How to take perfect festive photos

Want to take sensational snaps of your little Christmas cutie? Follow these seven simple steps and tips from the pros and get snap happy

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Get your child involved in photo taking

You’ve probably taken thousands of photos of your toddler – and with a smile that cute, who could blame you? But even the best models need someone skilled behind the camera to bring out their best. Don’t worry, you don’t need to be Mario Testino or have loads of expensive kit, just follow these tricks of the trade…

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Rule 1 – Timing’s everything

Getting your tot to stay still is the first big challenge, so choose your moment, says photographer Ian Boddy (ianboddy.co.uk), who snaps Practical Parenting’s gorgeous cover stars. “Toddlers tend to be better in the mornings. They’re hungry at lunchtime and then most have a nap, so around 10 -11am is the best time to photograph your toddler.”

A bit of pre-photo shoot preparation helps, too. “Speed is so important if you’re looking to capture a little moment,” says Ian. “Be ready before you take the picture. Make sure your camera’s turned on and your battery’s charged up, then be quick and have fun. Don’t try and force the issue, if your toddler’s not in the mood then come back to it later on.”

 Rule 2- Get involved 

Photographer Tim Smalley (tsmalley.com) says, “If you involve your toddler by letting him look at the pictures and taking a couple of pictures himself, then he’ll become more interested. Compliment him on the picture, so you’re building his confidence around the camera.”

Ian recommends a bit of tummy time, too. “Lying on your tummy and shooting your toddler at ground level is usually nicer than standing over him, although you can get some very cute images when you’re standing up and looking down at kids,” he says. Tim agrees, “If you get down to his level and play along, then he’ll start to play along too, and you get a better chance of him doing something funny or more natural.”

 Rule 3 – Simply does it

A festive family photo adds a personal touch to Christmas cards, and our experts agree that you should keep it simple. “You don’t need a lot to suggest Christmas, so anything sparkly or red would be good,” says Ian. “If you’ve got a camera with manual controls, then shoot with as wide an aperture as possible so that the kids are in focus and the background’s blurred. A classic pose is in front of the tree and then blur the tree so the fairy lights twinkle but are out of focus.”

If you do line your little ones up in front of the tree, just make sure they don’t end up looking like they’ve sprouted a decoration from their heads, says Tim. “Or get everyone on the sofa. It’s quite homely and welcoming,” he says. “When you’re doing a portrait, the most important thing is your toddler’s eyes. It doesn’t matter about the rest of the photo, but if those eyes are perfectly sharp then you’ve nailed the picture.”

Rule 4 – Candid camera

If you’re after more natural shots of your little one larking about, the key is spontaneity. “Don’t expect your toddler to stand and pose for you. Take candid snaps – get the camera ready and then suddenly blow a raspberry. The second he looks up, that’s the moment you take the shot,” says Ian. “Don’t ruin the moment by trying to direct it too much. Go with what your toddler’s doing, rather than trying to dictate to him because he’ll get fed up and bored.”

If your tot starts posing as soon as the camera comes out, try to hang back and he’ll soon lose interest. “Sometimes toddlers play up to the camera and can be either too shy or quite cheeky and not themselves,” says Tim. “So stepping away means you get a much more natural picture of him that he doesn’t even know you’ve taken.”

 Rule 5 – Choose lovely light

Natural light is by far the most flattering, so avoid using the flash. Tim explains: “I’m a big fan of natural light, but the important thing is to try and avoid really harsh light, so direct sunlight coming through a window for example. One of the best sort of days to take portrait photos outside is when it’s slightly cloudy and the sun’s actually behind the clouds as it softens the face.”

You might be missing the warm weather, but winter is perfect for taking pics, adds Ian. “With the low sun in winter, you can get gorgeous light either early in the morning or towards the end of the day,” he explains. “Try to use shaded, natural light, or backlight your subject – in other words, have the sun behind them. In summer, try and avoid lunchtime when the sun’s directly overhead because you get very dark shadows under the eyes.”

 Rule 6 – Any camera will do

With so many cameras to choose from, which one’s best for family snaps? “Generally speaking, a digital SLR is a better camera to use because you can get that shot much quicker, whereas a compact camera will take a bit of time to focus,” says Tim. “I think the Nikon D3000 or D3100 Digital SLR cameras are good value for money at around £300-£400 and are the best sellers in their market.”

But that doesn’t mean a simple compact camera isn’t going to take great pics. “Content is so much more important than what equipment you’re using,” says Ian. “It’s possible to take a really great picture on a £100 camera and it’s also possible to take a really bad picture on a £5,000 camera.“ Don’t discount your mobile, either. “Most people probably use their camera phones more than their camera, because it’s the one thing that you’re always going to have with you,” says Ian. “Someone once said that the best camera is the one you’ve got with you, and it’s true – you’ll always be ready.”

 Rule 7 – Back it up

As digital cameras have replaced film, correct storage of your photos has become even more important. “Everyone puts their pictures onto their laptop or desktop computer and I’m sure lots of people never back-up their stuff,” says Ian. “Go out and purchase an external hard drive – you can buy a pretty big one for about £50 – and back it up once a week. Keep it in a drawer or somewhere separate so if your computer’s stolen or breaks down, you haven’t lost everything.”

Sharing your pics on Facebook is great, but nothing beats being surrounded by photos of your toddler. “Canvas prints are lovely,” says Ian. “There are loads of companies now where you can just upload your images over the web and they send the canvas back to you in a week and it’s not that expensive anymore. Another nice thing is to make a montage of your pictures and put it in a frame.”

3 dos and don’ts for festive snaps

  • Don’t forget you have the camera. With all the fun, it’s easy to forget to take piccies. So keep your camera handy.
  • Do remember to charge it. Make a note in your diary to plug your camera in on Christmas Eve and check the space on your memory card.
  • Do include yourself Show someone else how to use the camera so you can be in a few shots.
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Bye, bye red eye

Got a gorgeous pic that’s spoiled by red eyes, due to the flash? “Google Picasa is actually incredibly good and it’s free, so you can quickly correct things like red eye,” says Tim. If you want to do more to your photos, then go for Photoshop Elements (£79.10, adobe.com/uk) which has more advanced editing options and allows you to make cards and interactive online albums using professionally designed templates.

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