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Capture a professional-quality Christmas family portrait at home with a few simple tools and tricks — here’s how

Table of Contents: Masthead StickySummary List Placement If you can’t get to a professional studio for your holiday portrait this year, all you need is a camera — even a smartphone — to do it yourself. Turn those Christmas lights into a blurry light effect known as bokeh simply by manipulating the camera settings and…

Table of Contents: Masthead StickySummary List Placement
If you can’t get to a professional studio for your holiday portrait this year, all you need is a camera — even a smartphone — to do it yourself.
Turn those Christmas lights into a blurry light effect known as bokeh simply by manipulating the camera settings and positioning your subjects.
You can turn your photos into a digital greeting card or print them for remembrance.

Having portraits taken is a popular holiday activity for many families. But as people are limiting their travel outdoors and interactions with others, hiring a professional photographer or heading to the shopping mall may not be in the cards this year. If that’s your situation, you can take your own family portraits at home with quality results, as long as you own a camera.
With today’s cameras — whether it be a DSLR or smartphone — snapping a great photo is as simple as pushing a button. To take that photo further and make it festive, you just need to learn how to set up the scene; we’ll show you how to adjust a camera’s setting, set up your subjects, and use Christmas lights for a fun background effect. From there, you can change things up and make the photo your own. Once you’ve captured the shot, you can use it to create digital greeting cards, social posts, frameable prints, and more.
So before you take down the Christmas decor, gather up the family and take a professional-looking photo to remember.
Here’s the equipment you’ll need to shoot holiday portraits at home
A camera
When it comes to taking a good photo, you want a camera that can capture sharp subjects but with a nice, softly blurred background, known as depth of field. It’s easy to achieve with an interchangeable lens camera — DSLR or mirrorless. You don’t need a professional-level model either; so-called budget cameras like the Nikon D3500 or Fujifilm X-T30 will offer excellent quality, especially if your end goal is to post online, email to friends and family, or make small prints.
Depth of field is harder to capture with a smartphone, but it isn’t possible. As long as you put some distance between your subject in the foreground and the background and then tap to focus on the subject, the camera should blur the background a bit. Newer phones offer “portrait” modes that produce a similar effect, whether it’s through a dual-lens camera system or software. There are also apps that help you achieve this look in post-editing, such as Snapseed (iOS/Android) and Adobe Photoshop Fix (iOS/Android), but these are more of a cheat and won’t look as natural. And, you won’t get the same bokeh effect as you would with a dedicated camera and a good lens.

A bright lens
If you are working with an interchangeable lens camera, you’ll want to pair that body with a bright lens, such as an f/2.8 or f/1.8 aperture to help create that background blur. A “nifty-fifty” 50mm f/1.8 lens works great here, but you can use another focal length (designated in millimeters) if you’ve already got a bright lens in your camera bag — for example, a 22mm f/2.
A memory card
You can’t take a photo without one of these in a camera — not an issue for smartphones. If you want to get the most speed out of your camera, pick up one of the best memory cards available, though speed isn’t exactly a must when taking a family portrait unless you are shooting lots of action shots.
A computer
You’ll need to edit your photo  — it’s easiest to do with a big screen. But you can transfer photos to a smartphone or tablet if that’s all you’ve got.
How to take a Christmas portrait

This tutorial walks you through how to take a family Christmas photo using an interchangeable lens camera and Christmas lights in the background for a blurry light effect, which is known as bokeh — note the rounded balls in the background in the photo above, created by the lights. You can use your Christmas tree already decorated with lights, but if you want to photograph a big family, you may want to string several strands over a large wall instead.
These same tips, however, create great photos even without the Christmas lights, so feel free to get creative with the background, or try taking the photo outdoors at a Christmas tree farm.
Set up in front of the Christmas tree, lights, or another background
To get that blurry Christmas light effect, you’ll need to create depth of field. Instead of placing your subjects directly in front of a lit tree or whatever background you want to blur, leave a few feet between the foreground (subjects) and the background. 
Next, you’ll need to get light onto your subjects. Ideally, it should be natural light from a window behind the camera, with the camera stationed between your subjects and the window. That way, you don’t need to use a flash, which will be too harsh and throw off the effect. Of course, it’s more effective to take the photos during the day when there’s ample light streaming in, and you should avoid a dark room or using harsh lighting.
The largest part of the Christmas tree is at the bottom, excluding the gap you left to fill in presents for. To help fill the background with those lights, have the subject sit or kneel in front of the tree. For young kids, have them sit on a bench or ottoman so you have the most lights in the background, not the gap at the bottom.
Every year, the setup for my own family Christmas photo looks similar. The kids are seated on an ottoman about 3 or 4 feet in front of the Christmas tree, with a set of French doors as the light source just behind me and the camera. Where you position the camera will depend on the focal length of your lens. Avoid using the zoom function if your lens has it, as the aperture becomes smaller toward the longer end of the zoom. And, use a tripod to keep things steady, which helps the camera take in more light without adding any unwanted blurring due to camera shake.
Adjust your camera settings
To get that background blur, you need to make the opening in the camera lens (the aperture) wide. That’s accomplished through shooting with aperture priority mode (or manual mode, if you’re camera savvy). If you opted to use a smartphone, most won’t allow you to adjust the aperture, but be sure to use portrait mode if your device has one.
Turn your camera’s mode dial to the A or Av. Use the camera’s control dial to turn the aperture down to the lowest number that your lens offers, ideally, between f/1.8 and f/2.8. It may be higher if you are shooting with a kit lens, and that’s okay.

