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How to Take the Ultimate Family Photo

You’ve pulled it off: the family has gathered, the table is set, and even the cat seems jolly. Now what do you do with that camera again? 

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Photographers Brent Foster of Brent Foster Photography in Wallaceburg, Ont., and Laura Stanley of Laura Stanley Photography, based in Ottawa, share their tips to guarantee the coolest family photo of the season.

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The Setting

Get everyone to tell jokes or share fun family memories to generate natural happiness. “You’ll feel cheesy when you’re doing it, but that’s the key to not having cheesy photos,” says Stanley. If you can, bundle everyone up and get candid shots of the family building a snowman or in the throes of a snowball fight.  

If you can’t get outside, set up the camera on a tripod and gather the family together on the couch or in front of the fireplace or an exposed brick wall. If possible, pose facing a window with natural light. Hold a tissue in front of the flash to diffuse it. “Your photos will be a bit softer and more realistic,” Foster says. If you have a DSLR camera and want to take photos in dimmer light, turn off your flash and turn down your aperture as low as possible to get a faster shutter speed.

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The Kids

Candid shots done well are way more heartwarming than a standard pose in front of the tree. “Let the kids be themselves and run around and play. Give them direction every once in a while rather than forcing them into a situation they are going to hate,” Foster says. Don’t worry if the baby is getting fussy. Ignore what the baby is doing and pose for the camera. Even if you don’t get the perfect photo, you’re guaranteed to get a laugh when you see the result.

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The Dog

Get the dog to sit, stay and look toward the light, too, by using familiar sounds that make him or her react. Tempting with treats can work if you don’t mind a drooling pup. Stanley suggests putting a little peanut butter on your dog’s nose; they’ll love it and you’ll get great shots of them with their tongues reaching for the treat.

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The Outfit

Solid colours work well, but beware the coordinated look of Sears portraits of yore, and steer clear of dressing everyone in black. Go matte with makeup. Anything glossy or shiny will make you glisten-and not in a good way. 

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Photo: Thinkstock

The Angle

To capture pets and kids, get down to their level for a more intimate photo. For pets, grab a close-up of their nose or paws. Shots from higher angles are more flattering for adults; people look more svelte, and it removes double chins.

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Wait until everyone is feeling the holiday cheer. “Don’t set an exact time for your portrait,” Foster says. “Say, ‘Sometime today we’re going to make this happen.’ When everyone is ready and in the right mood, you’ll get the photo.” 

A last resort if your angsty teens aren’t complying? “The new threat is, ‘Smile or we’ll tag you on Facebook,'” Stanley says.