The holiday means plenty of opportunities to take terrible photos. Sometimes, it's because a family member doesn't know how to use a smartphone. Other times, it's resorting to flash that ruins that perfect holiday moment. Armed with the latest smartphone -- and, perhaps, a decent DSLR -- there's no excuse for taking lackluster holiday photos. Whether it's taking a family portrait or capturing holiday decorations, here's a guide to taking great photos.

Holiday Lights And Decorations

Shutter speed affects how long your camera's shutter stays open. For low-light situations -- such as taking a photo of holiday decorations or a lit-up Christmas tree -- a slower shutter speed will yield better results.  Keeping the shutter open longer gives the camera more time to collect the natural light of the room. For a DSLR, go to your exposures and adjust the shutter speed so it stays open longer, start with something around 1/30 -- anything below this will require using a tripod -- and work down if it's still too dark. You'll notice the lights go from small pinpoints to larger bulbs that resemble what you see with your eye.  

if you're using a DSLR and have a mounted flash, point it up to the ceiling to help diffuse the light. Using your camera or phone's flash directly on the subject will lead to a blown out photo that eliminates all the joy and atmosphere of the holidays.

There is one  drawback with keeping the shutter open. Because the camera's shutter stays open longer, any movement will lead to a blurry image. Use a tripod or mount the camera to ensure a crisp photo. 

For the iPhone, iOS 8 gave users the ability to manually adjust camera settings. Within the native camera, users can adjust the exposure by tapping the screen and adjusting the sun icon next to your focal area.  The same rules for a camera applies with an iPhone or smartphone. If you have the shutter open longer, it's best to use a tripod or other stabilizing mount when taking a photo. In terms of apps, the popular VSCO can be used to adjust exposure and shutter along with additional settings for night photography.

Portraits And Family Photos

Those dreaded group photos are a thing of the past with proper framing techniques. Depending on the situation, usually someone is not looking at the camera or there's just too much of the background in the photo. Use your camera or smartphone's grid system to see how everything lines up. Take the time to compose the shot, framing it so you have all the subjects in place. Sure, there's probably a dinner you need to eat or maybe a screening of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" to catch, but take the time to organize all those people in the photo. Arrange them in size or by relationship to add extra value to the portrait. Try to keep your camera level with your subject's eyes.Focusing on faces, with an emphasis on the eyes, will lead to a higher quality photo.

There are other ways to highlight the individuals in the photo by playing around with depth of field.  Google Camera for Android or Tadaa SLR for iOS can be used to make the background blurry while keeping the subject in focus.

Outdoor Decorations And Low Light Shooting

It's winter, which means it gets dark pretty quickly. If you're spending some time outside checking out the neighborhood's Christmas light game,  you'll be shooting in low light. Some of the same rules as shooting holiday lights apply -- keep the shutter open longer and, if you have a DSLR, set the aperture wider to allow more light -- to get as much light into your shoot before relying on flash or an additional light source. 

Try not to shoot at night as it'll be too dark to get interesting photos. You'll want to take photos when the sky is a rich blue to enhance those  photos. When shooting a home, set the white balance to Daylight or Tungsten to highlight the outdoor Christmas lights.  For DSLR users, adjust the camera's ISO to a level where you're happy with the exposure with a minimal amount of noise. You could be doing everything right, but a grainy photo will undo all of your hard work.