Archive: ‘Christmas Card Photo Tips’

“How Many More Days Mom?”

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

They can’t wait for the presents and it is torture for the twins to ‘watch them’ under the tree day after long day ….

I like the bonus ‘tree reflections’ in his eyes. Like I always say, photos bring little ‘gifts ‘for mom to open!


1/50, f stop 2.8, ISO 1600 no flash (just the light from the tree) straight out of the camera with custom white balance set before I shot…yes you read that right! I figured out the custom white balance on my camera and boy does it make a huge difference… whooohoooo!!



Your ISO Is Your Friend At Christmas

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

Learn how to make your ISO work for you this ‘low light’ holiday season… these indoor shots would be harder with a low ISO. Even though it is a tad bit grainy, it is not a bad trade off.  Remember to practice and get your settings figured out before the ‘moment’ happens… The fast shutter speed was made possible by the high ISO which allowed these ‘low light’ shots to be in focus.


both pictures ss 1/200, F stop 2.8, ISO 3200

If your ISO only goes to 1600 or your F stop doesn’t go to 2.8: get the ISO as high as you can and the f stop as low as you can and play with the shutter speed.  Try to get it in focus. It is OK if it is a tad dark, you can lighten it up a bit post editing. but you can’t get the focus post edit.  Don’t forget that you can shoot Christmas lights during the day too so the overall light will be better.

Also, the best ‘bang-for-your-buck- great-for-a- mom lens is  the 50mm fixed 1.4 or 1.8.  Put it on your list for Santa, you will be able to get wonderful shots of your kids! It is a very inexpensive way to get hold of that wonderful low f stop setting!


Finding Black and White ‘Gifts’ From From Color Photos.

Friday, December 17th, 2010

Christmas colors are wonderful but there is something to be said for the nostalgic look of the black and white print.

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This is a Christmas photo of me and my siblings not too many years ago (ha). I love the look and feel of this print. It was a gift to me from my mom and is the only one we have like it.  I love the fact that my brother looks like he is trying to escape and my sister looks so proud in her new dress, but what is up with those bangs we have?! Don’t you agree that this print would take on a whole different look if it were in color?

When the twins went to see Santa, I was in a hurry and wasn’t thinking about this photo above. The color photos I took last weekend were alright but not thrilling. A few days later I looked at them again and decided to change them to b&w …..and I love them now! They tell such a different story to me.

This is the before in color:


it is OK but the toys in the background and all the red color is a bit distracting;  it tells a story of the toy store and the activity of going to see Santa.


This is the b&w and all of a sudden I really see the emotion or the magic emerge from this photo. I can just hear Andrew describe his Star Wars ship and Evan the Toy Story toy he wants; their hands are telling the story! I didn’t notice their hands as much the first time I looked at the color photo.  The B&W tells a different story. It seems more simple and warm and, even though they are the same photo, I really like this one better.

There are 2 things to do when you convert to b&w or sepia:

1.  Usually you will want to crop in a bit and get closer

2. You will always want to brighten it up (increasing the mid-tones) and possibly make it a bit warmer on your temperature setting. If  you do a straight conversion it will almost always be too dark.

Go ‘unwrap’ some black and white photo gifts! You already have them! All you have to do is go to your color photos and start looking for the treasures! They are there and you will be thrilled to find them, you may even want to frame a few to put around the house.  (Be sure and share them with us too!)

Happy treasure hunting!


Getting the Perfect Real Christmas Card Photo Part Four

Saturday, December 4th, 2010

YOU have done an amazing job mom! You got your family together, and you made time to get the Christmas Card Shot. Now for the fun part…picking out the perfect one!  (out of the 1-200 that you took!!) If you are like me, you have tons of images to choose from after these experiences.

Tip 9.  Don’t miss the ‘in-between’ bonus shots! One of the best camera tips I know is to keep shooting and keep taking lots of shots and you are bound to get some ‘non-Christmas Card Photo’ treasures as a bonus.

While we were in the back yard waiting for everyone to gather, I got some fun shots of the twins. The light was better because I was able to get closer to them being 2 instead of 6 people. It was also about 15-20 minutes earlier and in the fall/winter months those 15 minutes can make a huge difference with the light at the end of the day. Don’t miss these opportunities…I call them my ‘in-between shots’ and they are priceless!! Check out Evan trying to make Andrew smile!

