Thursday, November 29, 2012

Tips For Staging Your Own Christmas Card Photo Shoot

For the past 4 years I've made our own Christmas cards using my point-n-shoot camera, digital scrap booking kits, and Photoshop.  I have them printed as 5x7's at Costco and can usually get 50-60 prints for around $15.00.  The pictures for the cards are usually of the kids, and then we grab a good family shot when we are all decked out in our Christmas duds.

We've staged our photo shoots with the kids anywhere from the living room rug to out in the backyard.  We've found a few things that make it easier on us each year, so I thought I would share them here in one DIY Christmas card post!

Getting a great shot really isn't so intimidating once you let go of any preconceived ideas of perfection.  So let's get to it...

Choose a good backdrop
Of course, nature always provides a great background.  You can't go wrong with trees, pathways, beaches, or a cool landscape behind you!  Other interesting outdoor elements can make great backdrops too...think old barn doors, brick walls, cool doorways. 

If you decide to stay inside, find something with little distraction and/or that fits the theme (i.e. in front of the Christmas tree).  Our shag white rug was the perfect backdrop for this pic of Mia (2) and Sully (3 months). Totally neutral, so they were the stars of the show and it felt like a nod to winter snow.

Coordinated doesn't have to be matchy-matchy.  
I personally like to dress the kids (and us) in clothes with a little color as opposed to the standard fare of everyone in jeans and white or black shirts. The key is to stick with a simple color scheme with just a few colors.

Here's a fall family picture from last year.  Between the five of us we're sporting some brown, plum, and green (consider jeans a neutral).  Mia's hand is covering a green flower on her dress.  Wearing the colors of the season are great and if you're still not sure, stick with wearing mostly neutrals like white and grey then add a few pops of one seasonal color....maybe someone wears a mustard scarf and another a mustard cardigan for fall.....or a few pops of red in your outfits for winter.  

Take pictures in natural light.
Most photographers (one's smarter than me) recommend the "golden hour" for the best light outdoors - one hour after the sun comes up or one hour before it sets.  If that's not feasible, just go for a spot with indirect light, enough for a well lit picture but where the sun's not glaring in everyone's eyes.

For indoor photos, avoid using a flash and use natural light whenever possible.  Pay attention to what time of day the room you'll be shooting in gets the best light and plan to be ready to snap your pics at that time. 

Make em' laugh.
Forget trying to get them to look at the camera and say "cheese" or something else with an "eeee" to make them smile. You'll either get blank stares or super-teethy "cheese" grins complete with squinted eye lids. It's best if you can have your partner in crime standing directly behind the camera making a fool of him/herself while you snap away. The kids will be looking right at them, and therefore in the direction of the camera...with big natural smiles.

Sometimes we will ask questions like "What's your favorite dessert?"...a question that they will be excited to answer and again produce a natural smile simply because they are thinking about something they love. Not cheese. Or maybe they do love cheese and that would get the biggest smile of all. You know your kids, go with what makes them smile.

On a side note, this particular card gets me all sappy....we had moved into our new house just a month prior and my baby boy was due on Christmas Day.  He arrived the day after Christmas in all his 9lb 7oz glory, and just missed the photo shoot that year :)

Think about using props.
If you decide to use a prop, go with something that won't distract from your subjects.  We used a wagon for the shoot below.  The kids were all smiles playing in it and the red color worked right into the colors scheme for the shoot (red/navy/grey).

Props can also give you a great chance at capturing the perfect action shot.  A child looking at an ornament on the tree.....opening a big bow on a present....setting up the nativity set...all can provide some really sweet photos.  Some of our favorite pics of our kidlets are simply "life in action" shots....catching their genuine reaction to things around them.

Just keep clicking.
This year we're going with the pj's again.  The kids are just so darn cute and snuggly in them.  I've also been eyeing these flannel Christmas sheets at Target for awhile and finally grabbed them on sale for just $16 for a complete queen set.  They'll be great for winter guests and fun for the kids' traditional Christmas eve sleepover by the fireplace (on our queen size air mattress).   And also good for this year's photo backdrop!

