Making of a Christmas Card, 2018

Most years, I tend to get rather frantic trying to figure out what I’m going to put on my card  that year. In 2013, I recorded this sequence of steps, and it’s pretty accurate for most years:

  1. OMG, I have no idea what I want to do, and it’s already December 8th (or 9th, or 10th. Sometimes as late as the 13th). Increasingly frantic as time goes by.
  2. Do I really want to do a card this year?  In the middle of this phase, I tend to get a card from someone saying they’re really looking forward to my card this year. Oh crap.
  3. I get an idea, but I’m not sure I can pull it off. Or more precisely, I don’t think I can pull it off, but I’ll give it a go, and if it doesn’t work out, go to Plan B. If I can think of a Plan B.
  4. A false start. Or two. I suck, and the idea is looking less and less promising.
  5. I start to figure out the mechanical details of how to pull it off.
  6. Hey, this is starting to look like something!
  7. Done! I did it! Now the purely mechanical chores of laying out the card, and printing them. Yes, my printer does still hate me.

This year, though was different, because last Christmas Eve, we had a storm the night before, which left everything under a coat of ice. 

Besides the hedges, I also got some pictures of the bows my mother put on the front railing. As soon as I saw this picture, I made a mental note to save it for this year:

Ice covered bow and greens

It turned out the picture required very little in the way of retouching, which was good, because my ancient copy of Photoshop has given up the ghost under the most recent version of macOS.

I’ve been printing my cards on quarter fold card stock for ages. I started using it over a decade ago because I was having difficulty getting cards through my printer, so I wanted to be able to get two small cards per sheet. I bought a new printer a couple of years ago, though, and production has been easier. So I decided to go with half fold stock this time, giving me a larger card.

I never know what to put on the inside of these cards. I generally put a holiday message printed on the inside, and add a handwritten note to each one, (hoping that the recipient can read my writing.) Most years, it’s the same message, just updating the year. But I had more room to fill this year.

The latter part of this year has been pretty crummy — starting in July, nearly every non-work moment for several months was either rainy, or devoted to chores. I haven’t had much chance to take the motorcycle, bike or kayak out, and I only went diving a couple of times this summer. But then, I was looking through my photo library, and realized I really had done some cool things this year – Bonaire in January, England in May, the balloon festival in June, and a day trip to Martha’s Vineyard. So I decided, since I had the extra space in this year’s card, to put some pictures and text of what I’d done on the inside. Since the front was a horizontal picture, I had the additional fun of trying to lay it out in Pages sideways.

Inside cover of 2018 card
Inside cover of 2018 card

As it turned out, the printer was less cooperative this year than last. For some reason, I could not get it to print two sided, meaning I had to print the two sides in steps, and apparently there is spilled ink inside it, as a fair number of cards were spoiled until I rearranged the layout so that if there were any smudges, they would be on the back of the card.

In hindsight, I think the quarter-fold layout works better for home-printed cards, both because it saves on printing time, but also because the smaller card size gives you cards that feel stiffer, even though the stock is the same weight. Nitpicking, I think I lightened up the picture a little bit too much. I may carry forward the idea of inside cover photography though. Here is the final result:

2018 Card cover

Merry Christmas everyone.

Making of a Christmas Card, 2017

I’m not exactly sure where the idea for this year’s Christmas card came from. I started mulling it over in late November. Last year’s Snow Globe was easy and successful, but I wanted something more than just a picture of a Christmas decoration. I wasn’t sure if I wanted a scenic, but I couldn’t think of anything in my library that would suit. Finally, I remembered the tradition of leaving a snack out for Santa, and everything fell into place. I’d imply a scene of Santa relaxing, taking off his hat, having a sip of his milk, and taking a bite out of his cookies. The actual scene would be the hat, the milk, and the cookies. Once I had the idea, it simply became a matter of shooting it.

I tried two different approaches. The first was on a small table from the living room, shot in the arch between the dining and living rooms, with the dark living room behind the scene. I chose that spot because I could bounce flash off the white dining room ceiling. The second approach was to use the same table top studio that I used for the snow globe last year.

I placed the table and scene in the arch, and then started shooting without the flash, to just get a sense of how to frame the scene, and place the items in it. Then I put some milk in the glass, added some cookies to the plate, attached the flash, and started shooting. Once I finished, I set up the table top studio, placed the scene inside it, and took some more pictures.  After a few shots, I decided the hat needed to be a little “peakier” and placed a can inside to make it stand up some. After shooting some more scenes, it was time to see what I’d gotten.