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Out of all of these, I think these two below are my favorites.  I warmed them up as Nick suggests to get the skin tones right…because the afternoon light was blue-ish.



And Nick, I did the B & W for you!


Glad I kept shooting!

I love this in-between shot of Melissa and Andrew too!


Tip 10. Don’t forget to get the group within the group. I try to get all four kids together in a shot when I can on the rare moment that they are all together. I am always so shocked when I go to look for a shot with all the kids in it and don’t have many.   This is what I got in the back yard the first day:


had to warm it up and crop:


Crop a little closer:


Pretty good but the eyes are still too dark for me and Melissa is making a funny face. I can still see that ‘blue’ tint even after editing.

How about this one from the second day in the front yard? Notice the light is so much better with very little editing:


Here it is a little closer:


Now here comes the fun part: deciding which one to use for the actual final card shot. I could use this one of all four kids. But I think it is important to get the whole family, and we did go to all the trouble…I have tons of shots with the 6  of us to go through.

Tip 11. Make sure all the faces are bigger than a pencil eraser. Once you decide on the final shot,  it is important to crop to get the faces big enough to see.  My photo pro friend Nick says to make sure that there are no faces smaller than a pencil eraser.

Here is a crop from the family picture earlier this fall that my friend David took: the one on the right is better. Nick says that legs don’t need to be in pictures and now I see what he means.  It really makes a difference doesn’t it?

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As we reach the home stretch I will share some of the choices I have for our card….but the final reveal will be …drum roll please ……the day I mail them out!! I will post the final decision on the morning I put them in the mail…sometime the end of next week!   But, I will show you some of the ones that are very close but not quite making the cut for various reasons:

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The final cut will be cropped in very close like the one of the four kids above, no legs and no dirty  jeans!

Tip 12. Pick the one you love, it may not be the perfect one but the one that tells a story! The important thing is to get a Storytelling shot that you love. It may not be the perfect one, but it needs to be the one that makes you feel something!  People love photos that make them feel an emotion, and you will know it when you see it! Even a ‘staged’ group shot can show the real you if you look for the right one.  You know what you are looking for because you know your kids the best, and you know the look, the smiles, the feeling you want. Go with your gut, and you will be happy with your pick.

Wrap up. I have decided to make my card a landscape design this year, and I am printing them on 8.5 x 11 card stock and making color copies at one of the big box office stores. I will get three up on a page, full bleed, so the costs will be lower than even photo prints.  We will be able to put our Christmas letter on the back of the card. Then I will use regular red letter size envelopes to mail them, I found a pack of 50 for $6 at Office Depot. I know all of this sounds like it takes a long time, but it really doesn’t. Do you realize that you can literally create, print, and mail your card all in one day? Once you get the photo, you can have the cards ready to address that night thanks to digital technology.  There are many companies out there that will print them for you even in an hour.  Don’t forget to order some Christmas stamps from the US Post Office.  Don’t stand in those lines; it only take a day or 2 to get the stamps right in your mail box.  It is only the 4th!  You have PLENTY of time to get a card out this year!

Thank you for being such a wonderful audience as we worked our way through this photo shoot. I hope you enjoyed the journey and learned something new. I did! I ALWAYS learn something when I get my camera out! Have a wonderful weekend and I wish you the best with  your Christmas Card success!


ps  Be sure to post your card shots in the Gallery here on the site!

Getting the Perfect Real Christmas Card Photo Part Three

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

Are you ready for the fun part?! Getting the shot. So far we have set the stage now we need the performance!

How do you actually click the shutter button when you are in the photo? The answer is of course to use a tripod, but I prefer people over tripods if possible. I set my tripod up. Then I start looking around for that sweet neighbor who is walking by who may offer to click the shutter for me.  I have never been able to call a neighbor ahead of time because of all the crazy stuff that happens while we wait for everyone to gather. With 6 people it can be a challenge to get them all sitting down and looking toward the camera even for 5 min. We can’t find Andrew, where is Andrew? He is in the bathroom.  Evan was just here but now he is on the trampoline. Adam went back to his computer while I realized that my memory card only had 8 more shots and I know better than to start another photo shoot with only 8 shots. I go back in to empty it. Melissa? Where is Melissa? She was just here! Oh no, she changed her shirt,why did she do that? She is 13. Shoot, back upstairs for her. Ok, now what are we doing again? The twins are gone and I hear Melissa bribing them to come back outside telling them that we are going to Target to buy them a toy if they do (the apples fall right under the trees!)


