Christmas comes with customs and traditions. But just because it’s traditional it doesn’t have to be boring. Guest blogger Eric Doggett writes about how he started to create his own Christmas cards.
I started creating Christmas cards in 2009. I kind of fell into it, actually. At the time I was shooting editorial work for local magazines as well as weddings. When the holidays started to come around, my wife and I knew that we didn’t want the standard ‘family sitting in the grass in front of the house’ photo. We all get those every year, and usually they don’t end up staying around much past Christmas. I wanted to create something that would stay on our friends’ refrigerator for a little bit longer.
There was a restaurant here in Austin called, appropriately, the Austin Diner. One day I walked in and asked them if I could take a shot of the bar area for a background for our card. When I got home, I photographed each member of our family and placed them into the scene. I did some work to make the scene look more like the 1950’s by removing neon signs, changing prices on the wall et cetera.
I was super-proud of that card, and it got a lot of attention from our family and friends! The next year, we decided to keep our new tradition going, and soon-after I was creating cards for all sorts of clients. Since then, I’ve created over 50 unique holiday cards. Some of them are simple and just involve a quick shoot. Others are more intricate and may involve miniature set construction or 3d work. All of them are a ton of fun!
In 2011 I picked up a Pro-B3 1200 AirS with a pair of Pro-B HeadPlus. I’m a fan of manual knobs and dials, and at this point it’s just second-nature for me to use this system.
When a family or a business asks me to create a card for them, there’s usually some back-and-forth about ideas. After all, this is really about storytelling. I’m trying to capture a lot about that family in one image. We’ll talk about things they love to do, traditions they have et cetera.
Usually, that results in a couple of ideas we could do. If we are still not sure, I’ll bring in a holiday aspect to their story. Which leads me to a little tip for those of you creating your card.
If you are having trouble coming up with an idea, take something that you enjoy doing and add some presents to it. For example, if you love to bike, be on the bike delivering presents. Or driving a car delivering presents.
Adding that aspect to a card has always worked for me. In fact, I have a bunch of empty boxes already gift-wrapped which I use each year for cards.
Sometimes I will create miniature sets in my studio. This gives me a starting-off point in Photoshop later. It’s much easier to add extra details later rather than trying to build the perfect set from the start.
I’ve worked with balsa wood, as well as a fake snow called Insta-Snow, which just needs water to create a believable snow which is easy to clean up.
When I’m on-location shooting for composites, I make notes of where the sun is. Then I can recreate it in studio later for all of the various elements.
For example, the paddleboard image started with this background shot.
In this image, the sun is straight ahead and high in the sky. I had this background image with me on the laptop when we photographed the subjects. I knew they would be placed slightly left in the frame, so I positioned their paddle board so that the sun light was hitting them from the same angle.
In the upper-right of the photograph you can start to see the one light I used with a Profoto Softlight Reflector White attached. This Beauty Dish is one of my main go-to modifiers on shoots like this because it gives me a great light quality with some nice punch. It also holds up well when it gets a little windy.
I used it in the exact same way for this composite shot of a family in downtown Austin:
Overall, I really love creating these images for people. It’s a perfect way to tell a story about their whole year, all in one image. A lot of clients will order canvases and large prints of the images too. For me, it’s about more than a card. It’s about creating a moment-in-time image that is full of personality, fun, and love for the holiday season.
See more of Eric Doggett’s images at austinchristmascards.com