I really had no idea what I was going to do about a Christmas card this year, or even if I wanted to do one. I have less free time this year, and I wasn’t really feeling it. There is a big part of me that wanted to do a jump cut to February.
Still, a tradition is a tradition, and so, at the beginning of the month, I was wracking my brain trying to come up with an idea. I didn’t get as frantic as I did in 2013 — I have more confidence in myself now that I’ll figure out something — but I was definitely feeling bereft of ideas.
And then, one day, I was looking at pictures with Mum, and for some reason, I decided to look at my iPhone pictures. And there is was, a picture I’d taken with the iPhone last year:
Looking at it, it was nearly perfect. The only thing that bothered me was that you can see my hands holding the phone taking the picture. So I took it into Photoshop, and cut the hands and phone out of the picture, using Content Aware Fill, in several steps. I also bumped up the contrast a bit because printing on card stock tends to flatten the contrast a bit:
Content Aware Fill is an amazing thing. It took me maybe two minutes to take care of it; I remember when it would have taken me hours.
Then it was time to lay out the card. Once again, I used two-up card stock, using Apple Pages to lay it out. Vertical cards are actually laid out sideways on the template, so I just grabbed one of my older cards, replaced the images in them, updated the date on the back, and then had to decide on typography.
This year, I decided on white Bodoni 75 with a thin outline and drop shadow for better separation, placed directly on top of the picture. I removed the borders on the text box this year. I’m pleased with the way it came out — the type fits well with the picture, and it looks almost like a book cover.
The hard part this year was what to say inside. This has not been a good year for me or the family, because of Mum’s situation. Do I use the space to send a Mum update? But I send cards to a variety of people, and it wouldn’t be appropriate for everyone I send cards to. And a single message isn’t appropriate for everyone. In the end, for the pre-printed part, I went with the classic “Merry Christmas & Best Wishes for a Happy New Year”.
It took me a little while to come up with an idea for the card this year. I did take a second look at some of the Christmas light photos I shot in 2016 for the card that year; as it turns out, the same pictures I decided not to work with then, still didn’t speak to me now.
There is also a part of me that is getting tired of creating a new card each year; at some point the card will be a photo of all the prior year’s cards in a basket, and that will probably be the last one. I’m not quite at that point yet, though.
Mum and I got our COVID booster shots at Walgreens a few Saturdays ago; when you get a vaccine dose, you have to stick around for 15 minutes just in case you have an allergic reaction so that they can respond to it. So we fumfed around the seasonal aisle there, and they had a gingerbread house kit. I saw it, and went hmmmm.
Comes a week later, and I still hadn’t gotten any other ideas, so I decided to do it. So I went back to Walgreens and picked up a gingerbread house kit. I realized I needed something to act as a snow surface, so I went over to Michael’s to find some fake snow. I could not find any, and I couldn’t find a single staffer in the store who wasn’t running a register to help me. So I picked up a bag of white cotton, and some deer figurines and miniature trees.
Putting the kit together was pretty simple — the only surprising part was how long it took, because there were several points where you glue a couple of pieces together with icing, and then have to let it sit for 15 minutes while the icing set.
The photography was a problem. What I should have done was pick up a piece of white posterboard to act as a seamless background. What I did do was use the “desktop studio” I got a couple of years ago. It’s basically a 16″ x 16″ x 16″ lightbox, with a small pair of halogen lights to be positioned outside the studio, with red, black, white and blue backgrounds. The sides of the box are intended to diffuse the light to provide a nice soft illumination of the object inside.
Unfortunately, the studio was a little too small for the gingerbread house. It was hard to frame the picture so that the sides of the studio were not too visible. The backgrounds are not really seamless, since they came folded, and have a number of creases. I managed to get a couple of pictures, and then decided to try repositioning the lights outside the studio. While moving the right side light, the cord on the left side light got pulled, it fell off the table, and blew the bulb. So now, I had to live with one of the shots I already had.
None of them were particularly good; this one was the best of a bad lot:
It’s reasonably evenly lit, but the background is very visible, and the rightmost tree is crooked, and the cotton is pretty sparse in the left front. This turned out to be a fairly major Photoshop job.
First step was to do some basic color correction and lightening of the image.
Second step was to run a Gaussian blur against the background. I selected the area behind the scene, and run a strong blur against it.
Next, I used the stamp tool to even out the cotton “snow”
I’d created two different exposures of the photo when I ran the picture through Camera Raw; now I copied the left side roof from the darker version and combined it with the lighter version, where the roof was burned out.
Then I selected the rightmost tree, and rotated it a few degrees counter clockwise to straighten it out. I ended up using parts of the original layer underneath the working layer, but it ended up OK, even though I probably didn’t do it the right way.
The background was still too dark, so I masked the scene, and started lightening the background, to get it whiter.
Finally, I added some decorations and lights to the trees, then masked out a vignette area around the edges so that the photo would fade to white when printed on the card.
Then I brought it into Pages, using one of my prior year’s templates. When I printed it out, I found the background was still too dark. I ended up just making most of the background part of the scene transparent, so that when laid over a white background, it was white. In hindsight, I should have just extracted the scene from its background, and called it a day. I’m not thrilled with the little vestiges of the blurred background around the scene.
The next problem was what to put inside the card. The only card stock I could find at Staples when I went was half fold card stock, meaning the cards would be full size. I worked off my 2018 card, renamed the file, and changed the images inside. Unfortunately, I just haven’t done much interesting this year, so picking the pictures was hard. I ended up choosing half the pictures from our time on the Cape, and the last couple from a kayaking trip on the Charles.
For the text, I decided to riff on the subject matter and wished people a Merry Christmas and a “Sweet” New Year.
Once again, I decided to include Mum on my cards. People we both knew got a card from both of us, and I basically let her decide what I would would write. She doesn’t have enough dexterity to sign them anymore. For the cards from me alone, I wrote more of a note. I had most of the cards finished and in the mail by the first week of December.
I wasn’t sure I even wanted to do a Christmas card this year, with everything that’s going on. But at one point, Mum indicated she would like to join my card (she later changed her mind), so I started looking though my photo library to see if I had anything suitable. I knew that even more than most years, I did not have the spare time to devote a lot of time to cards. Fortunately, I was able to spend some time on them Thanksgiving weekend.
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. Continue reading →
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. Continue reading →
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 →
Part of the reason I was in such a rush to replace my old Mac was that it was getting close to the time to make this year’s Christmas card. Once the new Mac was up and running, one of the first things I did was start perusing my Aperture library for ideas. Continue reading →
I’ve been making my own Christmas cards for over a decade. Although I worry about it coming off as showing off, I enjoy doing it, and my recipients tell me they enjoy getting them and wonder what I’m going to do each year.