How we made our Christmas cards

One of our first test shots, just to see if this would work. Note the concrete wall, mishmash of whatever lights we had to hand and the visible basement window behind us. We're pretty cute, though. 

We finally got our Christmas cards finished up and ordered last night (hooray!), so I thought I'd blog a little bit about our process in making them. Most sane and normal people pick a family photo, go to a site like Shutterfly (or Minted, if they're fancy). The really smart and thrifty people use the Costco photo center. What these people have in common is that they all end up with a perfectly lovely holiday photo card that you and I would be delighted to display in our homes. The fancy people would end up spending roughly $100 on fifty cards, and the smart and thrifty Costco shoppers would spend about $15. The Shutterfly folks end up somewhere in between.

Here's the deal, though: I wanted the look and feel of the Minted cards, but I wanted to pay something much closer to Costco prices. But none of the Costco cards had exactly the look I had in mind. Here is where it is handy to have married a computer programmer with an eye for design and an interest in photography:

I told Nick what I was thinking/waved my hands around and babbled incoherently a lot, and before long we had put together a set for a photo shoot in our basement. It was incredibly ghetto (think butcher paper and Christmas lights for the backdrop), but it did the job. It did the job quite beautifully, actually.

Basically, we covered one wall in butcher paper to make a plain dark back drop, then we hung Christmas lights a few feet in front of it. We set the camera up on the other side of the room with a couple of studio lights on either side, and had the subject stand a few feet in front of the camera. The studio lights illuminate the person in the picture, but are too diffuse to light up the wall across the room. All other lights in the room were turned off. We shot at f/1.8 so that the distant background lights would be very blurry. A bigger room or a faster lens could have blurred them out even further, but you work with what you've got, right?

Behind the scenes: The kids are both standing on my lap so they are tall enough to fit into the shot, and not every single picture is a keeper. Except this one kind of is. Look at Gwen's sad lip!

After we had the photos we were looking for, we did a little post editing. Seeing as we wanted to look like ourselves, we kept it simple and mostly stuck to adjusting warmth and tone (and cleaning the dinner leftovers off Gwen!).

At this point I went through a lot of holiday cards online, looking for ones that were similar to what I had in mind. Then I showed them to Nick, and we picked out the elements we liked in each one, decided on what we wanted to do differently and uniquely in ours, and then Nick sat down at the laptop and magically pulled it all together into exactly the card I had envisioned, or better.

Then it was just a matter of putting together the right wording and doing a little tweaking here and there before we were done! And here's where Costco comes in again. They offer nice card stock cards for $34 for fifty. And the best thing of all is that you can design your own and have them print it for you, ready for pickup in 5-7 business days. So with a little knowhow (or in Nick's case, quite a lot) you can get exactly the card you wanted for for about a third of the cost. And they print your return address on the envelopes.

So, guess how I'll be spending my evenings in the next 5-7 days? And who wants a Christmas card?

And a final result shot. The lights are working, we've cleaned up the background (classily, with sheets of black butcher paper) and the kids are being fairly cooperative. 


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