Great we got the kids out but now where is Dad? He went back in to watch the game and won’t come out again till everyone is totally ready. Do you see why I don’t ask a neighbor to join in? Yet.

I take a few test shots while we wait for dad. This is where you check your settings to be sure the exposure is correct. Oh no, someone just hit Evan …wonder who?!…and it is hard to concentrate on my numbers. I used the following settings: ISO 125, F-Stop 4.5 (but it should have been over 5 or 6 because of the number of people),  SS 1/125.  Camera:  Canon 50D. Some shots I used my 50mm lens some I used my 24-70. I can’t stress enough the need for some practice shots ahead of time to get the setting right there is nothing worse than watching great ‘shots’ pass you by while your are fooling with your camera. For this very reason, I also recommend moving on over to the green box for a few shots just to see what that does. I am not a ‘green box mom’, however, certain stressful times call for desperate ‘green box’ measures!


What? Adam took his red shirt off! He goes back in the house to get his shirt and Chris.


Great! Here is Dad! Doesn’t he look happy?! Who is missing? Oh, it’s me, better jump in after I find Adam!

Here are some of my top secret tips from one Camera Mom to another.

Tip 6. Learn to bribe your family. I am not a bribing mom for the most part, however, there are certain times when it is necessary and this is one of those times. Another time might be when you are at the doctor’s office. Maybe just offer to make pancakes for lunch! Do whatever will work to get them to think this is fun. For little kids a quarter can work, for big kids you may need something a little  more fun, a trip to the dreaded McDonalds? For teens…haven’t figured out what works for teens.  Just do what you can to make people happy this one time of year! Feel free to give me some of  your favorite ‘bribe’ ideas, I will post them.

Tip 7. Get food. Food makes people happy. You are a Mom, you know this is true. I spend a lot of  my life in the kitchen making people happy!  My family tends to show up when there is food.  This tip helps gather the kids to one place. So, bring some non-messy chips out or some sort of snacks, pretzels etc.  Don’t forget to eat something yourself; you will need your energy! How about some tips for photo snack food…I’ll post those too!

Tip 8. Show them where to look. This is one of my favorite inventions for my camera! I call it my Lens Buddy.  Andrew named him Turkey Man, Evan named him Chicken Dad. That doesn’t make sense but that it what it is.  They can play with him till I need him,  then I just pop him back on the camera and I tell them to look at Turkey Man! Everyone seems to enjoy watching me do this. If I don’t do this, and there is a tripod instead of  ‘me’ or another person behind the camera making funny faces, the kids are looking all over the place and not at the lens.

Here is Turkey Man,  a simple finger puppet that I secure on my camera with sticky Velcro so he can come on and off:


Here is the Velcro.


Right now at Target, you can get finger puppets: 2 for $1!! Go get some! What a deal! I haven’t tried to put them on my camera yet but I am thinking of a way to attach them with a rubber band. I will also use them as finger puppets when I am working with little kids on everyday shots. I’m excited to have some new toys to work with!


Tip 9.  Figure out your composition before you go outside. I have a landscape design in mind for my card so I am telling everyone to just sit on the bench. But if you have a square card you would want to change up the composition. When I am photographing my family for this kind of shot I don’t worry too much about composition, people seem to sit where they want. When I ‘direct’ the sitting arrangement too much they don’t like it. They don’t seem to mind it if someone else tells them how to sit, but it is hard for mom to tell them. I do give general direction if I know that the photo needs to fit in a certain card or if I am looking for a certain shape.

By now I am hoping for an unsuspecting innocent neighbor to walk by. But in the mean time I will start shooting with the tripod. I set it on 14 seconds and run and get in the photo and this is what I get (below)… not too bad everyone is looking. I take a few more and run in and check it on the computer and …. bummer…..the tree leaves are in perfect focus but the faces are not! They are blurry! My camera viewing screen is smallish and it is hard to see the focus until I get to the computer.  If you have been reading my site you will know that one reason for the blurry focus is that my center red dot was pointed at the trees and not the faces. The disadvantage of using the tripod instead of a human to take the shot. But the good news is that I like the general composition.  Oh no! Call everyone back to the bench! It is a good thing that I am just making the tripod wait now and not the neighbor!


Back out at the bench…I have to re-gather everyone again…where did they all go?