*SPOILER ALERT!  Anyone that would like their 2012 Christmas card from the Crinion's to be a complete surprise should probably stop reading now.*

I pinned the flat sheet to the wall behind our bed with some thumb tacks and the fitted sheet went on the bed along with our white quilt.  We hung some sparkly ornaments from the ceiling, grabbed a Christmas book, piled on 3 pajama clad kids and got to snapping!

Since the kids would be in pj's I thought it would be fun to do a photo shoot with them in a big bed, playing with pillows and with Mia reading the boys a Christmas story.  I worked the camera and James was on humiliate-yourself-for-a-smile duty.  I just kept clicking away.  You never know if the shot you thought was perfect was actually blurry, or if that shot you didn't think would work out actually captured 3 great smiles. You don't have time to check each shot after it's taken.  Just keep clicking!  I had over 100 shots from this shoot, granted we tried a few different set-ups, and ended up with several good options for our card.  

Some were more posed...

And others, great action shots...

Crop and Zoom are your friends.  
Don't discard a picture just because one kid is smiling and everyone else is picking their nose.  This shot of Jack was cropped from a pic where Mia and Sully both had closed eyes.

Zooming in on a subject is always one of my favorite types of photos.  It will capture great details and can give you a really intimate shot with a totally different feel.

All of these points can easily apply to a shoot without kids....mine just made for good subjects today ;)  So, if you've been tossing around the idea of doing your own card this year, just go for it!

And as I was perusing my reader this morning, it seems that a lot of people are chatting about this very thing.  So check out this post here by Centsational Girl and this one by The Girls With Glasses for more tips on getting a great shot this holiday season!

I would love to hear your tips too!  Teach us your camera wielding ways!

*Linking up at Watch Out, Martha!, & A Bowl Full Of Lemons
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  1. OH these are so sweet! I love the one where they are jumping on the bed. Homemade Christmas cards are the best. I picked up a pack of those sparkly ornaments too for our tree this year. Aren't Targets' decorating schemes so lovely?

  2. Those pictures are great. I really love the ones with the kids jumping on the bed and laughing in their PJ's. Great tips too! Thanks for sharing Deme :) Have a great weekend.

  3. Another tip if you are handy in photo shop, is this: you can copy and paste from other photos onto the one you really love but... someones eyes are closed, or someone rolled out of the photo, or someone is not smiling... you can copy and paste their eyes, self, head etc. from another photo that you love. When we moved and I sent out the Costco we moved cards and it was totally impossible to have myself, the hubs and the two dogs all looking at the camera at the same time (with a 10 second timer between photos because I don't have a remote for my SLR just yet). So I got a few great shots of the dogs sitting on either end of our couch looking at me... (With Brendon's arm in the photo holding Pudge down from wanting to come to me each time I called his name) and a good shot of Brendon and I on the couch. I cut, copied, and pasted the photo of us onto the photo of the dogs and airbrushed Brendon's arm off of Pudge and it turned out great.

    I also agree about snapping away. I just did a photo shoot back in Oct. for a first birthday. You don't have time, to look and yes some CUTE shots I thought turned out great ended up being!

    Deme, I can't WAIT for your Christmas card this year. I'm really excited to see the shot you took. I am in love with the shot of M and S belly laughing. It is just too sweet. Well all of them. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Great timing -- thank you for the tips!! I did a little playing around with pics for our card this morning. I have trouble (lots and lots of trouble) getting all three to look at me at the same time, so I thought I'd just put three individual (but with same background) shots on the card. I let them each hold a breakable (but not too sentimental) ornament on a stool in front of the tree. They loooved getting to hold the ornament, and the tree made a great backdrop. I'm waiting for my third to get home from school so I can take her pic! Then I have to figure out whether the mister and I will try to be on the card or not. :)


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