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It’s the holidays, and so out comes the camera. The subject? It’s usually the Christmas ham or the kids. But as soon as you pull out the camera, most kids refuse to smile and shy away. Sound familiar? It’s definitely no easy feat to coordinate that perfect family Christmas photo, not just because of the unsmiling kids but because most of us with a DSLR have no idea how to use it, essentially missing out on capturing those important family moments that are gone with the time it takes to fumble with the camera settings!

So just in time for the holidays, SheSaid caught up with incredible children’s photographer and photo blogger Rachel Devine for her family photo tips. Rachel has recently developed the Little Sideklick program with Tamron Australia, where she focuses on not just teaching, but also involving kids in photography by sharing her love and passion for taking photos. Here are her best tips on how to take photos of kids and getting the most from your DSLR.

1. Get off auto
If you truly want to capture those family moments, it’s time to step it up from your standard ‘point and shoot’ auto setting and really experience the full range of what your camera has to offer. Rachel suggests you familiarise yourself with your camera. Learn where everything is, get comfortable with your menus and be confident in your ability to adjust all the settings.

Tip: Go back to the basics – master these key elements that might seem simple, but actually make all the difference in the long run.

The big three: ISO, shutter speed, aperture are the important concepts to understand. Photography is all about light, and these are the three settings that relate to light. Here’s a quick rundown:

  • ISO: controls your cameras sensitivity to light. You should always try to use the lowest ISO to reduce noise and avoid grainy photos. Low ISO (100 or 200) is best for bright or sunny conditions, while high ISO (800 or higher) maximises the light and is best for low-light situations.
  • Shutter Speed: the time it takes for your camera’s shutter to open, take the photo and close. Slower shutter speed blurs motion, while a faster shutter speed freezes movements.
  • Aperture: the size opening of the lens, affecting how much light enters the camera. Larger aperture (smaller f-stop number) allows less to be in focus, and creates those blurred backgrounds, while smaller aperture (larger f-stop number) allows for more to be in focus.

So depending on how you want your photo to look, play around with these settings and find a combination that you are happy with. Don’t be disheartened if it all seems a little overwhelming at first, practice makes perfect!

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2. Lighting
Rachel says finding the right lighting will make all the difference in getting that perfect family shot. It’s most flattering to have the direct light behind the photographer, as this allows them to capture the light glistening in the eyes – it also avoids those unwanted squinty eye pics! Be sure to look for places, both inside and outside, that have diffused lighting, nothing too harsh or too direct, otherwise this will create a shadow.

Once you have found somewhere with lighting you are happy with, try taking photos from different positions, heights and angles – don’t be afraid to get creative.

Tip: Before trying to coordinate a picture with your kids, do some test shots in that spot first.  Every lighting situation will be different, so taking test shots avoids you having to keep re-adjusting the settings later on. Then you’ll be free to capture the moment and make the kids your focus. Also, simple is best – try and make sure there aren’t too many distractions in the background, or why not even try portrait shots that zoom just one element – such as faces, feet or hands?

3. Timing is the most important thing
When it comes to capturing that perfect photograph of your kids, timing is everything. Speaking from experience, Rachel said that if you are trying to coordinate a family picture when your kids are tired, hungry or are simply unwilling to cooperate, odds are you’ll get frustrated and you wont get a picture that you are truly happy with. It no longer becomes a fun experience and just turns into a forced-looking photograph. So, Rachel’s advice: don’t try to force it. If it’s not happening at that exact moment, sometimes it’s best to wait and try again later.

Tip: Don’t lie – if you say “just one more shot!”, make sure it really is just one more shot, not 10 more, because that’s when kids start to get frustrated and uncooperative.

Rachel’s Little Sideklicks program focuses on how important it is to have fun with your kids when taking photos, so be sure to include them in the process and take the time to make it exciting for them. So with Christmas only two weeks away there will be plenty of picture-perfect opportunities – it’s time to capture that something magical.

Be sure to check out Rachel’s blog and follow her on Instagram at @sesameellis.