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How to photograph your children – without shooting them or yourself

Start by rubbing barbecue sauce on their shirts

Photographing children can be challenging. They have short attention spans, are wildly unpredictable, and are prone to making bunny ears behind their brothers' heads. Here are some tips to get the best pictures possible of your kids:

Take care in how you arrange them. Separate the kids most likely to hit – or else take separate pictures. You can always photo-edit them together later.

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Make sure that their outfits don't clash. If one child spills ketchup on his shirt, consider spilling barbecue sauce on the second child ... or, better yet, a subtle drizzle of Dijon.

Be mindful of the background. If a telephone pole is growing out of your child's head, pose her in a meadow so that a flower rises from his or her hair.

If your children get antsy, take pictures of someone else's children. That will show your kids, especially when you hang the pictures in the living room.

If you're using a digital camera, take lots of shots. If you're using film, remember the perfect pose will always occur while you're changing rolls.

Let your child hold a special object for the picture. Years from now it will bring back great memories when you see pictures of him cuddling his TV remote.

Don't make the photo shoot too long. Signs that the session has become overextended include crying (child), unenforceable threats (you), and screaming (both). Another clue: If you look through the viewfinder to find your children performing tae kwon do, you might have to put the Nikon away.

Let the child be a part of the action. Young children love taking pictures, especially with very expensive cameras that are out of warranty.

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• Jody Mace is a freelance writer in Charlotte, N.C.