It is really hard to take a family shot with you in it,  by yourself. I can’t stress enough how helpful it is to get your photo friend to help you out. You go help her out when it is time to get her family shot. All my photo friends were busy for the holiday weekend, and my son was home only for a few days from college, so I was a little stuck.

OK, here we go….all set….again…. and guess what?? My neighbors are out walking their dogs! I hear a small voice say, “Would  you like me to take the picture?” YES!  Here they are, aren’t they wonderful?


And they have 2 of the prettiest dogs ever. I take their picture too for a perfect Thank You. (I actually think they are going to use them for Christmas gifts!)

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They take a few more shots and I believe we have success!! But I have about 50 shots to go through by now.  While I do that, you do your best to review the above and get your ducks in a row. Make a list and figure out what you need;  don’t underestimate the planning.

I want you to be encouraged by my story here. It really is worth the effort and as I explain to my kids, they will be happy that we did this one day! You will be so happy that you put the effort into the project. Don’t be discouraged. If it is not working, take a break. Remember to get your camera ready. Review the Most Prepared Camera Mom in Town post on this site (under the Inspire Me tab). You don’t want to cause the delay yourself because your camera is out of battery power, you can’t find your tripod connector or some other crazy mishap. Get your supplies together early and get a plan and have fun!

Tomorrow I will review cropping details and offer suggestions for inexpensive cards that you can make quickly yourself using your own priceless photo! Check back tomorrow for the final tips! You have plenty of time to get a card out this year, why don’t you plan your photo shoot for tomorrow?

I’m cheering for you!


Getting the Perfect Real Christmas Card Photo Part Two

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

Hopefully by now you have watched the Nick Kelsh video and have managed your expectations for your real Christmas Card Photo. You are ready to set out to get the best Christmas Card Photo ever (not perfect, just a real good shot!).   Let’s answer a few questions:

Who will be in your photo? I personally think that you, the mom, need to be in this photo. Really. One time a year is OK to be in a photo. The whole family needs to be in it in my opinion; include the dog if you can. Don’t just put the kids in it, your friends want to see how everyone is doing and a photo can say it all! If you want to look thinner, stand sideways or put a child in front of you; remember that you will crop it pretty close up, so don’t worry too much.

Tip 3. Put everyone in the photo including Mom.

What will everyone wear? This is a huge question. For the family Christmas Card shot I think that Christmas colors are nice. We took a shot of our whole family earlier this fall when my son was home from college. Everyone had different, darker fall colors on and it was a bit distracting but OK.


But, after watching Nick’s video, I decided that all red or all red and cream would be better….so, thanks Nick for the tip! My family thanks you too! They were excited to try to get the shot again…NOT!!!! I also shy away from the ‘all white shirt’ look, but if that works for you go for it.  White shirts can make skin color looked ‘washed out’ and that is not the look that I am generally after. I also have real problems getting my exposure right with the all white shirts; my camera thinks there is more light than there really is because the ‘white’ fools it. The exposure is ‘off’ if I am in auto White Balance mode, and faces are darker than they should be. One day soon I will learn how to set the custom White Balance function on my camera, but for now it is easier to change the shirts!

Here is an example of the red look: keeping it simple. There were actually 3 shades of red here, but that is fine. I now think too many colors are distracting and I am liking this red theme a lot better Nick…but the light is wrong for this shot…hmmmm……we know what this means……a re-take.


Tip 4. Wear Christmas colors and keep it simple (even a Santa hat is good!)

When to shoot? What time of day? If you are like most families, Dad works or Dad and Mom both work and aren’t home during daylight till Saturday, especially this time of year.  Hey!  Saturday is a good day to take the family photo!  As the Confident Camera Mom of the family,  you will scout the location in your yard or elsewhere a few days early to check out the light and background etc.  Your yard will work just fine, no need for lots of scenery for the Christmas Photo. Planning ahead is VERY important. It will save you tons of time and frustration the day of the shoot. Late afternoon is OK, but I now prefer morning light to get the job done. This shot right above was taken in the late afternoon because I didn’t want the harsh sun on everyone and I wanted the water in the background (we live on a pond).  But the light was not on our faces. Can you see how dark our eyes are? Not a good sign.  But I didn’t really pay attention till I got the images back to the computer… by then, the sun had set and all the light was gone. Oh no, was this going to mean another try the next morning in the morning light? My family will just love that! (that is why it is so important to figure this out before the shoot!).  Note to self: backyard photos at my house after 4 pm don’t work well this time of year! I have to write that down somewhere because I will forget it by next year and probably try it again!

