12/23/2011 11:55 EST | Updated 02/22/2012 05:12 EST

How to Take Holiday Family Photos Like the Pros

Getting great family photos can be a bit of a challenge, but it's not impossible. I have been working as a professional child and baby photographer for about four years and I'm going to share a few pointers with you that will help you get some beautiful photos of your family this holiday season.

1. Let's start with the most difficult picture, the family shot. My advice is to get this one out of the way first because you will have much better luck getting a family portrait early in the day. Waiting until after a big dinner when your kids are crashing from lack of sleep and too much candy is a big mistake. Depending on the size of your family, have everyone pile onto the couch together -- sitting on steps is also nice. Pictures where everyone is standing in a line always feels unnatural. Have smaller children sit on larger family members' laps and check to see that everyone's face is visible and not hidden by other family members. Get everyone in close together, even closer than may feel comfortable. That way you won't have to stand too far back to get everyone in the shot.

2. I love to use natural daylight in photos, especially in the morning and before the sun goes down when the light is soft and not harsh like it is midday. Next time you take your kids skating or tobogganing, bring your camera along. A way to use natural light indoors is to have your kids sit by a window; this can be quite lovely. Because there is such a limited amount of daylight in December, you will at some point have to resort to using a flash. Just remember to stand a distance back and zoom in; otherwise you will wash out your subject.

3. Here's another tough one, natural smiles. Have your camera ready when grandparents arrive, when gifts are being opened and when dinner is being served, this is your opportunity to get great candid moments. For more posed photos, try telling jokes and singing songs together. This has the added bonus of keeping them in one spot. For really little guys, bring in props, rattles, stuffed animals and pretty much anything that is going to get their attention.

4. Good composition will make or break a good photo. Get down on their level and get close up. Move around and try angles you wouldn't normally try. Your subject does not always need to be centred. You'll be surprised what will happen when you get more creative. Shooting from a different perspective can make a big difference!

5. This is important: keep it simple. When you dress your family on days you are planning on taking a lot of photos, choose a similar palate for each family member; natural shades always look great. Avoid busy patterns or logos, although traditional patterns like plaid will still look good. As you are taking the photos, look at the background. You don't want blurry people or garbage cans distracting from your subject. Just be aware of everything going on in your image. This is another reason why getting outside is a good idea: trees look better than lamps.

At the risk of being too honest, I'll admit that after years as a child and baby photographer I still have days where I'm faced with a fussy baby or a family with three hyper boys and I'm not sure how I'll get through the photo session. On those days, it comes down to patience. The more stressed you are, the less likely it is you'll get good images. If you are feeling overwhelmed, you just need to put down the camera down, eat a cookie and regroup. As long as you are having fun, you will get great pictures. That's the key!

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