If you are photographing more than one person, however, a wide aperture may blur the lights and some of the group. Try to pose everyone so that they are an equal distance from the camera, then use a slightly narrower aperture to ensure sharp faces, such as f/4.
In aperture priority mode, the camera will choose the shutter speed that balances out the exposure and the ISO, if auto ISO is selected.
Occasionally, however, the camera may capture a flicker in the Christmas lights that’s invisible to the naked eye. If you look at your photos and it looks like someone turned the Christmas lights off, that’s exactly what happened. The solution is to use a slower shutter speed, so the camera doesn’t capture that flicker. To do that, turn the camera to Manual mode (the M on the dial) and set the shutter speed too. A 1/60 usually is slow enough to eliminate that flicker. If you are photographing kids who have a hard time sitting still, however, bump that up to 1/80 or 1/100. If you turn the ISO setting to auto while in manual mode, the camera will still balance out the exposure for you.
Set the focus mode to single point autofocus and move the point over the subject’s eye. Or you can also use eye detection AF, if your camera has that option; with this function, the camera detects and keeps focus on subjects’ faces..
Another helpful camera setting for Christmas photos is burst mode, where the camera takes several shots at once. This is useful if you have subjects that can’t stay still, say toddlers and pets. Shooting in the RAW file format instead of JPEG is also a good idea if you plan to edit the photos afterward.
Shoot, then troubleshoot
With the settings adjusted, you are ready to take the shot. Thanks to digital, once you snap a photo, you can check and see what you’ve got. Don’t do this with every single shot or you may miss a good smile, but it’s a good idea to take a quick test shot and see if the settings need to be adjusted.
If the image is too dark or too light, use exposure compensation to adjust: (+) to make the photo brighter, (-) to make the photo darker. If the Christmas lights in the background aren’t blurry enough, use a wider aperture or move the subject farther from the Christmas tree. If those Christmas lights appear to be off, try manual mode with a slower shutter speed.
For smartphone users who are using portrait mode, it’s important to stop and check the shots. Because it relies on software, it’s not 100% perfect. You may find that a part of a subject is blurred because the software detected the wrong focus area or part of the background isn’t blurry enough. 
Edit
Most photos could benefit from a bit of tweaking after the shot. Software like Alien Skin Exposure, Photoshop Express, and Adobe Lightroom, or free online photo editors like Pixlr or Fotor can help make your photo pop even more.
Filters and presets can help jumpstart the editing process, then adjust the brightness and color as needed. If the photo looks too blue, too orange or too green, adjust the white balance.
Depending on your comfort level with photo editing, you can either make small corrections or go wild, especially if you’ve shot in RAW, which gives you greater flexibility in what you can edit. However, you shouldn’t need to make big edits if you were able to capture the shot correctly.
What to do with the photo afterward

