Put the kids behind the camera



That is the inevitable reply when I ask the kids to take out the trash, clean up their rooms or, while on vacation, pose for a family picture. They are so loath to pose that it's become a family joke.

"This is so annoying," says 16-year-old Melanie, as she rolls her eyes.

"This is taking too long," her brother, Matt, adds.

In frustration, I've been known to stamp my ski boots in the snow or refuse to walk another step. What will I promise, they say, laughing, to get them to stop what they're doing long enough to get that perfect holiday-card shot -- on top of a ski mountain, clustered around a giant turtle in the Galapagos Islands, or on the boat they're sailing in the British Virgin Islands?

We never get that perfect shot, of course, though we have come close a few times -- on a glacier in Alaska, crampons on our feet and ice axes in hand, for example. Anyone who has ever traveled with kids knows that no trip is one Kodak moment after another, anyway. But I'm convinced that at least a few digital snapshots -- in our case, with lots of goofy faces -- are the best souvenirs to bring home.

I have a bulletin board full of souvenir pictures next to my desk -- there's a picture of 7-year-old Melanie and me in Hawaii at sunset; one of my husband and me on our honeymoon looking impossibly young; a snapshot of the kids perched on a rock they'd climbed in California's Joshua Tree National Park, and one with my dad outside a villa we'd rented in St. Martin, just a few months before he died. Each picture, of course, evokes a cavalcade of memories.

"I think photo holiday cards are great family history," says my friend Anne Cusack, a longtime newspaper photographer and mother of three. "As I look back, they all reflect something about our lives."

And sometimes those old photos -- like the one with my dad -- remind me that it's important to grab the opportunity to take those pictures when you can, because you might not have another chance.

That's easier than ever these days with pocket-sized digital cameras. They're so simple to use that technology-savvy kids will declare themselves the official family photographers.

Takegreatpictures.com offers tips on getting better vacation shots. The site also highlights interesting photo projects that you can do with the kids, including ways to personalize U.S. postage stamps or turn your favorite vacation shot into a giant puzzle.

Jon Sienkiewicz, a photographer with takegreatpictures.com, suggests handing an old digital camera that you no longer use to your youngest photographers. "Set the camera to the lowest resolution so that the files are small," he says. "That way they're easy to put on the computer and to e-


If each member of the family has a camera, he continues, each can make his or her own picture story of the trip.

"Everything should have a beginning, middle and an end," Sienkiewicz says. For example, that might mean a picture of stacked suitcases for the beginning, a favorite site for the middle and dad asleep for the end. Award prizes for the "shot of the day," he adds. Just be prepared. The kids will have a totally different take on where you've been.

Another tactic to get the kids involved: Establish themes for the kids' travel photographs -- and your own. Maybe one child wants to photograph flags, another signs. Take pictures of landmarks, like the Statue of Liberty, from the back. And set limits, too: no more pictures of feet.

Assign one child to take photos that can be made into a holiday card, another into postage stamps and another into a puzzle. "Then when you get home and download the pictures, the kids are creating their own visual memories," says Sienkiewicz.

Web sites like panraven.com and kodakgallery.com can help. Panraven enables you to write a book about your family adventure using your photographs -- a great gift for the grandma who hosted the trip or the cousin who planned the family reunion.

Snapfish.com offers more than 100 customizable photographic products, including memory books and coasters. You can always purchase a photo printer for all of those holiday cards. They start at well under $100.

Anne Cusack's tip: When possible, "put your camera away between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m." Early morning and late afternoon offer good light, she says.

"Make it a challenge for the kids," adds Sienkiewicz, whose 6-year-old daughter has been taking pictures since preschool. If all the child wants to photograph is her feet, he says, suggest she take a picture of her feet with the famous sites everywhere you go.

Colorado photographer Russ Burden, a contributor to takegreatpictures.com, makes it a point while on vacation to get up early at least once with his teenage son to photograph the sunrise. Ask the kids what they can include with the sunrise or the sunset -- a building, a bridge, the ocean, each other. "Turn it into a fun event," he says.

Or at least a family joke.

Eileen Ogintz wrote this article for Tribune Media Services.


Takegreatpictures.com, a nonprofit venture among photographers and manufacturers, lists the best cameras to get even young kids snapping away.

Fisher-Price Kid-Tough Digital Camera

-- fisherprice.com, about $70.

Disney Pix Max

-- disney shopping.com, $80.

Nikon CoolpixL10

-- nikon.com, $119.99

HP Photosmart E337

-- hp.com, $79.99. The HP Home and Home Office store offers student and teacher discounts on select products. Register at hpshopping.com/student.

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