I think that morning light in the shade will be great and I know just the place in the front yard….but we will have to wait till morning. Thank goodness my husband was off for 4 days this past weekend!  You want bodies in the shade but still enough light coming in on their faces to put that sparkle of light in their eyes…the little light reflections called ‘catch lights’.  That is why Nick suggests that your garage is a good place for light. Your subject is in the shade of the garage while the light pours in.  Be sure to watch some of his videos. I am not saying that you take your Christmas group photo in the garage.  The garage is better for single portraits not group shots as I’m sure Nick would agree.

This is my test shot the next day. Notice the great light.


WOW! What a difference…we are getting there! Look at the difference between the afternoon shot right above and this one. Do you see the light in their eyes and on their faces in this shot? You can if you get close up. I know some of you will say that I can fix the shot above in post editing but I always try to get the shots to look good right out of the camera (OOTC). It’s difficult to add natural light on  faces in post editing. The big holly tree is providing the shade and the light is coming in behind the camera hitting their faces, but it is not blinding them making them squint. I would have loved to do this in the early morning, but,  I have 2 teens now… need I say more? Getting then out of bed before 11 am is not going to happen easily on the weekend…especially just for a family photo!

I am almost there! Now all I need to do is find Dad and set the timer and jump in the shot myself. I’ll explain that in my Part Three post tomorrow!

Tip 5. Try morning or mid-day light for a group shot if possible; keep people in the shade but get some natural indirect light on their faces.

Now you have watched the Nick video, managed your expectations, decided that you will be in the shot, found a shirt for everyone (you may crop, so don’t worry too much about what pants. Jeans will do!), and, you have found the time of day and location for the best light for your shot. WOW! We have done a lot so far!

Tomorrow we will focus on what to do to actually get the shot  — stay tuned!!


Getting the Perfect Real Christmas Card Photo Part One

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Thanksgiving is over. The beginning of the ‘Getting the Christmas Card Photo’ season has arrived! At our house, this is such a  fun exciting event where everyone just is so happy and willing to participate!  My whole family loves this special, bonding tradition so much that right after the Thanksgiving dishes are cleared from the table, the very first words out of their precious little mouths are, “Mommy, is it time to get the perfect Christmas Card Photo? We love you so much and want to make this the best card ever this year.” It is a wonderful opportunity for my family to show the love and appreciation that they have for me, and I look forward to this special family time together every year!

Oh wait, I am dreaming again! The above description of the mood before the CCPA (Christmas Card Photo Attempt) exists only in my dreams, the reality is far from this fantasy! At our house this may mark one of the most stressful photo attempts only to be matched by the TPAs (Teen Photo Attempts) that I try to get during the year!

See what I mean? This photo is worth more than a thousand words!


What about at your house? Just the mention of this activity makes me get nervous and I forget how to set my camera. It also makes me start thinking of new ways to make it fun and new bribes of course! The bribes do get bigger and better every year,  but I am still working on the fun part.

This little series of posts will walk you though how this process may work. But, before I get going on all the details for the CCPA, I want to start with the first two tips:

Tip #1: Watch this wonderful video that my famous photo friend, Nick Kelsh, has put together just for this special photo taking occasion. His tips are wonderful! Love it! Love it! Love it! Click on the Christmas Card link once you get to his site.

Tip #2: Begin to manage your expectations…NOW. Do this ahead of time and you will be much happier and the experience will go much better! There is no such thing as a perfect ’anything’, much less a perfect family Christmas Card Photo with six people and a dog.  Anything over one person is just down right difficult.  So, please consider that we are not after perfection, but rather, a glimpse into our real lives.

The final thing that I want to do is invite you to post your favorite Christmas Card Photos in the gallery here with your best tip if you have one (in the description box).  If you don’t have a favorite,  then post one that you got from someone else!  Either way we all need the encouragement. If yours isn’t so great,  that is OK,  it will still encourage us! They can be from Christmas past or what you ended up with for this year. We all need ideas so please do this; your ideas will inspire others!

Stay tuned for more tips, and remember: our goal is to get the real, not the perfect, photo of our real, not perfect life!


…this photo above is an actual real (not staged!) sneak preview of what my family thinks of the CCPA from this past weekend! I was setting up the tripod and trying to figure out the light and the settings. One happy bunch! Can’t wait to share more!


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