Once you have a good photo, there are fun things you can do with it. You can turn that image into a last-minute digital Christmas card and fire it off to friends and family via email or text. You can also design physical greeting cards for use next year. Most online photo printers have tools to make the design part simple, but you can also use an online program to design a card that you want to print at home or simply send virtually via email or social media.
No matter what program you use, keep a few design basics in mind. Make sure the card is easy to read. Text should have lots of contrast. For example, avoid red text on a maroon background. Keep the text big enough to read, and even larger if you use a swirly font. And with any design, simplicity is often better than going over the top — a bit of blank space is good and keeps the card from looking too crowded.
Design and print your cards using an online printing service
With many online photo printing services, making a greeting card with your own photo is simple and straightforward: You upload your own photo and customize the text, then just add the card to your cart. There are several different great platforms for both printing and designing your own card.
Here are a few of our favorite holiday photo card printers:
Shutterfly: This popular photo printing company offers a mix of affordable basic cards and premium cards with things like foil and glitter. Besides creating a photo card, you can also get custom envelopes to match.
Nations Photo Lab: Nations is a photo printing company used by many pros, but with reasonable prices. Offering a wide selection of designs, Nations also has a design your own card option.
Minted: Minted is a high-end option, but the company offers excellent design, high quality, and will even address the cards for you. Each Minted design is created by an independent artist.
Design and print your cards at home
If you want to use your own printer or would simply rather design a card to blast our to your social media followers, you’ll need a design program. Here are a few of our favorite online design tools for Christmas cards:
Adobe Spark
From the same company behind Photoshop, Spark offers a slew of user-friendly design tools. With Christmas cards, you can start with a template, then easily customize it. The app is free to use online, but your final project will have some Spark branding on it if you don’t buy the program or aren’t already using a Creative Cloud product.
Canva
Canva is an online design program that allows the artistically challenged to create a Christmas card. Because the app is online, there’s no download necessary to start using it. Canva is also free, with a Pro version that offers more advanced features and tools.
Fotor
Better known for its online photo editing tools, Fotor also offers a few easy-to-use design tools for Christmas cards, you can start with a template, then easily customize, or design your own from scratch.Join the conversation about this story »
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Tesla’s Bitcoin Buy Is a Reckless, Destructive Troll

For the Bitcoin faithful, February 8 may be remembered as a holy day—and for the Securities and Exchange Commission, it may be another reason to investigate the professional troll and Tesla CEO Elon Musk. In a Monday morning SEC filing, Tesla revealed that it had purchased $1.5 billion worth of Bitcoin, adding itself to a…

For the Bitcoin faithful, February 8 may be remembered as a holy day—and for the Securities and Exchange Commission, it may be another reason to investigate the professional troll and Tesla CEO Elon Musk. In a Monday morning SEC filing, Tesla revealed that it had purchased $1.5 billion worth of Bitcoin, adding itself to a roster of companies and investment funds that have poured billions into the preeminent cryptocurrency in the last year. Tesla said it would also start accepting Bitcoin as payment for its cars.The news caused Bitcoin’s price to shoot up about 13 percent in early trading, but more than any short-term profits, it represents the culmination of a months-long campaign by Bitcoiners to get Musk to embrace Bitcoin and its attendant worldview, a messianic vision of a decentralized currency network leading to economic emancipation, with consumers free of the shackles of politics and central banks. Whether Musk actually believes Bitcoiner rhetoric—or, like any troll, is merely doing it for the lulz—is less important than what it represents: one of tech’s most celebrated companies making a huge commitment to its most controversial commodity.The Bitcoin buy is also a clear indictment of Tesla’s, and Musk’s, image as an environmentally conscious innovator. There are few speculative assets more harmful to the climate than Bitcoin, which consumes a colossal amount of electricity. In an added irony, the SEC filing showed that Tesla had continued its long-standing practice of selling carbon credits. In 2020, Tesla sold about $1.58 billion worth of these credits—almost exactly the value of the Bitcoin purchased. It appears that to bulk up its paltry balance sheet (Tesla is a perennial money-loser), the company sold environmental credits and then funneled the proceeds into the digital equivalent of burning coal.Tesla sold environmental credits and then funneled the proceeds into the digital equivalent of burning coal.Despite the proselytizing of its adherents, Bitcoin’s value is highly variable and dependent on public opinion. For months, a kind of informal influence campaign has been underway, in which prominent investors and tech executives have embraced Bitcoin—at times as a form of digital gold, in other cases as an alternative to the U.S. dollar. Led by Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter and Square, and Michael Saylor, the MicroStrategy CEO who recently led a conference for companies interested in buying large tranches of Bitcoin—and boosted by lesser-known personalities like the Winklevoss twins—investors have been talking up Bitcoin with an enthusiasm to match its rising cost. In late January, when Musk added #bitcoin to his Twitter bio and then tweeted, “In retrospect, it was inevitable,” the price of Bitcoin increased by 17 percent. (Musk has joked that he wouldn’t mind being paid in Bitcoin. He has also in recent weeks tweeted exuberantly in favor of Dogecoin, a jokey digital currency whose rock-bottom value and trading volume have skyrocketed in response to his remarks.)Beyond all of the posturing of a bunch of wealthy geeks embracing the supposed currency of the future, these antics have a real effect on the value of Bitcoin and the companies now investing in it. With Bitcoin becoming part of companies’ treasury holdings—to the point where, in the case of MicroStrategy, the price of Bitcoin is potentially a proxy for the value of the company itself—how do we gauge a company’s worth? And how do we judge Musk’s public comments over the last few months, knowing that at some point in Q4 2020, Tesla bought $1.5 billion worth of the very currency he was teasing fans about on Twitter? The SEC has previously charged Musk with fraud for misleading tweets about Tesla’s value. Tweeting about an asset—thus affecting its price—as his company buys up a huge amount of it might also fall under agreements that Musk reached with the SEC in 2018 and 2019.*In many ways, the world’s most valuable cryptocurrency and the most valuable automaker deserve each other. Both punch far above their weight—indeed, if you listen to their critics, both are fueling enormous bubbles that conceal more systemic risks to the environment and investors alike. Both depend on a kind of faith—that Bitcoin will keep increasing in value and importance and that Musk, who has built his empire on government subsidies and balance-sheet trickery, can keep up the high-wire act long enough for Tesla to sell enough cars to justify its enormous valuation.For Tesla partisans, this should be a redemptive moment, allowing them to merge their utopian beliefs in Musk and Bitcoin. Their fantasy stands in harsh contrast to reality. Musk long ago revealed himself as a purveyor of impossible infrastructure projects and exploiter of labor willing to gamble with the fortunes of his fans, who hang on his every tweet. But Musk’s fans don’t care about the fundamentals of his business or how he treats his employees. To that end, his trollishness and that of Bitcoiners—whose favorite meme is to tell so-called no-coiners to “have fun staying poor”—align perfectly. Insulated from the consequences of his actions, Musk is free to use valuable environmental credits to play the Bitcoin savior. And should it all go bust, well, there’s always Dogecoin.* This article has been updated for clarity.
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Accountability Is the Cure for an Ailing Democracy

