There are no better ways to remember the holidays than having great photos to look at and share with relatives and friends, but most of us don’t have access to expensive cameras or photographic studios.

With that in mind, we turned to Poland-based photographer Gini Haines whose profession is specializing in capturing great memories for generations to come.

Let’s start at the beginning: the camera.

“Owning a camera is the easy part,” Haines said. “Using it well takes information and practice. Modern digital cameras are amazing tools for capturing beautiful images. In order to use your camera at its full capacity you need to be familiar with its functions. The hard part is that it means reading and re-reading the manual.

Just remember a cheaper camera with the correct settings can take a better picture than an expensive camera on the wrong settings. Experiment with each setting to see exactly what it does.”

Haines listed the most important camera settings to learn.

Exposure refers to the light that is let into the camera. An overexposed image will be bright and washed out; an underexposed image will be dark and murky.

Metering mode is what determines how the camera measures the light it sees in the scene you are aiming your camera at and how it uses that light to determine the best exposure.

Auto-focus mode involves speed: single or continuous. Single is best for landscapes and Continuous is best for capturing action.

White Balance keeps colors looking the same in different types of lighting.

Aperture, also called f/stop, controls the amount of light that reaches the image sensor. It controls the depth of field.

Shutter speed is another way of controlling the amount of light that reaches the image sensor. A fast shutter speed stops action and a long shutter speed allows you to create motion blur if that is the effect you want.

“Once you have learned the functions,” said the professional, “practice, practice, practice.”

Now comes the fun part!

Planning and being prepared is the most important step.

“It will help with cooperation and relaxation,” explained Haines. “If you are having group photos, know where you will be taking them. Know what your background will be, and who will sit where. Don’t be afraid to get up close and have everyone sit close together.”

Although a group photo is nice, Haines said to try the un-staged approach.

“Shoot moments, not poses. Have the oldest go nose-to-nose with the youngest or have a child look into a Christmas ball that reflects their face.”

There are so many amazing Christmas moments that don’t happen Christmas morning and don’t involve opening presents.

“What about the night before when the kids place the cookies and milk out for Santa? Or reading a book in bed with Christmas pajamas. Have your camera on you during the holidays, and there will probably be many special occasions or even unique and fleeting moments to capture with your camera.”

Other tips:

Try to coordinate clothing. They don’t have to match, just don’t have bold stripes or plaids make the photo too busy.

If taking photos of little ones, get down to their level. Let them have fun. Have them do a dog pile or get tangled up in the Christmas tree lights … even let them stick their finger in the frosting.

Don’t have a photo with something to distract seeing the faces, such as a pile of crumpled wrapping paper, or a trash can … for some reason, the first thing that people see is the one thing that’s out of place.

Fill your frame by getting up close or using your zoom feature.

Use props. A giant box wrapped with a little one’s head popping out. Lay Christmas lights and balls on the floor around the children. Or maybe use the front door with a wreath or steps with poinsettias for group photos instead of the couch.

Chances are your photo will be of a better quality if you take a photo when they least expect it. Don’t count to three, just tell them to look at the camera and snap the photo. Even tell a quick joke; there won’t be forced smiles, or the three seconds for a child to make a face.

Last, but not least, using the rule of thirds will make your photos more interesting. Use imaginary lines, two horizontal and two vertical creating a tic-tac-toe grid. The main subject of your photo should never fall in the middle box.

One last important tip:

“Never let your photo taking get in the way of enjoying ‘your’ holiday.”

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