Christmas Card Tips: Shooting, Editing & Creating

*Update* Images were having trouble loading earlier today – now the post includes all missing photos :).

We took our Christmas card pic this last Sunday (yay!) and I thought I’d share a few tips I’ve picked up for producing better family photos.

I should begin by saying that I’m no expert when it comes to taking a great photo (I use a Canon Rebel t3i and I generally try to work in manual mode to capture the best lighting – but I’m really a beginner in this area, as evident by all of the horribly lit indoor pictures on this blog – here’s a great resource to help with those questions!). What I am pretty good at, however, is editing. I’m in marketing by trade, so Photoshop is like my third arm – I use it for everything.

But you don’t need a high powered photo editing program to enhance your photos, in fact there are many free versions out there such as Picasa, Picnik and Photoshop Editor (see my suggestions near the bottom!). Regardless of how ordinary a family photo might be you can enhance it to bring out the strongest qualities.


Let’s start at the beginning. For me, the secret to a creative family photo lies in: the background, positioning of family and candidness of the photo.

1. Background:

Choose a background full of texture and contrast. Living backgrounds work wonderfully – fields of flowers, the bark of a tree, even a red brick wall (not living but equally neat) brings visual interest to a photo. Adjust your camera settings right off the bat without anyone in the picture (here’s another link to Kate’s great suggestions for this).

2. Positioning:

When it comes to positioning the family, consider taking a few shots from a ‘normal’ angle (photographer standing holding camera up to their eye) and a few from unusual angles. For this photo I knew the positioning that I wanted – all three of us standing and the photo taken straight on. Even a slight angle would have taken away the effect and I’m pretty sure this shot was not taken at eye level but that the camera was held down a bit at the chest or even belly.

As long as your image is in focus (if that’s the goal you’re looking for), start big and then later crop in an editing program. You’ll have the most freedom with how your final image looks. Take a LOT of photos. If you think you’ve captured your shot take 20 more anyways, double that with kids.

3. Candidness

Generally speaking, I like it when one family member is looking at another or the whole group is laughing with eyes in different directions (aka not all looking at the camera). We tried a few photos with one of us not looking at the camera:

But in the end both of us looking won out. By the way, getting Olivia’s big grin took about 50 photos and much dancing by our friends. (Thanks, Phil & Trish!)

The image in its current state is ordinary. It’s now time to edit to enhance.


1. First, crop uniquely:

The goal here is to avoid symmetry. By leaving my outer hand out of the shot and including Kevin’s, I’ve broken up the symmetrical feel of the shot – now Kevin is in half and Liv and I are in half instead of third, third and third. Play with cropping for your cards, tighter then wider then some crazy ones just for fun.

This one is unexpected but adorable! Pair that with another shot of all of us grouped together and smiling and that could be a cool Christmas card.

2. Next, I adjusted the contrast:

Pop up that contrast to really pull out the shadows (you can play with brightness as well).

2. And then the exposure:

The photo already feels so much more alive!

I would approach editing this photo differently if we were planning on hanging it on the wall, but because it’s for our Christmas card I’m taking the editing of contrast, exposure and lighting a bit to the extreme. You can get away with it for holiday cards!

3. Here’s a subtle edit that packs a punch. The photo was getting a little top heavy in color (with those brilliant greens above and the soft greys below) so I used a red filter over the bricks. See how much better this is?

Unfortunately that’s a Photoshop edit, not available in the free editing versions… (see more on that below).

4. But adding just a touch of sepia (or ‘temperature’ as some of these programs call it) is!

Much more worthy of a Christmas card!

More on Free Photo Editing Software

You can make nearly all of the edits that I made above in a free photo editing software like Picasa, Picnik or Photoshop Editor. I have each a spin and here are some of my favorite features:

1. Picasa

First up is Picasa, a free photo editing software that you download on to your computer (no need for internet) and that automatically uploads every photo on your hard drive into the system. It also connects easily over from Picasa Web Albums if you use this program to store your photos online.

The photo is imported with all of it’s specs (ISO, f-stop, aperture – even a histogram) for those of you looking to see what went well and what can be improved next time you use your manual setting on your camera. The tool allows you to adjust lighting, contrast and exposure (and will even do an auto correct if you’re wanting a quick fix) – but my favorite feature was the ‘Temperature’ which adjusted color to achieve a white balance change or even an allover warm/cool look. I was able to achieve the same semi-sepia look that I did in Photoshop using the Temperature feature.

2. Picnik

Picnik is a great little tool that works right on the internet (no editing when you’re not connected though) and probably the most user friendly. You simply upload a photo and you’re immediately presented with a wide range of options just like the above. They have a Temperature tool as well, and also many effects presets. I would say Picnik and Picasa are near identical with the one exception that Picnik allows you to upload a solo file to the internet and Picasa scans your entire computer and becomes your ‘editing software’ that’s on your hard drive.

Picasa will upload any existing font (that’s on your computer) to its database, but Picnik’s font tool is easier to maneuver.