In the early 2000s, Peruvians faced a difficult choice. Their outgoing president, Alberto Fujimori, had been democratically elected as a populist only to preside over a regime of corruption, repression, and personal megalomania. Early in his first term, he orchestrated an autogolpe, or self-coup, in which he shut down congress and took over the judiciary…

In the early 2000s, Peruvians faced a difficult choice.
Their outgoing president, Alberto Fujimori, had been democratically elected as a
populist only to preside over a regime of corruption, repression, and personal
megalomania. Early in his first term, he orchestrated an autogolpe, or
self-coup, in which he shut down congress and took over the judiciary with the
assistance of the military and Peruvian elites.Though Fujimori nominally restored democratic institutions
soon afterward, he used surveillance, intimidation, and dominance over the media to
neutralize his opposition. It was only after videos surfaced of a Fujimori ally
bribing another official—en route to Fujimori’s victory to an unconstitutional
third term—that protests finally forced the president to call for a new
election and leave office.And so Peruvians had to decide: Would they hold their wannabe-autocratic
former president accountable for his crimes in office—at the risk of angering
his supporters and possibly not securing a conviction? Or would it be best if everyone
just moved on, eyes on the future, not looking backward?They decided to hold him accountable. Fujimori was tried,
convicted of human rights abuses (and later corruption) and sentenced to the
maximum of 25 years in prison. “By prosecuting a former head of state,” the
political scientist Jo-Marie Burt has
written, Peru showed “its citizens that its system of justice is capable of
prosecuting even the most powerful—affirming that most fundamental of
democratic principles, equality before the law.”It shouldn’t be hard to guess why I’m telling this story. At
noon Wednesday, Donald Trump will be finally, ceremoniously ushered out of
office. It will take years to tally his destruction in full: 400,000 dead and
counting from the coronavirus; millions out of work; immigrant families
separated; untold sums of public money diverted to allies and friends; thousands
of civilians droned,
bombed,
or starved
to death overseas. He leaves America’s democratic institutions severely damaged—in
the case of the Capitol, literally.As his term ends, so does the constitutional immunity that
kept Robert Mueller and other prosecutors from seeking indictments against him
for four years. Yet, just as the opportunity arrives to pursue some measure of
justice, the airwaves are filling with pleas to move on. Erstwhile Trump allies
like Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio are making sanctimonious appeals for
“healing.” James Comey—a man who has said and done quite enough at this point,
thank you!—is arguing that though Trump was “the dictionary definition of a
demagogue,” putting him on trial would only benefit the soon-to-be ex-president.“The country would be better off if we did not give him
the platform that a prosecution would for the next three years,” Comey
told British broadcaster Sky News. “The country needs to find a way to heal
itself, and the new president needs the opportunity to lead and heal us, both
literally and spiritually.”But there can be no healing without responsibility. Just
look at U.S. history. The abandoned attempts to hold Confederates accountable
for the Civil War gave way to the “Lost Cause” myth and a century of Jim Crow. (You
can draw a straight line from that to the appearance of the Confederate flag in
the Capitol on January 6.) Richard Nixon’s escape from justice—by resigning and
securing a pardon from his chosen successor, Gerald Ford—led to Ronald Reagan.
Reagan was never held to account for his role in the Iran-Contra affair. His
top lieutenants were pardoned by his former Vice President George H.W.
Bush, with the help of Bush’s attorney general: Bill Barr.We might have avoided the current crisis if we hadn’t missed a
key opportunity for accountability a decade ago. During the transition from George
W. Bush to the Obama administration, many Americans hoped senior officials
would be held responsible for the lies that got us into the second Iraq War or
the torture and extrajudicial detention at sites like Guantánamo Bay that accompanied
it. Obama refused at the time, saying, “We need to look forward as opposed to
looking backwards.”Because Obama didn’t do so, the cadre of Bush officials who
should have been held to account—including ex-Trump adviser John Bolton and now–Supreme
Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh—were allowed to continue their untrammeled
ascent. Fox News was able to seamlessly offload responsibility for the wars it
had once boosted to Democrats, including Hillary Clinton. Instead of being
praised for his evenhanded bipartisanship in allowing war criminals to go free,
Obama ended up castigated by both the left and the right, setting the stage for
a 2016 election in which Trump could plausibly run as an “insurgent” against
the “Bush-Obama” legacy.The Fujimori case in Peru is an example of what legal
experts call “transitional justice”—a society-wide effort to actively move from
a period of crisis to one of fairness and reconciliation through judicial and
other means. It included the formation of a truth commission
to investigate past crimes—especially those done in the name of a repressive
war on terror against a violent Maoist insurgency known as the Shining Path—and
make recommendations of both criminal cases and structural changes needed to
safeguard Peru’s democracy in the future.Unfortunately, even Peru did not go far enough. As Gisselle
Vila Benites, a researcher at Peru’s Universidad del Pacífico, and Clark
University professor Anthony Bebbington recently argued, the failure to
prosecute secondary officials and security forces who were instrumental in
Fujimori’s criminal activity and to provide redress for the regime’s poor,
rural, and Indigenous victims, have led to recent government tumult in Lima and
put Peruvian democracy in peril once again.The United States, despite our overconfidence in the
inherent strength of our democracy, faces such a crisis now. “I hope people
recognize the absolutely critical moment in which we find ourselves,” Tricia
Olsen, an associate professor in the department of business ethics and legal
studies at the University of Denver who studies transitional justice told The
New Republic. “Democratic institutions work because the rule of law is
applied equally and to everyone.… When wrongdoing occurs, and in particular
wrongdoing that threatens the very institutions on which we rely, there needs
to be accountability.”Transitional justice experts emphasize the need for a
variety of responses to Trump and his enablers’ impunity and their failed attempts
at overthrowing the 2020 election and implementing autocratic rule. A series of
institutional reforms, from pro-democracy initiatives in government, such as
ending gerrymandering and restoring voting rights, to fully investigating
police abuses in the summer’s civil rights actions is necessary. Andrew Reiter,
an expert on transitional justice at Mount Holyoke College, told The New
Republic that both investigating and charging the individual
insurrectionists at the Capitol, and regulating the social media that
radicalized and organized them, will be key steps in mitigating the damage
done so far.While many of Trump’s crimes have been out in the open (we
hardly need a truth commission to read his archived tweets), others need to be
fully investigated. In Peru, the commission investigated not only the crimes
that had occurred under Fujimori’s administration but those of previous
presidents. Here, too, it could be necessary and effective to make
investigations into U.S. government abuses in our own war on terror and
anti-immigrant persecution a bipartisan affair, by opening the conversation up
to the crimes of the Bush and Obama administrations as well—holding even
President-elect Biden responsible for his past actions as vice president.Ultimately, that probably requires the courts. As Olsen and her colleagues’ research indicates, the act of bringing a powerful person to
trial—even if it does not result in a conviction—can have a deterrent effect on
future would-be abusers. Even some Trump-appointed judges have
surprised many with their independence during this election cycle: Giving the
judiciary a chance to safeguard democracy is better than assuming it has already
failed.  The alternative many seem to hope for—to do nothing and hope
that impunity will somehow cure impunity—is suicidal. It will set the stage for
the people who endangered our democracy to do it again, except next time with better
planning and more competent actors.Healing, reconciliation, and avoiding more violence are all
noble and necessary goals. But they can’t be achieved without holding the
guilty accountable. As the head of Peru’s truth commission said: “The necessary
condition for reconciliation is justice.”
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Capture a professional-quality Christmas family portrait at home with a few simple tools and tricks — here’s how

