Family Get Together Photo Tips

Q: “With the holiday season coming up, what are some tips to take better indoor photos of my family and friends?”


A: Although you may be tempted to try to fit every last family member in one elaborate photo, you’ll end up with better images, if you simply take several close-ups of individual friends and smaller groupings of family members instead. Here are some of my top tips for capturing these kinds of photos:

  • First, when you think you’re close, get closer! A good rule to follow is to fill the frame with the top one-third of your family member’s body.
  • If you’re shooting in the daytime, position yourself with your back to a large, open window, and place the subjects you’re photographing, so that they are facing the window. The window should afford great natural light to help showcase your subjects’ faces.
  • Don’t forget to take close-ups of holiday décor, place settings, or other details to help provide context and set the scene.
  • If you have an iPhone (or other types of phone with a similar feature), use the “panorama” mode to take a photo of the dinner table. Have one person take the start of the panoramic scene from one direction and have another person finish taking the photo from the other direction. (Did you know you can take a panoramic image in both horizontal and vertical directions? You can!)
  • Finally, have fun and take some “selfies” with your loved ones, too. These are great “up-close” moments you’ll all cherish.

Here are a few examples of fun close-ups of holiday celebrations

Q: Do you have any special tricks for photographing flowers and gardens? My garden is starting to wind down, but I still want to get some close-up shots of my squash blossoms, interesting butterfly visitors, and that sort of thing.

 Above-Left: This water lily image is a great depth-of-field-example. Above-right: Floral close-ups are best shot out of direct sunlight. Below: Referencing the color wheel can help you choose what to include and exclude when framing your garden photo











For best results, you should also compose your shots with certain color combinations in mind. Take a look at the color wheel included in this section to see how different colors work together. Compositions with either analogous or complementary color tend to look best. Some analogous colors found in the garden, for example, would be various shades of green fading into the yellow portion of the color wheel. Complimentary colors, on the other hand, are those found opposite one another on the color wheel. While blue is a primary color, orange, found directly across from blue, is its complimentary color.  You can get some gorgeous shots with minimal equipment, but timing is everything! Get up first thing in the morning for the most “magical” shots. The soft, bright morning light, coupled with dew on leaves and petals, work especially well together. The evening is another good time to shoot. Just avoid harsh, direct sunlight, and opt for soft, indirect light or shade instead.

And, once you have the colors in your shot figured out, don’t be afraid to get really close. As you look for that perfect bud or unfurled blossom, look for bees or butterflies to capture as well! If you have one, use a macro lens on your either your DSLR/Mirrorless or Smartphone. A fellow photographer and “Shot on iPhone Campaign Alum”, Jill Lian, uses Olloclip and Ztylus lenses for all of the macro shots she takes with her iPhone 7 Plus. (Check out her very inspiring macro garden iPhone photography here.)

If you aren’t equipped to get really close, you can still create interesting compositions that tell a story by leading the viewer’s eye through the image. By using wide-open apertures, you can play with depth of field in ways that highlight certain aspects of an image over others. (For wider apertures, use the smaller “ƒ stop” numbers.) With a wide aperture, one flower may be in sharp focus while the rest of the scene will be slightly out of focus.

You can also pick a bouquet of your favorite flowers, arrange them in a vase, and photograph your garden bounty this way. And, later, why not allow your flowers to dry and try photographing them in this state, too?

Finally, don’t forget to print your best photos, and place them in a photo album to keep a record of all of your hard work during this garden season!

I’d love to see your garden pics! Tag me on FacebookTwitter or Instagram!

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Orange Beach Glow

Carlsbad Sunset Almost Missed

For every gorgeous sunset, I have been lucky enough to capture on film there are scores of others that get away from me. Sometimes I’m a few minutes too late. Sometimes too many clouds muscle in, obscuring my view. And, sometimes, admittedly, a particular sunset just doesn’t look as spectacular when photographed.

But waiting and watching to see what Mother Nature decides to display is one of my favorite parts of sunset

Orange Carlsbad Glow
A “missed” sunset on the beach in Carlsbad, California.

photography. I snapped this image of a beach drenched in deep orangey-reds during a family visit to Carlsbad, California. My sister, her family, and I had just finished dinner when I looked at the clouds, decided to grab my gear and go hunt the sunset.

We briskly headed to the beach and ran into some friends along the way. Insisting we’d already missed the sunset, our friends walked away from the beach, but we pressed on. The sun itself may have disappeared, but in its place, these fiery, orange clouds materialized. I may not always be able to shoot a perfect sunset, but I think watching what’s left of the sun as it colors the surrounding clouds is certainly beautiful in its own way.

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Why You Should Make Prints of your Photos and How

Q: I take a lot of digital photos, but I think I’d like to convert some of them into physical prints. What are some good options for printing my photos?


A: With a smartphone in nearly every pocket, it seems as if we are all taking more photos than ever before. Even so, many people don’t take the extra step to have prints made of some of their favorite photos—but they really should!

I recall when my son was almost two years old, we went to Disney World, where I snapped a particular image of him. I could see the photo in my mind’s eye: he was wearing jean shorts and orange Crocs, and he was standing in front of the big silver ball at Epcot Center. But, for some reason, when I tried to locate the digital version of the memory I thought I had preserved, I simply couldn’t find it! Sadly, I looked through gigabytes of data on my carefully backed-up hard drives with no luck.

