Learn how to take great holiday photos

Dec 1, 2009 at 10:33 a.m. ET

Holiday photo shoots can leave everyone feeling decidedly less-than-festive. But this year, you can do things differently. Check out our expert tips to save some money -- and capture memories you'll actually want to remember.

Family Photo

Budgets are tight this year, and most of us are cutting out extras. So why spring for holiday photos in a studio if you can snap a few pictures at home on your own? On the other hand, you've got shoeboxes full of failed attempts to capture your family's holiday spirit in years past -- why should this shoot go any differently?

Well, this time, you can have professional advice at your fingertips.

Photographer Me Ra Koh has put together a phenomenal course on DVD that gives you all the insider tips and tricks you need to shoot like a pro. We've got a few copies of her DVDs to give away, so go ahead and try for your chance to win. And even if you don't score a set from us, you can order the DVDs directly from Me Ra, and you can check out the special bonus tips she's provided here exclusively for SheKnows readers.

We wanted to demonstrate how great Me Ra's tips are. So I selflessly volunteered to take pictures of my kids and send them to Me Ra to critique. After she looked at them and gave me her tips, I went back and shot some more photos so that you could see the difference. What can I say? I'm a giver.

Tips for great candids

I snapped about a dozen shots of my husband and my 5-year-old, and in every single one, someone is blurry. "You know how kids are," I told Me Ra. "Always on the go." 

family photoMy son working on his bike.

How can you fix blurry shots? Actually, Me Ra explained, blur is about not having enough light. If I'd photographed my family outdoors, the pictures wouldn't be blurry. She advises parents to shoot outdoors or in a room that gets great natural light for best results. Use the flash if you have no other option, but natural light is ideal.

Should you always go for center? Like most parents, I tend to center my kids in the viewfinder. But Me Ra pointed out that when the subject is in the center of the shot, there's nowhere for the viewer to go. We don't learn anything from the photograph. By framing the subject off-center and including other objects in the picture, you can tell a story without using any words. "Don't be afraid to get in close and take detail shots," says Me Ra. "Take a picture of hands, eyes, your child's focus -- let people get caught up in the story by seeing what your child sees."

How do you get a better perspective? To see what your child sees, you've got to get down to his eye level. Just crouching down can give you an entirely new perspective -- and make for incredible shots. This shot of my son working on his bike is great, says Me Ra, but her instinct would have been to get lower and possibly shoot it over my son's shoulder so that we'd see the intensity involved in his work.

Focusing on family shots

For more traditional posed shots, plan your session for early in the day, and set a timer for no more than 15 minutes if your kids are less than five years old. If a family portrait is important to you, do that first to get it out of the way. And go into the shoot knowing that you probably won't get everyone smiling.

To make family shots run more smoothly, try to pose kids sitting down -- it's easier for them to maintain their position that way. Keep their focus on the camera, but get an accomplice to do something unexpected. Then be ready to photograph the kids' reactions. "You want to think ahead to the emotion afterwards," says Me Ra. (For a terrific reaction, she suggests kissing in front of the kids.)

Picture Perfect

      My son on the phone.

I took Me Ra's advice when I went back to reshoot my kids. These two shots may not be traditional -- but to me, they're amazing. I see my kids' personalities shine through -- my youngest concentrates on puzzles (left photo) as if he's solving Einstein's theory of relativity. And my special needs son (right photo) loves the phone with a passion I reserve for things like chocolate.

Share your special shots with us -- tell us which tips worked for you, and post links to your own photos here in the comments!

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