long way in the last few years and are more than capable of taking card-worthy portraits. In fact, the little phone camera you carry around in your pocket all day is very likely to be more powerful and versatile than the average stand-alone digital camera from just three years ago! (The same holds true for tablet cameras, too.)

To properly harness the potential of your smartphone camera, you need to treat it a bit more like a traditional camera. The usual extended-arm, one-hand point-and-shoot method results in blurry photos and uneven framing. A better photography technique would be to hold your phone with both hands, and rest your elbows against your chest. You can move around in-between shots, but stand still and firm before you actually click. If at all possible, take your photos in bright, natural light. This photography technique is especially important if you're trying to capture action shots or even just very wriggly children. The more light you have, the faster your camera can react. Crisp and interesting photos with your phone are totally possible, but you need to meet it halfway by choosing a bright setting. Take many, many, many photos, so that you'll have plenty to sift through while making your final choice.

Another joy is the huge realm of smartphone photo apps out there to help you take and edit your pictures for maximum quality and interest. Just three which could revolutionize your holiday photo card this year: Snappy Cam Pro, for iPhone and iPad, lets you capture photo bursts when you hold down the shutter button, just like a high-speed DSLR. Handy Photo, for Apple and Android devices, is an instant photo editor which uses swipe motions to layer effects. Geló (iPhone only) allows you to apply gradient colors and gels to your pictures, mimicking the sophisticated results you might get from Photoshop.

Finally, if you're looking to take a holiday photo which includes the whole family, it's worth roping in a friend to wield the camera phone. Self-timed photos often give disappointing results. People stiffen up while waiting, postures become uncomfortable, and facial expressions freeze. Much of the joy of smartphone photography is the spontaneity of the pictures, but you really need a person behind the lens.

Yuletide Sash

Natural Poses.

Avoiding "Everyone In a Row" syndrome is easy, even if you're aiming for a more traditional photo. A unique photography idea is to look for interesting levels beyond just sitting and standing, consider visually interesting groupings (beyond "Parents in the back, kids down in front!") and encourage people to move. Professional photographers will tell you that they are looking to capture a moment and the most precious pictures might not show everyone facing front, eyes forward. Hugs, kisses, and cuddles keep things light and help to highlight the warmth of your relationships, and once again, silly is special.

To Match or Not to Match?

Your choice of outfits will contribute greatly to the character of your final photo. When you're photographing a group, too many loud and contrasting colors and patterns can be distracting. One simple photograph idea is to dress everyone alike. With little children, the result can be adorable, but teenagers may be more difficult to convince. If you don't choose wisely, you risk inviting the cheese factor. Some families choose to embrace the cheese, with fun and memorable results: corny Christmas plaid or atrocious holiday sweaters + a few silly faces = hilarity. The middle road is to pick a limited color palette and have everyone in the photo coordinate. It will give a sense of cohesion and interest to the picture, while keeping things comfortable and natural.

Keeping the Kids in the Picture.

Some kids are natural hams who love to be photographed at every opportunity, while others are a bit shy, reluctant, or just too busy doing fascinating kid things to stand still for the camera. It takes a bit of patience to snap a perfect photo, especially if you have a large brood, but there are a few things you can do to make the process easy and fun for everyone. Formal poses can be tiring for little ones, and boring for older kids, but sometimes a snapshot just won't do. Try this photography tip: set up an activity: baking cookies, decorating the tree, wrapping presents, or building a snowman, and let them settle into it. Snap away, but every now and then, call out a prompt to catch their attention: "Everyone look at me!" or "Funny faces at the count of three!" Keeping everyone occupied will let you extend the session without wearing anyone out, and the more photos you can take, the better your chances of capturing a gem. Utilizing props is another great photography idea that will keep interest and engagement levels high. An umbrella, some feather boas, balloons, or cowboy hats will inspire imaginative poses and uses, and the results are likely to be extra adorable.

Don't Forget the Pets!

Adding the fuzzy face of your beloved pet to your holiday card provides instant charm and ups the "awww factor". You can add them into the mix with everybody else, or have them stand in for the family, but whatever you choose to do, there are a few things to consider. Dogs and cats can be more work to photograph than the most active toddler, so it's important to know your pet's limits. The easiest photography tip is to catch them napping. They're relaxed, they're oblivious, and best of all, they're just adorable when they sleep! Otherwise, think about giving them a bit of exercise before the photoshoot. As they say, a tired dog is a happy dog and your cat might be a lot more mellowed out after a good session with a catnip mouse. When you do begin to photograph, bribes are a powerful tool for keeping interest and alertness levels high. The smell of treats or the sight of the beloved ball will do wonders to catch that sparkle in your pet's eye.

So don't be afraid to get creative with your card photo this year. Creating and preserving memories are some of the best activities of the season, and when you take your own photos for your holiday cards, you're doing both.