3. Photoshop Editor

Last but not least is Photoshop Editor. This is the most complex of the three and allows for more advanced editing. What I love about this tool is that it offers you a selection of photo options for each effect:

The terminology is similar to advanced photo editing programs making it easy for me to navigate through (no ‘temperature’ button here), but it gets a low grade in my book for user friendliness. The screen is dark, the editing buttons are a little confusing and if you don’t take time to learn the tool you might be lost. On the plus side it offers features such as ‘burn’ and ‘dodge’, which are very neat enhancement tools that the other two don’t have.

The conclusion? I use Picasa Web Albums to share my high res photos with family and friends (the only free program that I know of that does this!) and because it links automatically to Picasa editing and Picnik I’ll probably use these first to edit quickly when I’m not in Photoshop itself. Because Photoshop Editor is designed by Adobe though (which all of my graphic design programs have in common) I’ll probably continue to check in on its list of growing features offered :).


Tiny Prints sponsored our cards again this year and I had the toughest time choosing from their adorable designs (see last year’s here). Others in the running included:

Difficult, right? They have a ton of adorable and contemporary designs to choose from in their selection of over 500 Christmas cards, but to me the best feature is the ‘Favorite’ bar located at the bottom of each page. As you find a style you like, you simply add it to the bar (I had something like 40 in mine) and then you can narrow down your results by comparing just the ones you love.

Tiny Prints is offering 20% off + free shipping on orders of $49 or more with coupon code: holba20 through 12/11!


There you have it, my thoughts on shooting, editing and creating a photo card for the season. Happy Holiday Card making!

2011 Holiday Gift Guide: For the Kids

Christmas is fast approaching! Just two and a half weeks away, can you believe that? I feel like the season has just arrived – in fact we just picked out our tree on Sunday and we’re just beginning to decorate around here.

I’ve also been checking gifts off of my Christmas list like crazy. My goal to be finished by December 1 has come and gone, but I’ll blame it on the DIY nature of some of these gifts and how they’re taking muuuuch longer than anticipated.

When it comes to non-handmade gifts, I’ve been putting together fun ideas for family and friends (many for Liv!) and these are a few that I have my eye on. Hopefully they can provide inspiration for you, too. (Check out the guy’s gift guide here.)

Scout is awesome! Liv received him as a gift (at one of my baby showers) and adores him. She really began interacting with Scout at about 8 months and to this day carries him with her all around the house. You program Scout (via a USB cord to your computer) with your child’s name and he makes up silly songs about their favorite color and foods, asks for hugs and even sings sleepy time songs at night.

I love the design of this wheely bug. I’m all about well-made wooden toys for kids and this lady bug looks like so much fun.

If you’re on the search for adorable illustrations, check out Susie is a local San Diego artist and her prints are perfect for a kids room.

Designed in Switzerland, the Bilibo has won awards for design and play. It’s all about the imagination with it’s classic, simplistic design: it can be a helmet, sit and spin, doll cradle, train tunnel, shovel, water basin and much more! Nearly indestructible and built for indoors or out. (Really hoping to get this for Olivia!)

Jenga is an oldie but goodie!

Melissa and Doug makes the best products – and when I saw this art easel I thought that it would be a great addition for projects as Liv gets older! Plus Amazon offers free (Mom Prime) shipping so no worries about the large size. *Update* just saw nearly the exact same version at Ikea!

Every new walker needs a push cart, and one that holds toys (or learning blocks) is even better. Liv has one very similar this (go Zulily) – the wooden design is stylish and she absolutely loves it.

I am not a fan of plastic, flashing lights, blaring buttons toys. But kids are and Liv LOVES them. This book is a happy compromise – it keeps her entertained in the car and is a special treat when she has to sit for long periods strapped into her car seat.

This guy looks awesome. I’ve been eying it as a potential birthday present for a friend’s son but this bouncer would make a great Christmas present for the 18 month – 3 year range! Or turn it in to a stationary rocker with this base.

I’m looking into building Liv a little play kitchen and these felt veggie PDFs from Etsy artist BuggaBugs would be so cute. There are so many awesome felt foods on Etsy! *Update* just found out there’s a huge selection available at Ikea as well.

Another really awesome handmade toy from a smaller Etsy artist is this little wooden train set, toddlers would get oodles of fun out of it.

A box of practical jokes is just what every nine-year-old boy needs this Christmas… it’s filled with a whoopee cushion, magic ink, snapping chewing gum, a squirt ring and more.

A superhero cape! So cool. If I had a three-year-old boy this would be in his stocking.

Do you put together puzzles with your family? We often have a big puzzle going in the den or near a fireplace during the winter and family casually adds pieces as they walk by or over a glass of wine at night.

Have you ever played Apples to Apples? So much fun! Great for a night in with family.

These personalized alphabet prints are some of my favorites, I love the colors.

Create and customize your own Christmas stocking this year by picking out fabrics and prints at 1154 Lill Studio.

The plasma car is apparently one hot commodity this Christmas, just check out these Amazon reviews! *Update* Zulily is featuring this on their site through 12/8 for 40% off!

