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How to plan a successful family photo shoot

You only need to look at sites such as Pinterest and Instagram for proof that you don't need to be a professional photographer to capture fantastic family moments. The only limits to your photographic genius are your time and creativity. If you've never done a family or group portrait before, don't be intimidated. With a little planning, doing a family portrait should be fun for both you and your family. Who knows — you might even enjoy it. Here are some tips to help you have a successful and fun photo session.

• Use a tripod whenever possible. There are two big advantages to putting your camera on a tripod. First, it forces you to slow down. You can check your settings and review the composition to make sure you've got everything right. Secondly, it allows you to steady the camera even if your hand isn't steady. You may get a great shot, but if it is blurred because the camera was shaking then the shot will be ruined. In some cases, however, like photographing kids running or doing more documentary style photography, it may be better to shoot hand held.

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• Lock the focus. Assuming you've taken the first tip to heart and are using a tripod, the camera will not be moving. And if you are taking a posed shot, your group will most likely not be moving also. But if you will be moving closer to or farther away from the subject, you are likely to lose focus. Beginners should set their camera up to use the automatic focus setting so that each shot is clear and crisp.

• Arrange people with heads staggered. What you want to avoid is a boring straight line, row or column of heads. Diagonal lines are more dynamic and add an interesting angle to an image, so try to create that with the people in your group. Use natural props whenever necessary, such as logs or walls to seat people or bring small folding stools. Natural props will effortlessly enhance the aesthetics of the photo.

• Allow kids to be kids and get goofy with them. Parents often place rigid expectations on their children during photo sessions. These expectations make many kids feel pressured to "perform," which causes them to lose interest and not enjoy the portrait experience. If you allow your kids to have fun and express their personalities, you will be rewarded with a few fantastic candid shots of your little ones actually smiling. Bring along props such as favorite toys or books. If the kids don't want to sit and smile, don't force them. Let them run around and be kids for a while and shoot that. Play with them; make it fun. After some play time, they may cooperate and sit for a bit for some more serious shots.

• Pay attention to posing. This is a general rule when photographing anyone, and it's a good one. People tend to stand stiff and rigid when you position them, so you need to get them to bend a few body parts to look more natural. Nobody naturally stands stiff as a board.

• Lighting is key. Light can make or break any photograph, and portraits are no different. The biggest thing you want to make sure you do for portraits is get light into your subjects' eyes. There are many ways to do that, including using natural sunlight, metal deflectors and lamps.

• Have a little fun with it and "let it go." Create a few really wacky shots at the end of the session — or even in the middle if the energy seems to be fading. Tell them to do a group squish and really get them to squish. Ask them to jump in the air or make goofy faces and you make one, too. It lightens up the mood and encourages smiling.

• Coordinate clothing. Your family members should think about what they are going to wear in advance. Before you meet with your family you should guide them in a wardrobe choice. Ultimately it is up to you and your family's style to choose what to wear. However, wardrobe choice can make a big difference in the end result of the photos. Families should avoid things like clashing colors, mixed styles and inappropriate clothing.

• Location, location, location. If possible, choose a location that has significance or will add to the overall appearance of the photos. For example, use the garden of a family member or a viewpoint that overlooks a city in which some of the family live or used to live.

Danielle Moser is a Reisterstown resident and can be reached via email at threepeasconsignments@gmail.com.

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