Sunday, October 12, 2008

Introducing the Christmas cards and gifts series

If you're like me, you wait until the very last minute to do your Christmas shopping. But maybe that will change this year (for both of us) with my October through December series of ideas for Christmas cards and gift ideas—all of which relate to photography, of course. Within the next couple of days I will post a card idea that relates to the "dots" theme, but today's idea is much more straightforward.

This is the photo we used for a card two years ago. That same year, I did one for a client that spelled NOEL using three kids and their dog (not an easy task). For the client, I did a grid of four in black and white with alternating red and green letters. For our own card, we stuck with all black and white.

The recipe
1. Get letters from a craft store and paint them

2. Take individual photos of each child with their letter. I used natural side lighting from a window. I would also recommend using a black or dark background. I used a dark wood screen and then darkened the background even more in Photoshop. Had I just used some black fabric, I could have saved a lot of time.

Note: Make room for serendipity. Eva would not cooperate. She began to cry after only a few photos and she wouldn't hold her letter. For a few seconds, she put her letter over her head and I took the photo that you see here. Her head became to "O" and the letter became a sort of halo. What was frustrating at the time of the shoot became, in my opinion, the best part of the card.

3. Do the Photoshop bit. We decided to make the photo into strips 2x6 inches long that would eventually end up on larger rectangles of prepared cardstock. The math was easy. I cropped each photo to a 2x2 inch square. I then created a new document (4x6 at 320 dpi) and dragged each square onto the appropriate place in the new document. Since my document was 4x6, I could fit two 2x6 strips on each photo (which made this an inexpensive project). Since I didn't feel like doing the dragging part two times, I deselected the backround layer (leaving the layers with the three kids visible) and selected "merge visible" from the layers pull-down menu. Now I could just copy (Mac: Command-J or PC: Ctrl-J) that layer and drag it down with the move tool (V) its spot. I flattened the whole thing and then got them printed.

4. Assemble the cards. This was Michelle's part of the job, so all I can tell you is that we used white cardstock and printed a red border inside of which we (and by "we" I mean "she") pasted the photo strip. We kept it simple and were very happy with the results. I can't show you the finished product because—alas!—we mailed all of them that year and have only a crumpled photo on the fridge to show for it.

You can easily take this basic idea and do your own variations. Grids, vertical strips, etc. For me, the most important part is not the letters, but rather the plan to use individual photos instead of a standard group portrait. The nice thing about putting individual photos into a group later is that you still get to see everyone, but each person can look their best.