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The holidays are around the corner, the living room is clean—well, a corner, anyway—and you’ve managed to assemble a clean, cute outfit for your cherub. Time to snap a holiday-card-worthy photo! Easier said than done. Babies are adorable photo subjects, but they’re also wiggly, impatient and unpredictable. Here’s how to capture your baby’s personality on camera, so you can share all the cute this holiday.

Dress down

Ditch the fussy formal duds for clothing and accessories that fit your baby’s personality. Bright pops of color, plaids, chunky knits, grey tones and vintage accessories—think lace and flowers for girls, bow ties and newsboy caps for boys—are trendy ways to keep your photo fresh without feeling stuffy.

Team up

When attempting a baby photo shoot, don’t go it alone. Enlist a pal or partner to help distract your wiggly subject with toys, a balloon or bubbles while you snap away. Another adult can also stand ready with snacks, water, a bottle or a comfort item like a special toy to help ward off tears, adjust a wayward sweater or headband, wipe drool and spit-up and generally keep the session sailing along.

Timing matters

Snapping pics at the right time can make the difference between a successful session and a scream-fest. For the tiniest of tots, aim for right after feeding, when baby is drowsy. You’ll get the coveted “sleeping newborn” shots, and maybe even a sleepy smile or two. For older babies, avoid shooting during nap times and the “witching hour” right before dinnertime; morning or midday shoots often yield the happiest shots. And be swift because you may only have a few moments to get your best shot. Babies' attention spans are notoriously brief, so plan to spend a few minutes setting up, and no more than 20 minutes taking pictures.

Aperture away

Chances are that you may not use most of the settings on your fancy camera. But it’s worth it to play with aperture, the setting that determines the camera’s range of focus. A lower aperture number puts the focus on the subjects and blurs the background, lending photos a polished, professional look. Aperture priority mode is found on some cameras; this mode lets you adjust only the aperture without fussing with the camera’s other settings.

Light right

You’ve gone to the trouble of bathing and dressing your baby for the photo, so don’t spoil it with sub-par lighting. If possible, shoot outdoors; you’ll avoid harsh, unnatural indoor lighting and flashbulbs that can mask your baby’s sweet rosy-cheeked glow and cast shadows under the eyes. Professional photographers recommend looking for “open shade,” that is, a patch of shade surrounded by light—often under a tree or another natural shady backdrop. If you must shoot indoors, aim for early or late in the day, when light will stream into windows at a flattering angle, making your angel look all the more angelic. Not that she needs any help.

Malia Jacobson is an award-winning health and parenting journalist and mom of three. Her latest book is "Sleep Tight, Every Night: Helping Toddlers and Preschoolers Sleep Well Without Tears, Tricks, or Tirades."

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