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Jessie (left) and Camille (right) with Grandpa and Grandma Dewing

A note from Camille:  My cousin, Jessie, has felt like a sister to me, maybe even a twin at times –  there’s no one else on this Earth who can get me to stay up talking until five in the morning when I’m supposed to catch a flight at eight.  Growing up, our grandparents always got us identical Christmas presents.  It was a veritable Noah’s Ark under the Christmas tree.  Two of everything.  But as we got older, our interests diverged–I became a writer and she became a photographer…and a really good one.  So, in a month of holiday know-how, I’m tickled pink to welcome her to What’s Camille Dewing? and change its  name for the day as she puts things in focus with answers to make the most of your holiday photos.  So grab your camera and let’s go!

Q:  Anytime I take “candid” shots, it ends up a picture of my relatives looking away, or someone is in the middle of a sneeze, or doesn’t exactly get their best side.  How can I take photos where everyone looks good without having to make them pose and smile?

Jessie:  The key is to take a lot of them. There is no such thing as 100% candid that turns out looking like something from Life Magazine. Sometimes you need to control elements: Remove the clutter and crap—anything distracting—from the background.  Be aware of your environment.  Check to make sure your composition is right.  And, again, take a lot.  Of the twenty you took of grandma reading a book to her grandchild, only one or two will be good.  Fortunately, that’s the beauty of using a digital camera.

Q:  The flash on my camera makes everything look flat, but if I keep my shutter open longer, everyone is fuzzy.  What can I do to make it look nice?

J:  Depends on what kind of camera you have.  Point-and-shoot cameras don’t really have the option, but others can dial down the flash using a compensation button so it won’t blow your mom and dad out of the water. Another option is to use a hood to deflect the light.  It can be as easy as folding a white piece of paper and holding it in front of the flash so it shoots upward towards the ceiling.  That’ll look way nicer that shooting someone straight.  It’s always best to bounce off something white.  If your ceiling is blue, you’re going look like a Smurf.

1. Left: no flash – Middle: full camera flash – Right: using a hood (actually just grabbing the first piece of paper that I saw on the table – some notice about our insurance – and using that as a hood)

2. Left: No flash – Right: Flash dialed way down



Q:  I want to do something that isn’t so traditional (i.e. everyone in front of the tree), but still want to be festive. Any ideas?

J:  I would say it’s important to ALWAYS get at least one of those traditional shots—twenty years from now, everyone will want that one.  But for the rest, do something to make people laugh—crack jokes, ask silly questions, play games.  Once they forget they’re in front of the camera, that’s when you get those shots.  I call it the “in-betweens” of the activity.  That’s when they laugh.

Q:  Do I need a fancy digital SLR to take good photos?  I only have an iPhone.

J:  I think it all depends on the lighting.  In my opinion, the lighting is the most important thing, regardless of whether your camera is a cardboard box camera or $10,000 one.  In crappy lighting, you have no shot; in beautiful lighting, you got it.  If you do have an iPhone, here’s a link to a website with a video to show what the iPhone camera is capable of.

Q:  What do you consider beautiful lighting?

J:  That’s the beauty of art—your preference may not be what other people like and vice versa, so you’re free to do what you like.  As for me, I like soft even light, with enough shadows to give your picture form.  Harsh light (i.e. the noonday sun) creates too many shadows.  Stand next to a window or go outdoors to the shaded side of the house.  Sometimes, I’ll have people stand where I want them to stand then take four photos—from the North, the South, the East, and the West—then look through my LCD screen to see which direction looks best.  Again, gotta love those digital cameras!  One more thing about light: if you’re going outside, go just before sunset. Take advantage of the beautiful golden light that you see in the winter.

3. Same kid. Same tree. Same time of day. I just moved her from one side of the tree to the other. Both work well, but have slightly different moods. It is all personal preference as to what you prefer, but if you don’t like what you see in your LCD screen – try moving!:)

Q:  Whenever my mother-in-law takes photos, she cuts off our heads. How can I keep the camera away from her this holiday?

J:  Ha!  My grandma does the same thing.  I’m honest with her and just take the camera away.  That said, decades from now, maybe when they’re no longer around, those pictures are going to be very endearing to you. The imperfect moments are the ones we remember. We laugh more about them. So, a little tolerance is important.

Q:  Camille just got a new phone that has a camera.  How do I keep her from posting a photo of me on her blog or Twitter or Facebook?

J:  Hold the Beast as ransom until she promises not to post your picture.  Failing that, always look perfect—tap into your inner celebrity or super model—and you won’t have anything to worry about. In fact, you’ll be begging her to post a photo of you.

Q:  Any other tips?

J:  Angles on people is always more flattering, especially on women.  Avoid taking a straight-on photo of a person, but maybe slightly looking down on them.  That way they can still look their best even while chomping down the Christmas cookies.

4. Not sure if this really fits here but thought I would throw it in anyways. These are taken one right after the other in the same place in my house. Just looking at the different angles can make a difference too.

That reminds me:  Okay, first, I’m a good mom, okay?  And I feed my kids healthy stuff. But say your little one is crabby and you don’t want tears in your photos, a sugar high can go a long way.  Kids are always at their best in the morning, which is a perfect time for pictures, but if you want to take some later in the afternoon, after all the presents have been opened, give them a cookie, wipe off their face, and wait ten minutes.  It’ll make all the difference.  I’m soooo going to get in trouble for saying that.

Oh, and the last thing I want to say is this:  While all these technical things are great, and should be taken into consideration, in the end, don’t stress about it.  Look back on your favorite photos.  What do you love about them?  You love the people who were in them, the fun you had, and the memories you hold dear.

Two dolls with...holding their toys. Ha!

This was once considered stylish.

Jessie Thompson lives in Minnesota where she owns and operates Joyful Girl Photography, specializing in candid, natural light portraits of children.  Visit her website at http://www.joyfulgirlphotography.com