Role play costumes are such a fun way to inspire the imagination (and storing dress up gear is as easy as a cool mini trunk – unlike storing many other toys out there), this fireman’s costume comes with some fun accessories.

Oh man, do you remember auto bingo?

Now that Liv is walking (running!) I would love to get this 4-in-1 Radio Trike for her for Christmas. For ages 9 months to 5 years, it converts from a stroller to a steering trike, learning-to-ride-trike, and finally a classic trike.

These colorful birds by Etsy artist katikamade would make a beautiful baby mobile or nursery decoration.

These fake mustaches would be the neatest stocking stuffer for boys or the young at heart.

I love wooden puzzles and this numbers puzzle would make a very cool Christmas gift for Olivia.

The Pocket Guide to Magic is a fun peak inside the tricks of the trade.

Check out these awesome trucks made out of recycled plastic milk containers! Right up my alley and these guys have received great reviews on Amazon.

I found BriarClaire on Etsy and fell in love with her beautiful felt hair clips, she’s made three custom sets for Liv and they’re very well-made and precious! and at a very reasonable price.

This sleeper is just adorable for little boys or girls.

I’m hoping to get Olivia another pair of these Ugg Mary Janes for the winter (she’s grown so quickly out of her 9 month size!). They keep her feet warm and with a pair of tights look just adorable (my favorite pair of shoes of hers to date). I’d also like to get her a boot pair of uggs because they’re perfect for this time of the year. Why do baby feet have to grow so fast?

Love Tea Collection! Olivia has several outfits by them and these are my favorite two dresses right now, thank goodness it doesn’t get too cold here in San Diego and a long sleeve undershirt is all you need to create winter outfits.

This cute striped hat or deliciously fuzzy version will keep those little ears warm this winter!


Mom, Dad? If you’re reading this you now have a great idea of what I would love to get for Liv this Christmas (or her birthday which follows closely behind!). Hope this inspires everyone for fun and popular gifts for the kids! If you’ve found something awesome for kids this Christmas, please leave it in the comments.

And don’t stress about last-minute shipping – Amazon Mom Prime offers free 2 day shipping if you regularly purchase a baby-related item once a month. We live by it in this household. The above post contains some affiliate links.

New Kitchen: Custom Calendar Art

In the week of blogiversary giveaways, I posted that recently I had turned my favorite calendar into new wall art for the kitchen.

Previously, the gap on the wall looked like this:

Sorely in need of something large and in charge to both soften the room and fill up blank space.

I’m pretty picky about art, especially something so prominently placed that’s going to be seen day in and day out, so I had a hard time (a really, really hard time) coming up with a solution for the space. I had one large Ikea square frame in my little frame collection and realized that this area of the kitchen might just be the place for it. After testing out on the wall I determined that two stacked would be better and picked up one more. Progress was made! Now I needed to find art.

When I came across this calendar on the Rifle website by chance, I fell in love with the style of the illustrations! There were several months in the calendar that I thought would especially work well and in one of those crazy moments where the stars collide and you make up your mind on the spot, I bought the calendar online.

While I waited for the calendar to arrive I set out to find mattes for the frames since I knew that the calendar pages were 11×11″ and not my 22″ frame size. I usually err on the side of white but the linen mattes from the office wall collage were some of my favorites, and a similarly textured matte would look great in the kitchen against the natural woods and jute rugs. After much price comparison I went with Michaels where they cut the mattes for me for ~$20 each (I usually buy my all white mattes on eBay where they can be custom cut and are the cheapest).

But then the calendar arrived and oh no! Not only were the beautiful illustrations visible in the frame but the title of each month was too:

Why hadn’t I thought about that? Not what I was hoping for.

After a little creative brainstorming I ended up cutting apart other pages of the calendar with similar foliage and tried to camouflage the lettering by covering it up.

In tutorial form (because I am all about visuals), here goes:


DIY Art with Creative Cover-Ups

Materials: frame, matte, art to frame, photocopy of art to frame OR similar art (for the purpose of camouflaging whatever it is you’re trying to hide), scissors, glue stick

Cut, position and glue!

Cut as closely as you can to your copied art (via photocopying, scanning and printing, or purchasing a duplicate of the same piece) and hide your lettering (or whatever it is you’re hoping to make go away).

And here they are hanging!


Love the look of the linen matte (which has a slight texture) against the illustrations and love the dark frames that compliment our oil rubbed bronze kitchen faucet and pendants.


It’s all about bringing in different elements in different places. The dark wood barstools compliment the dark wood range hood, the lighter walnut cabinets are similar to the doors, the dark slate tiles have the same leathery grey as the counter tops and now the oil rubbed bronze is evident in both the faucet, pendants, cabinet pulls and art.

The left side of those frames is a window under construction (boarded up) waiting to be turned into the top of a built-in bar (potentially in many many years ;)). But as of now, the new art compliments the room really well! And I’m glad I found a fix for art that I really do love.

All kitchen makeover posts can be found right here.

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