For how many Christmases now have you owned a camera? Can you honestly say that, for each of those years, you have a good assortment of Christmas photos?
If you're like most amateur photographers, the answer is no. And that's a shame, because, with just a minimum of effort and plenty of desire, you could be taking once-in-a-lifetime shots that will rekindle fond memories for as long as you -- and your loved ones -- live.
At least that's what pro photographer Jack LaDuke believes. LaDuke was the chief photographer and director of audio-visual services for the 1980 Olympic Games at Lake Placid. What advice does he have for you this Christmas season?
"For openers, use a camera you're comfortable with, preferably, something simple, automatic. In that way you minimize from the start the number of things that can go wrong."
LaDuke, it's safe to assume, does not shoot a 110 cartridge camera on assignment. But in his role as spokesman for Eastman Kodak, he's been taking "a lot of shots" with Kodak's 110 cartridge camera, the Tele-Extralite 600, and getting excellent results.
Sure, you say. It's easy for a pro to shoot an amateur camera and come out looking like a rose. But how about you?
"Well, the point is this. The Tele-Extralite -- and any camera that's as simple to use -- relieves you of the technical chores of making a picture, of fouling up. It frees you to take your pictures while thinking about composition, background and all the things that go into making a good shot.
"Along with a simple camera, choose the right film. I've been using Kodacolor II film. It's a medium-speed, all-purpose negative film that delivers prints you can put in an album, in a photo cube or whatever. It's a wide-latitude film, very forgiving. You can get away with exposure errors that might well ruin other types of film."
Of course, camera and film aren't all that's necessary to take top-quality Christmas photographs. Here, too, LaDuke has some good advice.
"For openers, don't try to overextend the range of your flash indoors. Find out what the maximum subject-to-flash distance is and don't exceed it. Anything beyond that distance, and the light just comes out of the unit and dies.
"Then, too, pay attention to your subject. Group people in close and move in for a good 'expression' shot. And try to shoot them against a clean background. Look around for a white or tan wall, for example. The fewer the distractions in the background, the better the shot is likely to be.
"Once you've got your subject where you want it, move around slightly so that you're shooting from an angle. In that way, the light will look better, and you won't be bothered by possible background reflections from windows or mirrors."
Since we're talking about taking better Christmas shots, be sure your photos have an appropriately Christmasy feeling to them. How?
"Start shooting early," says LaDuke. "Have the camera loaded with film and easily accessible. Then shoot those pre-Christmas preparations. Capture Mom baking Christmas cookies, decorating the house, cutting down or at least bringing home the tree, things like that. In that way you'll have a complete Christmas story, which is what people find endearing years after the shots were taken.
"And, for heaven's sake, don't forget Christmas morning. Get a shot of the kids waking up, opening up the presents and so forth.
"In order not to forget anything, sit down in advance and write up a list of the shots you hope to get. In that way, you'll be more likely to remember to take them during the excitement of the moment."