Tips for Taking Better Holiday Photographs

One of my favourite holiday activities is pulling out the camera and aggravating friends and family, while taking a lot of bad photographs. This is one season when I really appreciate digital cameras. I take hundreds of pictures and with any luck, a couple of them turn out okay. Unfortunately, the good ones are pictures of the dog’s rump.

With a little planning and thought, it is easy to improve the quality of holiday photographs. Here are a few tips that can help:

These tips are aimed at point-and-shoot, entry-level cameras, or even a smartphone. However, if you have a more advanced camera some of these tips can apply, as well.

Indoor Photos:

  • When shooting indoors, experiment with turning your camera’s flash on and off for different results.
  • When taking pictures around the tree, turn off your flash to capture the twinkling lights. Use a tripod or support and the camera’s timer, to compensate for a slower shutter speed.
  • Avoid placing your subjects directly in front of a window as it causes excessive back-lighting.

Outdoor Photos:

  • Take photos before noon and after 4pm when the sun is not at its strongest.
  • Use your in-camera flash in daylight to counteract harsh lighting.
  • You can avoid shadows under the eyes and nose by using your flash during strong sunlight, neutralizing the light and balancing the exposure.
  • Take advantage of your camera’s scene modes, especially if it offers a setting for Beach and/or Snow.


  • When taking portraits, get as close as you can, physically or with your camera’s optical zoom lens.
  • To avoid red-eye, have your subject look directly at the nearest light source right before they look at the camera.

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8 Tips for Keeping it Simple at Christmas

Every year, Friends got a lot of mileage out of holiday angst in their Thanksgiving episodes.

There’s an expectation that major holidays are a time to celebrate with family and friends. And that’s not a bad thing. However, bringing together a group of people with a range of ideas and expectations as to how the holiday should be celebrated can lead to stress, discontent, and a less-than-stellar time of celebration.

A little planning will go a long way to minimize the relationship friction which can occur.

Here are eight tips to help keep things simple at Christmas.

  1. Find out the expectations up front. When you start planning who is going to be visiting at Christmas, find out what their expectations are.
  2. Coordinate everyone’s expectations. Create a master list. Figure out which expectations are similar; which are different; which can be done individually; and which are group activities.
  3. Decide what you are going to do. Create a schedule. You’re not going to be able to meet every expectation of every person. There’s only so much time, so put the time to the best use.
  4. Simplify the plans. The less complex an activity is, the more likely it will be enjoyed by all.
  5. Decide who will help with each activity. Let the visitors know that their help is needed if expectations are to be met.
  6. Don’t do everything together. If half the group wants to go skating and the other half to a carol service, let them go. Don’t try and force everyone to share all the activities.
  7. Do less. Figure out which things are necessary to do, which would be nice to do, which can be put off for a few days. The vacuuming can wait a couple of days so the group can go skating on Boxing Day.
  8. Enjoy. The whole point of getting together during the holidays is to enjoy yourself and each other’s company. Don’t fill the schedule so full that there’s no time to visit. Don’t make activities so complex that you’re exhausted at the end of the day.

Celebrations don’t need to be high-stress times. Figure out what’s important, plan, and plan early. Then sit back and get the most enjoyment out of the holiday.

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How to Save Money on Christmas Spending

Work from a Budget

Make a list of everyone you plan to give holiday gifts to this year with an estimate of what you want to spend. Add a small buffer for unexpected gifts for people you forgot to include, or for people who unexpectedly gave you a gift and you feel you must reciprocate. A gift card or homemade Christmas baking works well for these situations.

Research Ahead of Time

Spend some time getting gift ideas for everyone on your list. Once you have an idea of what you’re going buy, comparison shop on-line.

Pay Cash

It’s easy to overspend when you’re charging purchases to your credit card. When the money is coming right out of your bank account, you’re more likely to spend less.

Organize Your Shopping Time

The easiest way to stick to your Christmas gift budget is to block out a couple of specific times to shop and complete it during those times. Browsing leads to overbuying. If you plan to shop online, make that one of your designated shopping sessions.

Don’t Get Sucked in by a Sale

That foot massager may be a great price, but does it fit your budget? Does anyone on your list want a foot massager? If not, leave the “bargain” behind.

Don’t Buy for Yourself

It’s easy to see things you would like, while you’re out buying gifts for others. Even if it’s something you need, ignore it. Your bank account will be in better shape if you don’t give in to temptation.

Track Your Spending

When you see the numbers adding up, you’re less likely to overspend. Your log can be compared to your budget to ensure that you’re sticking to your plan.

Shop All Year

Shopping under pressure leads to overspending. Keep your eyes open all year round for sale items that will work for your gift requirements. If you shop early, you’ll save money and feel less stressed as the holidays approach.

Use eBay and Craigslist

Often you can find brand-new merchandise at bargain prices.