Then, just last week, my wife was browsing through a photo album. She started laughing, brought the album to show me, and opened it to reveal the very photo I had been trying so hard to find. And there stood my son, frozen in time at age two, in his orange crocs at Epcot Center. Turns out I had already had the presence of mind to print it! I have included a photo of that print in this post! As I further explored the photo album that day, I was reminded of just how much fun it can be to turn the pages with my hands and browse through all of the prints that we decided deserve a place of honor in the physical world. Such physical manifestations of captured images are a great way to help you treasure special memories.

That’s why it’s so important to take time out to have physical prints made. But why stop there? Make a photo album, if you don’t already have one. You might even want to send family members actual photos on real photo paper!

I often have prints made at Costco Photo Center ( If you’d like to reproduce a prized photo as a large wall hanging, Costco will even print on canvas (

I also can make my own 4” x 6” prints using a Canon printer which connects wirelessly to my iPhone. There are scores of photo printers(×6+photo+printer+wireless&rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3A4x6+photo+printer+wireless) from which to choose, ranging in price from about $90 to $200. Just be sure to weigh the additional cost of ink and photo paper and read through plenty of customer reviews when choosing your own photo printer.

I have also had photo books made via online services such as Shutterfly (, Groovebook (, and Blurb (

Have your own photography-related question for Doug? Contact him at douglas “@” and your question might be featured in an upcoming issue.

Sandstone X Marking the Spot!

X Does Mark the Spot

Try as I might, I couldn’t capture the grandeur of White Pocket right away. I would have to head back to this special spot again and again at various times to watch the textures and colors that made up this sedimentary “X” shift in the light.


White Pocket is nestled deep within Arizona’s Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. Just how deep? This trip took two days’ worth of off-road, wilderness driving and two nights of camping—with little sleep since the night skies there are fascinating to photograph, too!

Eventually, I was able to shoot these clouds, along with a hint of morning alpenglow, highlighting the rock formation’s rich creams, reds, and chocolaty browns. Making multiple trips and rising early enough to watch the day begin was definitely worth the effort.

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Spring Clouds Over Red Rock

Spring Clouds Art Prints Available

A friend of mine was visiting from out of town recently, so we hatched a plan to catch a desert sunrise. I was a little hesitant to go, as I was all set to fly out for a family trip later that afternoon, but I figured I could squeeze in a few hours for some pre-flight photography.

Besides, two people in our little group had never been to Red Rock Canyon Conservation area, and it is beautiful—especially at sunrise. True, they were a little concerned about coming across a snake or coyote, but I have never seen either of those in this spot. (I have seen the occasional—and much less threatening!—burro and rabbit, however.)

Spring Clouds

Click Image for Art Print Options

The Spring Mountains border Red Rock Canyon, and I love capturing this area when a springtime storm is rolling in. It’s not uncommon to see clouds over the mountains, even when the skies over the city directly behind me are crystal clear.

I named the image I took that day “Spring Clouds Over Red Rock,” but it just as easily could be called “Prickly Path.” As I shot it, I worked at finding new and different foreground elements. In particular, I liked how the path on the right leads the eye through the prominently featured cactus and then, more deeply, into the desert beyond.

My ultimate takeaway? No matter how stormy or prickly one’s circumstances seem to be, there is always, always a path.☺



Best Camera for A Family Vacation?

Q: What’s the Best Camera to Take on Our Family Vacation?

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A: This may seem counterintuitive, but you don’t need to haul a lot of fancy photography equipment with you, in order to take beautiful pictures on your next vacation. Instead, the answer today is almost universally a smartphone. I prefer my iPhone, but that doesn’t mean that other types of available smartphones wouldn’t work as well.

Apple made a billboard using one of the images I shot while exploring the ice caves in Iceland. It was shown all over the world! (And, yes, I took this photo with my iPhone!)


Today’s smartphones are relatively compact, so you can keep them in your pocket, small bag, or purse. (What’s more, you pretty much always have your phone with you anyway!) Most models are equipped with cameras that can capture amazingly high quality, high-resolution images suitable for printing. Incidentally, some of my favorite online printing services include Shutterfly and the Costco Photo Center. And check out services like Groovebook ( or Blurb (www.blurb.comto have your own photo books made.

Of course, most smartphones also double as video cameras, so you can now shoot video with the push of a button. Best of all, you can share your photos and videos with friends and family in a matter of seconds—without the hassle of juggling those tiny, expensive memory cards. Simply make it a point to use the hotel’s wifi connection to back up each day’s photos and videos into the cloud if you are able. I like Apple’s iCloud(, Google’s Photos( and Dropbox(!

In short, you take the best pictures with the camera you have with you! So, leave the big, bulky camera bodies for the crazy photographers who actually enjoy lugging all that expensive gear through airports and onto airplanes. Many of them are professional photographers being paid to tote all that stuff. Ask them what they use to shoot their own vacation photos, and most of them will tell you they carry a smartphone along for their vacation pics, too!

Here are a few vacation pics I’ve also taken with my iPhone:

Flowers in Epcot
iPhone 6S Plus

Cinderella’s Castle
iPhone 6S Plus

Badwater Basin Death Valley
iPhone 6S Plus

Mesa Arch
iPhone 6s Plus Panoramic

Have your own photography-related question for Doug? Contact him at and your question might be featured in an upcoming issue.

Gargoyles in the Desert

Fun exploring the Gargoyles made of Sandstone


Little Finland is a unique spot on the Gold Butte of Southern Nevada. It’s a bit of a dusty ride through the desert in a high clearance 4WD vehicle. There are many unique compositions to consider, here’s a gallery of various images from the area.

I like this image as it’s a bit different from many of the others I’ve seen from this location. It reminds me of old city architecture with the Gargoyles on the top of the ridge!