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Last updated: Mon. Sep. 30, 2013 - 01:11 pm EDT


Photographer offers tricks for portraits

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Long gone are the days when you invite neighbors over for a slideshow presentation of your family vacation – Facebook accomplishes the same task, and you don’t even have to vacuum the living room. But what about the times that you do (perhaps bravely) invite guests into your home?

What do your family portraits, or lack thereof, say about your family?

Jill Sloffer, professional photographer and mother of four, says with a few simple tips, parents can start capturing family moments that are memorable and pleasing to the eye. Sloffer says that when she is working with clients, she wants to capture the personalities of her subjects.

“I love it when it’s not that forced, cheesy grin. I love it when they can interact and just be themselves,” she says.

Keep it light

Sloffer says that if you’re going to be your own photographer – you must see the light.

It doesn’t hurt if it’s natural light, either.

“Having good lighting is better than having a good background,” she says.

The best time to take pictures is either as the sun rises or at sunset; direct lighting often leads to those squinty pictures and a camera’s flash is the harbinger of red-eye snapshots. Make sure your loved ones are facing toward the light source, and choose a background that complements the foreground. Unless you’re shooting your family in front of the Grand Canyon, don’t be afraid to get in close to bring in the focus to where it matters. If it’s a digital camera, take a bunch of different aspects until you get it right.

“It’s natural to want to stand in the prettiest part of your house like, the fireplace mantle, but then you have all these distractions around you,” she says.

Kids will be kids

There’s no need to be a drill sergeant. Sloffer says that if you have a troop of younger children, it’s better to compromise than coerce them into taking pictures. Make an agreement that if they can stay still for a few frames that you will let them make their silliest face or for some children, it’s better for them to get all the jitters out first with a few silly pictures. Incentives, rewards or downright bribery are great ways to keep children focused.

“Bargain with them – you get two poses and I get two poses,” she says. “With little ones, you don’t want to drag it out. Make it quick, like a Band-Aid.”

Speaking of drill sergeants – keep the uniformed clothing at home. Pick out outfits that coordinate without being “matchy matchy,” perhaps some of the family wear a solid while others wear a pattern; pick out items that have colors in the same family such as jewel tones or warm colors.

“Doing all the same tops and all the same bottoms is very distracting,” she says. “All you see is a line of white shirts or a line of blue jeans.”

Have variety

Documenting birthdays, vacations and other milestones are obvious but the photographs that depict everyday life might be the most meaningful. Now that most smartphones have megapixel cameras, don’t be afraid to whip out your phone for a quick photograph.

“My son carries around his sister’s old blanket and I take pictures of him with it, because I pray one day he won’t have it,” she says with a laugh. “We’ll be able to look back at them and say, ‘Remember when you take the blanket every where?’ It’s just the kind of stuff you can show to your kids later in life.”

Sloffer says that the scrapbooking website, Project Life (, offers parents some ideas for capturing little moments by designating different themes or certain weeks and months where you document every thing that happens; pregnancies and the first six months of a new baby are some other inspirations.

Outside the frame

So you have collected all these snapshots that are stashed on Facebook or Instagram – how do you get them into your home? Sloffer says that the best bet is to check online for companies who will professionally print your pictures for reasonable prices. The website will take your Instagram pictures or let you drag and drop computer images to create prints, calendars, stickers, posters, greeting cards and 12-by-12 framed photos in four styles. Another photo printing website, offers similar products.

“If you get your 13-cent prints from Walmart or wherever, the color quality is not going to be exactly professional quality,” she says.

If you plan to hang pictures on the wall, you’ll want to go with a larger print than an 8-by-10, but select an array of sizes for a trendy gallery wall display. Sloffer uses an eclectic mix of frames with different shapes and sizes to create a more natural flow for her home display. For the hammer-and-nail impaired, Sloffer suggests heavy-duty picture hanging strips that Velcro the pictures to the wall. They are easy to remove and don’t chip the paint. For kids, hang a clothesline in their room and clip photos along the line that you can easily change as they grow.

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