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How to Organize Your Day

Do you ever rush out of the house in the morning, five minutes late, only to realize you left something important behind? Do you find yourself scrambling to complete an endless list of tasks at work before leaving the office for the day? You know these transitional times can be the most disorganized of the day. However, they don’t need to be. With a few simple routines, you can keep your mornings and evenings–not to mention the times between–more organized, less stressful, and more efficient.

Decide What Needs to be Done First

Take out a piece of paper and pen. Make three columns on this paper. Title each column: personal life, job and community.

List everything you need to do this week under each of these headings.

  • Place an “A” next to everything in each column that is a high priority.
  • Place a “B” next to everything in each column that is a medium priority.
  • Place a “C” next to everything in each column that is a low priority.

Next, review everything under “A” and number them according to importance, with 1 being the highest priority. Do the same for columns “B” and “C”. Determine which hours of each day are going to be allocated to each of your headings: personal life, job and community. Within the hours allocated, go to the designated column and start with the item labeled “A1″, then go on to “A2″. When you’ve completed all the “A’s”, go to “B1″ and so on. When the time is up, move on to another column.

Make Trade-Offs

Plan when you’re going to tackle tasks and allow enough time to complete all or part of them. Work on difficult jobs first, or at a time when you’re at peak performance, saving the less stressful tasks for when you have less energy.

The idea here is to slot your tasks into the places where they’ll fit best. Certain tasks will always need to be done at specific times, of course—you can’t eat breakfast the night before—but by scheduling tasks for the times when you’ll be able to do them most efficiently, you’ll save time and frustration.

Get Your Routines in Place

With your task list in hand, develop routines for each part of the day in which you do similar tasks. Your routines should not only cover the tasks listed, but should also outline the order in which they occur. For example, your night-time home routine might look something like this:

  • Wash dinner dishes.
  • Set kitchen table for breakfast.
  • Prepare lunch for tomorrow; put lunch bag in fridge.
  • Put papers and supplies for work in briefcase.
  • Check weather for tomorrow.
  • Choose outfit based on weather forecast.
  • Get ready for bed.
  • Set alarm for morning.
  • Read, then go to sleep.

The idea is to get a sequence of tasks on paper, and to follow the sequence as best you can.

Adjust as Needed

Your self-management plan may not work the first time you try it. There will be times when your self-management process falls apart. As you follow your routines throughout the week, you’ll things you’ve forgotten, or find you can take care of several tasks at the same time

Your routines should be flexible enough to accommodate changes. Sticking to a routine that doesn’t work is as inefficient as not following one. These steps are not static but need to change and grow with you. Make time to review your process and see what changes can be made.

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Schedule Time for Self-Reflection

Self-esteem problems don’t develop instantly. They grow over time, sometimes so slowly that we don’t notice change taking place. We run into a major roadblock in our lives and suddenly, we lack the emotional strength to bounce back.

It’s important to make self-reflection a routine. Whether daily or weekly, we need to make a concrete appointment on our calendars. Put effort and intention into your self-reflection. See how you can enhance all areas of your life to improve your emotional, mental and spiritual balance.

Take an honest look at these searching questions:

  • How do I feel about me today?
  • What have I achieved?
  • What have I enjoyed?
  • What have I done to look after me?
  • Have I done anything I will regret?
  • Have I held true to my values?
  • Have I been myself?
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7 deadly sins of speakers and presenters

It takes a lot of preparation to craft the kind of speech or presentation that is going to grab your listener’s attention. Once the speech is crafted, you need to spend a lot of time practicing, so as to make sure you keep their attention.

Listeners don’t give their attention lightly and it doesn’t take much for it to wander. Here are seven bad speaking habits that will guarantee your listeners will be focusing on other things, instead of what you’re presenting.

  1. Rambling – if you don’t know where you’re going, the audience is not going to follow. If you do not have anything to say, sit down! No one has ever complained about a speech that ended early.
  2. Speaking in a monotone – not only are you at risk of losing their attention, but you might also even put them to sleep. Speaking in a monotonous voice is a real communication killer. When you don’t vary the pitch of your voice, it is difficult for the listener to maintain any interest in what you’re saying.
  3. Appearing to have limited topic knowledge – people come to listen because they expect you know what you’re talking about. You need to know your topic backwards and forwards. Research your topic thoroughly while preparing your speech.
  4. Poor eye contact – lack of eye contact creates a barrier between you and the audience. Make a connection to the listener; they want to know you’re speaking to them.
  5. Pacing, wandering, or fidgeting – often a sign of nerves, it can be distracting to the audience. You may not eliminate the nerves, but preparation and practice can reduce the appearance of nerves.
  6. Lack of preparation – if you haven’t made the effort to prepare, why should the audience make the effort to listen?
  7. Poor storytelling skills – nothing communicates concepts better than stories. If you want to hold on to the listener’s attention, learn to tell stories well.
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