They weren’t good.

Truth be told, I actually liked the very first, test shot I took best.

The very first shot

I liked the clean look of this frame, and the “Old Master” feel of the existing light and dark background. In addition, I decided I liked the original placement of the hat best. Unfortunately, this frame was handheld, so there is motion blur, and it’s a test shot, so I hadn’t placed the milk or cookies yet.

I reshot it the next night. This time, I didn’t bother with the flash; instead, I used the tripod. I tried to replicate the look of the hat, used a nicer glass for the milk, (after taking a sip of it) and a more festive plate. This time, I came up with a shot I was happy with:

I then took the picture into Photoshop for some relatively minor modifications. Because of the existing light, the milk and plate were kind of yellowy-green. The inner part of the hat needed to be lightened up. And finally, I noticed that the top of the table had some scratches in it; after all the dust and scratches I’ve retouched out of slides, fixing the table was a piece of cake. Finally, I added a rough, deckle edged mask to the edges of the picture.

I then took the picture into Pages. I made a copy of last year’s card layout, placed the picture into it; and experimented with the placement and font of the text.

For some reason, it hadn’t occurred to me before to see if this printer supported two-sided printing, so I’d been in the habit of using two layouts, and running them in batches. This year, the light bulb went off; I checked, and sure enough, the printer supports it. So I changed the card layout to two pages and ran them off two-sided. When I think of all the years I spent feeding card stock sheet by sheet into a balky printer, this was so quick and easy.

2017 Christmas Card

Merry Christmas everyone.

Making of a Christmas Card, 2016

This year was a bit unusual in that I actually had two competing ideas for a card, and I was able to do them with a minimum of stress. The first idea was to get some pictures of Christmas lights at night, and I actually brought the tripod with me into work, and went out shooting afterwards at the Faneuil Hall Marketplace. I did get some good stuff there, but in the end, I decided to go with my second idea.

I’d gotten a “Table Top Studio” kit the previous Christmas. Essentially, it’s a small square tent with white nylon sides to soften the light coming from the included pair of quartz lights. It came with four backgrounds: red, white, blue and black, and I decided to pick up a small snow globe and photograph it.

My initial thought was to use the red background, because red’s a Christmas color. I shot a number of frames. The snow globe lights up and has a small impeller to stir up the glitter inside, so I shot a a number of pictures with the globe both on and off.

I found that the moving glitter didn’t really read as glitter (or snow) but rather as noise.

I also decided, more or less for the heck of it, to try it with the white and black backgrounds:

I found I really didn’t like the black ones at all, and the white ones were underexposed and the white background was wrinkled, so I decided to shoot a few more with more exposure. I also got the idea to hide the bottom of the background with some fluffy cotton, to make it look more like snow. I shot both red and white versions:

The cotton balls in both are a little too obvious, but I figured that would be easy to fix in Photoshop. The red one was more in line with my original conception of the shot, but there was something about the white one that I liked. The red one was a little cleaner; the white one had some color casts that needed cleaning up. The snowmen in the white one were a little easier to read, and the reflections of the lights on the globe were a little less prominent on that one too. It would also take less ink to print. After some hemming and hawing, I decided to go with the white one, and took it into Photoshop.

All these steps took a lot less time than it usually does. The photography took maybe 45 minutes, and I had the Photoshop work done in less than an hour.

Next, I imported the picture into the card template in Pages. This was a little ticklish since I had to rotate everything 90°, because the template is designed for horizontal pictures. For the text, I used Museo Slab, the same font I use here for headings. I ended up choosing golden text with red rules above and below.

All in all, pretty simple, but I’m pleased with the result, more so than I was with last year’s card.

Final Result

Final Result

Merry Christmas everyone.

Making of a Christmas Card, 2015

I was really of two minds as to whether I wanted to make a card this year. For some reason, perhaps the weather, perhaps the compressed calendar this year, I really wasn’t feeling it. Still, I spent some time going through my photo library to see if I could come up with some ideas, and quickly zeroed in on a series of pictures I took out in Colorado five years ago after a snowstorm. I wanted a picture with evergreen trees that were Christmas tree shaped, and decided I would transform it to a night scene, and ‘decorate’ the trees with lights. I decided to go with this picture, taken in the Arapaho State Forest, as we traveled from Breckinridge to Canon City: Continue reading