Table of Contents: Masthead StickySummary List Placement If you can’t get to a professional studio for your holiday portrait this year, all you need is a camera — even a smartphone — to do it yourself. Turn those Christmas lights into a blurry light effect known as bokeh simply by manipulating the camera settings and…

Table of Contents: Masthead StickySummary List Placement
If you can’t get to a professional studio for your holiday portrait this year, all you need is a camera — even a smartphone — to do it yourself.
Turn those Christmas lights into a blurry light effect known as bokeh simply by manipulating the camera settings and positioning your subjects.
You can turn your photos into a digital greeting card or print them for remembrance.

Having portraits taken is a popular holiday activity for many families. But as people are limiting their travel outdoors and interactions with others, hiring a professional photographer or heading to the shopping mall may not be in the cards this year. If that’s your situation, you can take your own family portraits at home with quality results, as long as you own a camera.
With today’s cameras — whether it be a DSLR or smartphone — snapping a great photo is as simple as pushing a button. To take that photo further and make it festive, you just need to learn how to set up the scene; we’ll show you how to adjust a camera’s setting, set up your subjects, and use Christmas lights for a fun background effect. From there, you can change things up and make the photo your own. Once you’ve captured the shot, you can use it to create digital greeting cards, social posts, frameable prints, and more.
So before you take down the Christmas decor, gather up the family and take a professional-looking photo to remember.
Here’s the equipment you’ll need to shoot holiday portraits at home
A camera
When it comes to taking a good photo, you want a camera that can capture sharp subjects but with a nice, softly blurred background, known as depth of field. It’s easy to achieve with an interchangeable lens camera — DSLR or mirrorless. You don’t need a professional-level model either; so-called budget cameras like the Nikon D3500 or Fujifilm X-T30 will offer excellent quality, especially if your end goal is to post online, email to friends and family, or make small prints.
Depth of field is harder to capture with a smartphone, but it isn’t possible. As long as you put some distance between your subject in the foreground and the background and then tap to focus on the subject, the camera should blur the background a bit. Newer phones offer “portrait” modes that produce a similar effect, whether it’s through a dual-lens camera system or software. There are also apps that help you achieve this look in post-editing, such as Snapseed (iOS/Android) and Adobe Photoshop Fix (iOS/Android), but these are more of a cheat and won’t look as natural. And, you won’t get the same bokeh effect as you would with a dedicated camera and a good lens.

A bright lens
If you are working with an interchangeable lens camera, you’ll want to pair that body with a bright lens, such as an f/2.8 or f/1.8 aperture to help create that background blur. A “nifty-fifty” 50mm f/1.8 lens works great here, but you can use another focal length (designated in millimeters) if you’ve already got a bright lens in your camera bag — for example, a 22mm f/2.
A memory card
You can’t take a photo without one of these in a camera — not an issue for smartphones. If you want to get the most speed out of your camera, pick up one of the best memory cards available, though speed isn’t exactly a must when taking a family portrait unless you are shooting lots of action shots.
A computer
You’ll need to edit your photo  — it’s easiest to do with a big screen. But you can transfer photos to a smartphone or tablet if that’s all you’ve got.
How to take a Christmas portrait

This tutorial walks you through how to take a family Christmas photo using an interchangeable lens camera and Christmas lights in the background for a blurry light effect, which is known as bokeh — note the rounded balls in the background in the photo above, created by the lights. You can use your Christmas tree already decorated with lights, but if you want to photograph a big family, you may want to string several strands over a large wall instead.
These same tips, however, create great photos even without the Christmas lights, so feel free to get creative with the background, or try taking the photo outdoors at a Christmas tree farm.
Set up in front of the Christmas tree, lights, or another background
To get that blurry Christmas light effect, you’ll need to create depth of field. Instead of placing your subjects directly in front of a lit tree or whatever background you want to blur, leave a few feet between the foreground (subjects) and the background. 
Next, you’ll need to get light onto your subjects. Ideally, it should be natural light from a window behind the camera, with the camera stationed between your subjects and the window. That way, you don’t need to use a flash, which will be too harsh and throw off the effect. Of course, it’s more effective to take the photos during the day when there’s ample light streaming in, and you should avoid a dark room or using harsh lighting.
The largest part of the Christmas tree is at the bottom, excluding the gap you left to fill in presents for. To help fill the background with those lights, have the subject sit or kneel in front of the tree. For young kids, have them sit on a bench or ottoman so you have the most lights in the background, not the gap at the bottom.
Every year, the setup for my own family Christmas photo looks similar. The kids are seated on an ottoman about 3 or 4 feet in front of the Christmas tree, with a set of French doors as the light source just behind me and the camera. Where you position the camera will depend on the focal length of your lens. Avoid using the zoom function if your lens has it, as the aperture becomes smaller toward the longer end of the zoom. And, use a tripod to keep things steady, which helps the camera take in more light without adding any unwanted blurring due to camera shake.
Adjust your camera settings
To get that background blur, you need to make the opening in the camera lens (the aperture) wide. That’s accomplished through shooting with aperture priority mode (or manual mode, if you’re camera savvy). If you opted to use a smartphone, most won’t allow you to adjust the aperture, but be sure to use portrait mode if your device has one.
Turn your camera’s mode dial to the A or Av. Use the camera’s control dial to turn the aperture down to the lowest number that your lens offers, ideally, between f/1.8 and f/2.8. It may be higher if you are shooting with a kit lens, and that’s okay.

