How to Take Great Holiday Photos

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The holidays are a time for colorful gifts, candy canes, and holiday pictures. And with a little attention to exposure settings and shooting techniques, you can capture great holiday photos you'll want to share.

Choose the Right Camera Settings

When the house is filling with guests and the kids want to open their gifts, you don't want to worry about your camera settings. Here's how to optimize your camera in advance for the kinds of shots you plan to take.

Kids are like cats.
For all-around indoor holiday photography, prepare your camera to shoot fast action in low light. Kids are like cats: They might appear calm and quiet, but you can't predict what they'll do next, especially under the influence of presents and candy. If you'll be shooting during daylight hours, turn off the camera's flash and increase the ISO to ensure that the camera can take good natural-light photos. Then either set the camera to its action scene mode or switch to aperture priority and use a small f-number, which will give you the fastest possible shutter speed.

In the evening, you'll probably need to turn the flash back on, but you might want to leave the ISO setting high--especially if you'll be shooting in a large room--so you can fully illuminate the scene.

Capture the Magic With a Series of Photos

Often, a single photo can't adequately capture the moment. If your camera has an interval timer mode (check the camera's menu or user guide), you can use it to create your own time-lapse photos. Set up the camera in a corner of the room with a good view of the action, and configure it to snap one picture every minute or so as you decorate the tree or open presents. You can turn the resulting photos into a time-lapse movie, or you can publish the most interesting shots as a series of images on your Web site or photo-sharing site.

Another alternative is to use the burst mode or continuous-shooting setting on your camera to take a series of rapid-fire shots while the assembled multitude is opening gifts. You're much likelier to get a memorable photo this way, and you can discard the images that you don't like.

Whether you choose to shoot photos at intervals or in burst mode, you'll want to avoid using the flash, in order to save battery life and to let the camera recharge faster, with less lag between shots.

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