Holiday Family Photo Tips!

The other day, a friend at work asked me for a few tips for taking better family photos during the holidays.  Since I hadn't taken any photos this week,  thought I would highlight what I told her in this blog post.  There are tons of tips... too many to talk about here, but there are a few that I think will make a big difference.  The holidays are a great time to take pictures, so why not try and make them the best you can.  Everybody will be glad you took them and you'll look like a hero.  You can thank me later.

I'm going to focus on a few things that I think will make the biggest difference in your photos.  If you want to talk about exposure, shutter speed and stuff like that, read some of my earlier blog posts.  Today's post will highlight simple things you can do to make a big difference in your family photos.

1) Rent a bunch of models and pretend they are your family.  This will not only be a lot of fun, but the models will appreciate a paying gig and don't worry... they won't eat a lot. With this option your photos will look beautiful and you'll have really fond memories to look back upon years from now.  Now I already live with models (hey, I'm no dummy... that's my story and I'm sticking to it!) but if you're not as lucky, search Craigslist and look for attractive, inexpensive, experienced models who want to work during Christmas.  I'm sure there are tons... Good luck with that.

2) Okay, let's assume the model option is out of the question.  One of the best things you can do to improve your photos is to consider the environment and your background. Whether your shooting outside or inside you need to watch out for objects in the background appearing to sprout out of the heads of your family. Now if someone in your family actually has something protruding out of their head, you can forget this tip.  Inside it might be a lamp, a plant or that machine you have for making meth at home, while outside it’s often trees, street lamps, signposts, or that machine you have for making meth at home... outside. Have a good look around the scene before you take the shot and if necessary move the offending article, recompose the shot or find an alternative location.

3) Another thing to consider is the inside light. Most often, in the winter, there's not a lot of light inside and by the time everyone is ready to eat, it's often dark.  One thing to consider is just to go outside.  There’s much more light outside and provided you pick an over-cast day, there should be good, even lighting. Alternatively, if you want to shoot at home, try pushing up your camera’s ISO and use a flash or two with the light bouncing of a white ceiling or wall to help spread it out and give soft, even coverage.

4) "Aunt Johnny's eyes were closed!" Something you've probably heard before cause there always seems to be one person with their eyes closed in every picture. The worst part is it's usually the picture that you like the most and everybody looks perfect except Aunt Johnny's with her eyes closed. One solution to this particular problem is to get everyone to close their eyes and then open them when you give the signal – just as you press the shutter release. Of course, you might wind up with some strange, wide-eyed expressions, but that’s part of the fun. Another approach is to take plenty of photographs in the hope that there will be some in which everybody has their eyes open.  I usually choose a combination of both approaches. 

5) My final tip I've said many times... Make sure you're in some of the photos!  Nothing's worse than looking over your photos with the family and realizing that you're not in any of them.  Now, maybe you're really ugly and have something sticking out of your head like I mentioned above.  In that case it's perfectly fine to keep yourself out of the photos.  Assuming you're relatively normal and don't have a plant permanently sticking out of your head, you'll want to be in some of the photos.  Get your camera all set up and let somebody else take some, use a tripod and a timer, whatever it takes... just get in some of the photos.

That's it.  I'm off to spend the next two weeks with family.  Wish me luck! Over the next few weeks have fun, take some great photos (send me the ones with the models) and have a Happy Holidays!

Day at the beach

So last week I talked about the HDR photos I took during a portrait session at the beach two weeks ago.  Well, as cool as those photos were... and they were pretty cool if I do say so myself, what about the portraits I took?  Good question... I'm glad you asked.  You did ask, right?  If you didn't this is going to be really awkward.  I don't want to push these on you.  Okay, I'm just going to pretend you asked and go from there.

So two weeks ago some good friends asked if I would take their family photo, and they wanted to do it at the beach.  No problem I said... then i thought... problem.  Well, it's not really a problem as long as you think about what you want to do and what you want to get ahead of time.  First question I had to ask was "what kind of photo do you want."  The thing about taking photos at the beach is that if you want the water in the picture, you pretty much have to be standing facing east.  Now I know there are inlets, jetties, outcroppings (I don't even know what those things are), etc. that let you get the beach in your shot without facing east, but pretty much you have to face east, with your backs facing west.  So the reason that's a problem is what if they don't want a sunset, or the colors that go along with one, in their photo.  Maybe they don't want to be lit by flash, which you'd pretty much have to do if you're taking a portrait at sunset.  So that means no photos after about 4:00pm.  So they decided that they didn't want sunset and they did potentially want some black and white photos, so we decided on as early as they could tolerate in the morning.  That ended up being about 8:00am.  Remember, the best light in the first part of the day is around sunrise.  Now, I couldn't convince them to get up that early, but I figured I could work with 8:00.  Now since we were facing east, with the ocean behind us, that meant that the sun could potentially be in their face.  We dealt with that by blocking the sun when we could and when we couldn't, I let them close their eyes until right before I was ready to take the shot.  1... 2... 3... OPEN!!  That worked pretty well, but I did have to discard a bunch of photos where eyes were closed or they were making mean faces at me for making them look into the sun.  

Another thing to consider is the colors your subject are going to be wearing.  You don't want them to be a miss-match of colors and textures so they look more like they came out of a clown car rather than preparing for a photo shoot.  Try things that are not too distracting.  Trust me, if you have a portrait of a family and one of the members is wearing bright yellow shirt, that's ALL people are going to notice in the photo.  If you have somebody in stripes and somebody else with circles, that will look weird too.  So consider things that don't scream for attention and make sure they all work together.  They don't all have to be the same color, as we had for this day, but complimentary colors work great.  All earth tones are one of my favorite looks for photos outside, but there are lots of options out there.

Below are some of my favorites from the day. Hope you like them! In fact, let me know what you think at


1... 2... 3... OPEN YOUR EYES!  That's a great trick to use when your subject have to close their eyes because they're looking into the sun.

Don't forget, all your photos don't have to be in color.  Try experimenting with what works in color and what might make a bigger impact in b&w or even as a duotone image like this one.

Try to shoot all your portraits both in landscape and portrait orientation.  You never know which you'll end up liking better.

Sometimes over or under exposed shots with the sun behind your subjects can make for a really interesting photo.

Sometimes black and white makes for a more interesting photo with more impact.  Take the color out takes out some of the reality.

Don't forget to have fun!!