If you are photographing more than one person, however, a wide aperture may blur the lights and some of the group. Try to pose everyone so that they are an equal distance from the camera, then use a slightly narrower aperture to ensure sharp faces, such as f/4.
In aperture priority mode, the camera will choose the shutter speed that balances out the exposure and the ISO, if auto ISO is selected.
Occasionally, however, the camera may capture a flicker in the Christmas lights that’s invisible to the naked eye. If you look at your photos and it looks like someone turned the Christmas lights off, that’s exactly what happened. The solution is to use a slower shutter speed, so the camera doesn’t capture that flicker. To do that, turn the camera to Manual mode (the M on the dial) and set the shutter speed too. A 1/60 usually is slow enough to eliminate that flicker. If you are photographing kids who have a hard time sitting still, however, bump that up to 1/80 or 1/100. If you turn the ISO setting to auto while in manual mode, the camera will still balance out the exposure for you.
Set the focus mode to single point autofocus and move the point over the subject’s eye. Or you can also use eye detection AF, if your camera has that option; with this function, the camera detects and keeps focus on subjects’ faces..
Another helpful camera setting for Christmas photos is burst mode, where the camera takes several shots at once. This is useful if you have subjects that can’t stay still, say toddlers and pets. Shooting in the RAW file format instead of JPEG is also a good idea if you plan to edit the photos afterward.
Shoot, then troubleshoot
With the settings adjusted, you are ready to take the shot. Thanks to digital, once you snap a photo, you can check and see what you’ve got. Don’t do this with every single shot or you may miss a good smile, but it’s a good idea to take a quick test shot and see if the settings need to be adjusted.
If the image is too dark or too light, use exposure compensation to adjust: (+) to make the photo brighter, (-) to make the photo darker. If the Christmas lights in the background aren’t blurry enough, use a wider aperture or move the subject farther from the Christmas tree. If those Christmas lights appear to be off, try manual mode with a slower shutter speed.
For smartphone users who are using portrait mode, it’s important to stop and check the shots. Because it relies on software, it’s not 100% perfect. You may find that a part of a subject is blurred because the software detected the wrong focus area or part of the background isn’t blurry enough. 
Edit
Most photos could benefit from a bit of tweaking after the shot. Software like Alien Skin Exposure, Photoshop Express, and Adobe Lightroom, or free online photo editors like Pixlr or Fotor can help make your photo pop even more.
Filters and presets can help jumpstart the editing process, then adjust the brightness and color as needed. If the photo looks too blue, too orange or too green, adjust the white balance.
Depending on your comfort level with photo editing, you can either make small corrections or go wild, especially if you’ve shot in RAW, which gives you greater flexibility in what you can edit. However, you shouldn’t need to make big edits if you were able to capture the shot correctly.
What to do with the photo afterward

