It’s the time of year where we get our mailing lists together, buy holiday stamps at the post office, and prepare to send out the family Christmas cards to family and friends. Family photo Christmas cards have been very popular for quite a few years now, and if you are new to creating your own photo card, or just looking for ways to improve your annual creations, here are a few tips.
1) Shoot while other family or friends are in town. We like to do our photo shoot when my mom is town for Thanksgiving. She is also a photographer, and can help with the setup and pressing the shutter button. Other options are to use the self-timer option (with 10 second delay) or to subtly use the wireless remote shutter release while you are posing in the photo.
2) Use a clutter-free background for your photo. You want to keep the backdrop simple – a neutral background, a blurred background with bokeh, the lit Christmas tree (slightly out of focus can be a nice effect, especially with some bokeh), or simple scenery (grass, woods, etc). You want the focus to be on the people, and not the background. Make sure that everything in the background of the photo is intended to be in there. There is nothing worse than getting your 80 prints back from the printer, only to find out that you accidentally show a can of Pringles in the photo next to the family pet.
3) Blank areas or less appealing parts of the photo can be covered up in a graphics program, with solid areas of color, text, or clip art. For example, in this posted photo, I covered up the bottoms of my husband’s dirty sneakers with a solid brown area, and included our names on it. I use Photoshop, but use whatever graphics application you are comfortable with.
4) I use at least 300 dpi resolution. Different printers use different standards and specs, but 300 dpi is a good standard. You can always downsize afterwards, but you can’t successfully up the resolution, without losing quality.
5) You don’t have to match your outfits exactly, but at least make sure the colors go well with the theme (I tend to wear greens, reds, or neutrals) and that they don’t clash with each other. If you decide you’d like a blue theme for your Christmas cards, well then, make sure you all wear blue that doesn’t clash, and if Aunt Edna is in the picture, make certain that she gets the memo and doesn’t wear orange stripes that day.
6) Add some Christmas ambience. This is optional, but I find that it makes it look like a Christmas card, without even much effort. Include the family Christmas tree, holiday decor, snowy deck, fireplace, etc. but remember to keep the background fairly simple (tip #2)
7) Sharper isn’t always better, especially with holiday portraits. Dimmed lights, a warm glow, Christmas lights shining in the dusky light…these all add a holiday ambience, give a warm feeling, and make everybody look flattering. Tack sharp is not a requirement for this type of portrait. Of course, make certain that your family members’ faces are all in focus. This isn’t an excuse to hand out really blurry and poorly executed photos.
8) Try including the family pets, in addition to all family members. This can be logistically difficult (my cat doesn’t like to be held or forced to “model”), but it gives the photo a sense of your whole family and adds some personality and cuteness to the picture.
9) Instead of something in the background, try something interesting in the foreground. For instance, in this posted photo, I liked the look of the string of Christmas lights laying in front of us and the reflections on the hardwood floor. But again, keep it fairly simple. The focus should be on the people.
10) I find that using one of the many online or local print services are actually cheaper than doing it yourself. With the cost of glossy printer paper and ink, it is less expensive to upload your photo and send away for the pictures. I’ve also used the fast printing services of a nearby drugstore (Walgreens, CVS, etc) or Target. You can usually pick up the results in the store within a couple hours. This year I’m using Shutterfly online. You can choose holiday cards if you want a card that opens, or simple prints (less expensive). If you already have an online photo account with this type of website, by all means, use it. Some online services even can address and mail your cards for an extra cost (you need to upload your mailing addresses to them). For me, it’s not worth the cost, but if you’re in a time crunch, go for it!
11) If you have added design elements to the photo itself (tip #3), you should choose to just make basic prints, or at least select a very simple card layout template. You don’t want to add additional greetings, text and art to your photo, if it already contains this. Make sure you preview your photo within any template very carefully and make sure it isn’t too busy or that nothing is cut off (some of these sites tend to crop the outer area of the photo a little bit).
Hope these tips help you create the perfect family photo Christmas card! Happy Holidays!