(3TV/CBS 5) − We've all seen what happens when you take photos in the moment. Candid glimpses in your eye that should have been destined in a frame over the mantel, but instead the photo is forgettable.
Perhaps the light was unflattering, eyes disappeared in dark shadows, the scene was obscured in a spectrum of blues and orange colors, or it just wasn't attractive.
If you've ever hired a professional photographer to capture your family then you've seen the hard work it takes to capture a handful of eye-popping shots.
But Christmas morning you are the photographer, without a studio, armed maybe with only a smartphone camera, and you're focused on being present in the moment and not taking photos. However, the odds are not stacked against you.
So how do all those photographers on Instagram do it?
Here are my top seven tips to great photos:
Natural indirect light
Use window light, open the curtains and turn off those warm colored lights inside. This will give you one color of light on faces. Another idea is standing in a shaded doorway to outside, it creates the perfect directional light and adds an environmental element. Or go outside to the shade or go when the sun isn't high in the sky.
The prettiest and easiest light is the Golden Hour. Immediately before and after sunset with the subjects facing it, the quality and direction of light is flattering to everyone.
Do avoid photos inside with bright windows behind you or only having the overhead lights on. These are the worst-case scenarios for unflattering light.
Compose to the scene
Consider turning the phone sideways for a landscape format, and adjust the zoom to what makes a great frame. Take the time to clean up and stage things for the important shots. Balance the composition with the Rule-of-Thirds or centered to a one-point perspective.
When photographing kids get down to their eye level.
If doing a group portrait consider going outside with the house in the background. Don't stand against the house, make some distance to separate them from the background and show off the house. Bring chairs of different heights and avoid standing in a military lineup. Watch where you crop people (i.e. at the ankle is awkward).
Keep people close in the frame too. Bring them closer together by holding hands and intertwining arms.
Engage your subjects
Keep it fun and energetic to get people excited as you to take a couple of snaps of their genuine smiles, otherwise it becomes a chore and it will show.
Take your time and make portraits of everyone, by themselves and with significants. Even a few years down the road you'll be grateful you had.
Take multiple shots
Avoid blinking eyes and catch that perfect moment-of-the-moment. Multiple shots is also insurance for a sharp photo without motion blur. If taking candids this is key.
When taking portraits play around and find the right angles of both your subject and the light. Be sure to find the perfect shot and delete the rest.
Take some closeup photos of each child putting their favorite ornament on the tree. Make them laugh while doing it.
If it's already on just take it off and take some snaps of them showing it to you, and then placing it back on the tree. That's a double win!
Remember to get in close. Adult kids re-creating childhood photos is always fun too. Don't forget a detail shot of Grandma's apple pie with her signature lattice crust and Uncle Joe hugging the family dog.
Use camera features
On both Androids and iPhones you can adjust the exposure. Cameras expose for the overall scene and not for people's faces.
Don't let the camera expose faces dark because of a bright overhead sky. Once focused adjust that exposure. By default keep your flash off indoors and only use it if you need to. It ruins the ambience.
The flash is great for pictures outside in bad sunlight with subjects within 6 feet. Use the zoom to get in closer but be mindful it can quickly become pixelated.
Include yourself by using the 10-sec timer with the camera in a phone tripod placed on a bookcase or stool.
iPhone users should consider the Portrait Mode feature. It can process your photos to include a rich depth-of-field with a blurred background that looks like a professional camera took it. The subjects must be 2 to 8 feet away and with plenty of light.
If you want more features than the native camera app is offering then download a different one like ProCam that gives you full manual control.
Edit & presentation
You might take five or 50 or 300 photos Christmas morning, but down the road you only want to see the top few (your Facebook friends will agree). Favorite the best and delete the repetitive, dark, and blurry shots. Edit them in an app like Snapseed to make them pop by adjusting exposure, color balance, color saturation, contrast and tone.
Custom crop your shots to the perfect frame and make some black & white versions.
Not every situation in-the-moment will be the best lighting or background, but it's important to remember you're documenting real life, not a staged photoshoot. Have a fully charged phone and good luck!