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No, don’t smile: Tips for better holiday photos

A D.C. photographer offers holiday photo tips that don't include a group of people smiling big at the camera. (Getty Images/moodboard RF/moodboard)

WASHINGTON — Documenting family gatherings with a smiling group photo posted on Facebook has become a holiday tradition.

Maybe it’s time to consider something a bit more lasting, suggests D.C. photographer Bill Crandall.

“Are we trying to take a real family portrait for posterity, or is it just sort of a snapshot of a moment in time,” Crandall said.

Crandall said most photos that people post online have the same composition.

“Here I am, with friends and/or colleagues, at an important occasion, and we stand next to each other, and have a big smile for the camera,” he said.

That snapshot may be ubiquitous on social media, but it does little to capture the nuances of the people in the photo.

“In classical portraiture — in painting and even photography — big smiles were a no-no,” said Crandall. “It tended to mask the subject, rather than reveal their more true self.”

If the photographer and family members are willing to invest a bit more thought into an image, taking simple steps can improve a photograph.

“If you do a family portrait outside, during the daytime, your camera won’t have to use flash, which is never flattering,” he said.

Crandall said it’s important to “make the background intentional in a photograph,” rather than plopping people someplace convenient.

If a family wanted to show off its home in a portrait, it would be easy to avoid some common mistakes.

“You can use the house as the background, but don’t put the family right up against the house, because then you can’t see the house and the people are very small in the picture if you back up enough to show the whole house.”

Instead, move the family several feet — or yards — from the home, and consider a waist-up or head-and-shoulders shot, which allows a more intimate image of the people, with enough space to see the house in the background.

“Newer smartphones have Portrait mode, which allows you to get more of a blurred background,” Crandall said. “So, even if you’re taking the photo with your phone you can achieve a more three- dimensional depth.”


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