Once you have a good photo, there are fun things you can do with it. You can turn that image into a last-minute digital Christmas card and fire it off to friends and family via email or text. You can also design physical greeting cards for use next year. Most online photo printers have tools to make the design part simple, but you can also use an online program to design a card that you want to print at home or simply send virtually via email or social media.
No matter what program you use, keep a few design basics in mind. Make sure the card is easy to read. Text should have lots of contrast. For example, avoid red text on a maroon background. Keep the text big enough to read, and even larger if you use a swirly font. And with any design, simplicity is often better than going over the top — a bit of blank space is good and keeps the card from looking too crowded.
Design and print your cards using an online printing service
With many online photo printing services, making a greeting card with your own photo is simple and straightforward: You upload your own photo and customize the text, then just add the card to your cart. There are several different great platforms for both printing and designing your own card.
Here are a few of our favorite holiday photo card printers:
Shutterfly: This popular photo printing company offers a mix of affordable basic cards and premium cards with things like foil and glitter. Besides creating a photo card, you can also get custom envelopes to match.
Nations Photo Lab: Nations is a photo printing company used by many pros, but with reasonable prices. Offering a wide selection of designs, Nations also has a design your own card option.
Minted: Minted is a high-end option, but the company offers excellent design, high quality, and will even address the cards for you. Each Minted design is created by an independent artist.
Design and print your cards at home
If you want to use your own printer or would simply rather design a card to blast our to your social media followers, you’ll need a design program. Here are a few of our favorite online design tools for Christmas cards:
Adobe Spark
From the same company behind Photoshop, Spark offers a slew of user-friendly design tools. With Christmas cards, you can start with a template, then easily customize it. The app is free to use online, but your final project will have some Spark branding on it if you don’t buy the program or aren’t already using a Creative Cloud product.
Canva
Canva is an online design program that allows the artistically challenged to create a Christmas card. Because the app is online, there’s no download necessary to start using it. Canva is also free, with a Pro version that offers more advanced features and tools.
Fotor
Better known for its online photo editing tools, Fotor also offers a few easy-to-use design tools for Christmas cards, you can start with a template, then easily customize, or design your own from scratch.Join the conversation about this story »
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What are the most outstanding uses of bitcoin?

Today’s world is all about modern technology, and digitalization and cryptocurrency is an integral part of it. When it comes…

Today’s world is all about modern technology, and digitalization and cryptocurrency is an integral part of it. When it comes to cryptocurrency, bitcoin tops the list as it is the kind of cryptocurrency world. Bitcoin holds a massive value in the market as it offers several outstanding features that make it a better option than fiat currencies. There are numerous fantastic uses of bitcoins, and some of them are as follows.

Quick and affordable transfers 

If we talk about the uses of bitcoin, one of the most prominent ones is low-cost money transfers. If you make a transaction with a bank, you need to pay a certain percentage of the transaction amount as a fee to the bank, and the bigger transaction you make, the higher fees you will have to pay. With trading, by this app the transaction charges are minimal, and it allows you to make fast-paced transactions with great convenience. You can send any amount from any part of the world without paying massive transaction charges.

Bitcoin is a decentralized currency, which means when you make a bitcoin transaction, there is no involvement of any bank or financial intermediary. It helps you save a lot of money as, without an intermediary, you need not pay any transaction charges to anyone. You can even make global transactions with bitcoin at a minimal cost.

Earn interest with bitcoins

Bitcoin is usually used for buying goods and services, but what if you can earn profits from bitcoins. Yes, it is possible with ‘Yield Farming.’ Bitcoin trading is the most popular way to make profits, but it requires a lot of experience, skills, and knowledge. So, if you want to avoid the risk, earning interest in bitcoins is a great option. There are several online platforms where you can deposit your bitcoins and earn interest on them. It is quite identical to making a fixed deposit in the bank.

You can lend your bitcoins to these platforms, and they will offer you interest in return. You must do proper research and choose the platform that offers you the maximum interest on the deposit. But you must keep in mind that such lending is full of risk, and you can lose your bitcoins anytime. So, you must take all the precautions and think twice before lending your bitcoins.

Online shopping

Shopping is an activity that is loved by almost everyone and if you have some bitcoins, using them for buying goods and services online is undoubtedly the best option. There are numerous online sellers who accept bitcoin payments and allows you to make quick purchases. The number of e-commerce websites accepting bitcoin payments is low, but it is increasing at a rapid pace, and it will surely grow in the future.

Using bitcoin for online shopping is highly advantageous as you need not wait for any approval from the bank to complete the transaction. The transactions are fast-paced, affordable, and can be made from any corner of the world. Bitcoin is accepted all over the world, which allows you to make instant international payments without paying any amount as transaction charges.

Purchase gift cards

Another great use of bitcoin is of buying a gift card. Gift cards are like vouchers that you can buy and redeem later to buy different goods and services. If you want to buy something online but you don’t have enough balance in your bank account, you can use bitcoins for buying gift cards. There are several services which you can use to convert your bitcoin into gift cards for different ecommerce websites. There are some websites where you can purchase gift cards for a wide range of websites using bitcoins.

 It is a great use of bitcoin and an outstanding way to purchase products online without using your debit or credit card. One of the best things about it is that if there is some balance left in your gift card, you can even get it converted back into bitcoins.

Gambling 

Online gambling is a popular sport, and its popularity has increased a lot since users have been allowed to use bitcoin in it. You can use bitcoins to place bets and earn a massive amount of profits with online gambling games.

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