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How to Capture Those Memorable Vacation Photos

Quick! What's the first thing you'd grab if your house was on fire and you had to leave in a hurry? For me, it would be the shoeboxes filled with family photos from our travels. I might be able to find a ring similar to the one willed to me by my granny, but I would never be able to replace the shots of the kids rolling in mud on a Lake Huron beach or hanging out of a cablecar in San Francisco.

Family photos are special because those moments may never come again. A hug, a smile, an ice cream sundae suddenly up-ended onto a lap may be but a fleeting experience. Grab the camera and it's yours forever.

In the interest of taking better family photos for this column (and for the shoeboxes), I asked professional photographers Mary Pocock and Marcus Schubert for some advice:

1. Take as many photographs as possible. "After all, if you've spent thousands on the trip," says Marcus, "what's another fifty for film and processing?" The more photos you take, the better chance of coming up with a winner. The common goal of many photographers is to get one or two great photos per roll.

2. Don't wait for a bright sunny day. Sometimes a dull, overcast day provides better light. The kids are not squinting against the sun. There are no shadows to consider. When our family toured Charleston, North Carolina, it was a rainy, misty day. The kids were by chance wearing bright blue raincoats that stood out wonderfully against all the grey. These were among the best pictures of the trip.

3. Go for close-ups. Family photographs often show too much sky and not enough people, says Mary. Many make the mistake of posing family members against a large backdrop, adds Marcus. "Little Albert simply disappears when he's competing with the Milan Cathedral." It's better to include one or two elements of the setting and get closer to the person, he advises. Have little Albert stand against one gargoyle or statue. You're still recording the place without losing the person.

4. Have the camera on hand even when doing boring activities like laundry. We got some great shots once in a roadside laundromat when the boys decided to put clean underwear on their heads and race their baby sister around the place in a laundry cart. (She loved it!) When travelling with kids, you never know when opportunity could present itself.

5. Think colour. If it's a sunny day and your daughter is wearing a yellow dress, don't have her pose on a yellow bench. She'll get lost. Instead, says Mary, sit her against something blue or green; the contrast could make the photo. Similarly, if your kids are wearing white shirts on a white beach on an overcast day, inject some colour. Suggest they put on their red and blue baseball hats.

6. It helps to get down to the kids' level. Talk to them, get them interested in an activity and then reach for the camera. Waving a toy as they do in some photo studios doesn't work. My father who was constantly recording the activities of his seven kids used funny faces and weird voices to get us to look up and smile. Judging from the photos lining the walls of my parent's house, this method was a success.

7. Let the kids take some photos. Who cares if the first rolls are all sidewalk and thumb shots? Allowing them to play photographer encourages an interest in their surroundings and makes them better subjects when you're photographing them. Besides, they might take photos of things that you don't even notice.

8. Don't throw away the bad photos. Collect them in a box, suggests Marcus, for future generations to have a giggle over.

9. Don't be afraid to try new things says Mary. Try taking pictures in early morning or late afternoon when light conditions are ideal: a picture of a child in an early morning fog can be beautiful. Use a staircase to stand the kids on different levels, or get above or below them. Have them wave out of an upstairs hotel window or pose them against a towering rock formation on Flowerpot Island to show the scale of the place. Use the self-timer to take a family picnic. Have fun with the camera.

10. Buy lots of 400 ASA speed film, O.K. for outdoors if it's not too bright and fast enough for indoors. And don't worry about the flash creating red eye. Camera stores now sell pens so that you can fix those little devil eyes in a jiffy.





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