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8 Tips For Better Holiday Photos

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8 tips for better holiday photos

What's the problem with holiday photos? All too often, they fail to capture the feeling of the season. Most holiday pictures look interchangeable. Your photos of family members lined up and smiling look the same as those of every other family.


So why not turn routine holiday photos into unique works of art with just a few simple techniques?


1. Plan ahead

The classic problem with holiday photos is that they have to be taken weeks in advance so you can send out cards and mailings beforehand. Some decorations like live trees aren't available, and you might not want to take the menorah or other holiday items out of storage so far in advance.


If you're like me, you're surprised by the sight of holiday decorations at the mall when most people are still wearing shorts and flip-flops. It seems too early to drag out once-a-year decorations just so you can take a holiday photo before the snow flies. But it's never too early to think about the perfect image to accompany the annual "year in review" letter that describes your nearly perfect family.


The solution: Go generic. How is such a thing possible? Find an object that says "holiday."


For ideas, check out the images available from Microsoft Office. Do a search for "holidays" or "Christmas" and browse through the results. Find subjects that are festive and non-denominational: for example, an ornament, a sprig of holly, a poinsettia plant. Then you can use these festive clip art pieces in your holiday photos rather than having to get out your actual decorations so far in advance of the holidays.






2. Less is more

If you are taking photos for a card or other holiday mailing, you might want to get personal. Often, you need to connect with diverse sets of people—business clients, neighbors, community members, and family.


Keep it simple. Save family photos for your family. For a non-family card or mailing, consider a straightforward, evocative image. For example, freshly fallen snow on ornate stone buildings and oak trees suggests the beauty of the season. If you don't have fresh snow on hand, gargoyles on buildings and other architectural ornaments are compelling, too.


And don't be afraid to get up close. Most people see a beautiful nature scene, say "Wow!" and snap a shot of the whole landscape. Don't settle for this canned shot; zoom in on the details. Almost every camera has a magnify or macro button that lets you get close and create a much more interesting photo.



This cardinal offers a pretty way to evoke the holiday season for non-family cards or mailings, and by using your camera's magnify feature you get something beyond the typical nature landscape.





3. Get candid

There's nothing wrong with pictures that are posed, but create some variety by including candid shots at family gatherings. Get people in conversation or reacting to opening a gift. Keep your camera batteries charged up and your camera nearby so you can catch spontaneous moments.





4. Light the way

In ideal situations, use available light to eliminate problems like flares and the dreaded "red eye." Also, don't take photos in front of windows or other back lights; the foreground will come out too dark unless you use fill flash. Light the scene from several different directions. Don't point bright lights right at people's eyes. Light the space around them and diffuse the light if possible.


Keep mirrors, glass, or other reflective surfaces that can cause distracting light flares away. And ask your subjects not to look directly at the camera to prevent red eye. There are also several helpful tips for lighting and well as tips on printing, editing, and organizing digital images in numerous articles on the Windows 7 and the Windows Vista Help & How-to websites.






5. Find a new angle

This is something I learned from my days as a reporter: looking at rows of people staring at the camera and smiling at you head-on is a bit boring. If you do want to take a photo of your family, simply changing the angle and looking at a familiar scene from a new perspective can liven it up considerably. For example, get up on a ladder and look down; get down on the floor and look up.


Another option is to fill the frame for dramatic effect. By tilting the camera down about a third of a frame, you can create a much different effect. Look carefully at the picture you're framing before you click the button. Experiment by moving the camera up and down, side to side. Tilt the camera to various angles and see what it shows you. Fill the frame with the object that interests you most. If your digital camera has an LCD screen, you can use it to improve your sensitivity to the entire scene.






6. Edit your images

Even the pros don't get it right the first time. Professional photographers know that the best way to get the perfect image is to take several hundred that are imperfect. Some of the best photos only emerge after careful editing.


Windows Live Photo Gallery, a part of Windows Live Essentials, is a convenient and powerful tool for editing images. And you can download Photo Gallery and Essentials for free.





Perfect your photos by editing them using tools like Windows Live Photo Gallery.


You can also use Microsoft Photosynth, which transforms regular digital photos into three-dimensional, 360-degree experiences. This new service changed the way you experience and share photos. Please note that a download is required to use and/or view photos within the Photosynth experience.


Photo editing programs allow you to combine black and white and color in one image, as well as apply other cool effects. With many of today's digital imaging software packages, like the ones on the Microsoft Professional Photography site or Adobe Photoshop Elements, you can apply amazing effects to your photos that used to be available only to professional photographers.


Hint: Before you start, make a working copy of your original image by saving it with a new file name. You can do this by opening the image and typing a "bw" at the end of the filename when you save it to differentiate the working image from the original. For example, if the image file name is "Leaf," save the image as "Leafbw." By doing all your work on your working copy of the image, you can always start over with a fresh copy of the original if you don't like the results.


You can easily convert color photos to black and white by using your favorite image-editing program. With some camera models you can even do this in the camera before downloading the image to your computer. Once the image is on your computer, you can use your image-editing program to adjust contrast and brightness to create a photograph that's reminiscent of an Ansel Adams composition.


Hint: Silhouettes look terrific in black and white, as do old buildings. The effect adds drama. But be sure to reserve this technique for landscapes or buildings. Photos of family members in black and white may not be as warm as you want them to be.






7. Don't forget presentation

Anyone who's ever wrapped (or unwrapped) a present knows how important presentation is. Imagine this: Your holiday greeting arrives in email featuring a multimedia summary of your activities and special occasions from the year.


You can use Microsoft PowerPoint, to present a holiday greeting that includes festive images and sound clips of your family singing their favorite holiday songs. And if you have Windows 7 and PowerPoint 2010, you can even embed video of the great trip to the beach from July or clips of the kids’ birthday parties. Or for the ultimate holiday card, save your file as a video. That's a presentation your friends and family won't soon forget.






8. Share holiday moments

You've collected your best picks of cookie decorating, ice skating, carol singing, and present opening. Now what do you do with them all? Our article, "Share your vacation in real time" will help you learn the basics about setting up your own online blog.


Photo collages celebrate important events and themes in our lives. Pick a folder, press a button, and in a few minutes Microsoft AutoCollage presents you with a unique memento to print or email to your family and friends. You can learn about even more innovative ways to make the most out of your photographs on the Microsoft Professional Photography site.


You can also use your photos to tell a story. Check out Tell vacation stories with photos for an example of creating a story with your pictures. The concepts in the vacation article can easily be applied to your holiday events to create and share an experience your family and friends will cherish for years to come.




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