Holiday Cards: How to Get it Done With Grace

It’s the end of autumn. The leaves are browning and crunching under kids’ feet. Instagram is chock full of new ways to craft and bake with pumpkins and apples. The scent of cinnamon is everywhere.  


Then you hear it, “So what are your plans for the holidays?”And the fall season literally falls away. You think about the parties. The concerts. The road trips, flights, dinners, decorations, traffic, and cookies . . . oh the cookies. And--the holiday card.

What’s your plan? Here’s some advice for all those decisions. Don’t forget to breathe.

1. What’s the best backdrop?

Choices are many and you can’t really go wrong. Want something seasonal, go with the fireplace stockings or snow. If neutral is better, white brick is fabulous for Instagram posts. More drama and elegance demands something darker and richer.

2) What to wear?

Consider different theme options--have a holiday pajama party or go with a superhero thing. If you’re not into a theme, select a cohesive neutral palette. Pick a family: dark and dramatic? Black, navy and charcoal. Light and snowy? (white, light blue, blush). Hint: Let the kids weigh in. It will make them so much happier that day.

3) Folded or unfolded?

With so many people opting to DIY their cards these days as a postcard, I enjoy receiving a folded greeting card.  It’s a throwback. A classic. It has finesse. It’s unexpected. And less likely to get lost in the sea of holiday magazines and greetings.

4) Stylish paper or recycled?

Online, glossy and matte are where the choices end. But a local stationery shop (Go local!) has a lot more to offer. As for the paper selection, you can’t lose. Stylish looks amazing. Recycled gives that crafty feel and gives you environmental points! My compromise is a green linen--environmentally healthy, but still bright and sassy.

5) How many photos?

Enlist the kids to help you make a list. No need to go overboard. Facebook provides a lot of updates these days. When there’s less, they’re more precious. If you’re spreadsheet happy, great. But if you're tired, never mind the spreadsheet and just wing it. Thirty is a nice round number.

6) Any advice for the kids?

Kids keep the fun going--and thank goodness for that. Why not channel their energy toward the joy of the photo? What to do?  Once you’ve posed for the traditional family photo, take a few for fun: Make funny faces, jump up and down, have an impromptu dance party, play tag, sing songs or have a popcorn fight. Whatever suits your silly!

If all of this sounds too complicated, never fear! You can always come to me and I’ll take care of walking you through all the details so you and your loved ones look like the masterpieces you know them to be.

A Turkey Day Treat: Top 5 Tips to Thanksgiving Portraits

Hosting Thanksgiving tomorrow and you still want to get a family portrait from the big day?

It’s the day before Thanksgiving and all through the house the family was …

  • Tidying up the main room

  • Chopping ingredients for the big meal

  • Asking, “Where does this go?” for the 500+ time

  • And dozens of other things


You stop and wonder how on earth you’ll get the meal out in a reasonable amount of time, much less get everyone together in a photograph.

Take a deep breath and let me share a few tricks up my sleeve:

  1. Antenna patrol:   Before you place everyone, take a look at the surroundings and ask yourself if there’s any distracting element in the background that might give someone antennae  (e.g. doorway molding, antlers from a hunting trophy, etc)

  2. Pace everyone out:  Incorporate the sofa - even the ends of the sofa - or some kitchen chairs to stagger everyone out in terms of height. Otherwise, everyone clusters in a big clump and they look uncomfortable (because they are uncomfortably crowded), OR everyone is in a long line and it resembles more of a line up than anything festive.

    For instance, got a loveseat?  Great! Place a few of the younger kids on the floor in front of the loveseat - with a board book or a toy if that keeps them occupied, then seat 3 grown-ups on the loveseat itself, followed by adults on either end of the loveseat, and then fill in the remain adults around the edges.  Voila! Does that change things?

  3. Lengthen Out:  Whether standing or sitting, everyone should use good posture - aka no slouching.  

    Got some taller folks throwing off your composition - i.e. out of frame?

    Have them take a seat or take a knee - even kneel on an ottoman that others are seated on, or take a wide stance so that they’re on a similar plane as everyone else.

  4. Level up:  As in, take one of those boxes from Amazon thanks to early holiday specials or a step-stool and use it to add some height to your camera.  

  5. Time it:  Use a timer so you can be in it with everyone else.  Leave a gap in the pose so you have a set spot just for you. Remember, someday the rest of the family might wonder where you were that year.  Plus, fair is fair - if you want the photograph, you should be willing to be in it.

BONUS:  Be sneaky: Can you set the camera up to take 3 photos in a row?   Do it! Then, tell everyone to smile for the first & make a goofy face for the second.  By the third, everyone will be relaxed and laughing - an improv moment of fun in the family.


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Ghosts, Ghouls, and Goblins: How to Photograph Yours!

The pumpkin lattes are pouring. Hayrides have begun. Pumpkin patch field trips are in full swing. The local farmers’ market has gourd and squash towers for toppling. How will you capture the costumes this Halloween?

Ghoul Lighting

Simple and scary anyone attending the Monster Mash--and unafraid of ghosts. Adds typically unwanted shadows (ha!) but also accentuate cheekbones and noses for an eerie effect.

  1. Grab your nearest flashlight.

  2. Hand it over to the ghoul of choice.

  3. They hold it under their chin, but outside the camera frame, light facing up.

  4. Now take the shot.

A Dash of Moonglow.

Your favorite kiddo is a werewolf, but it’s only 5:00 and time to trick or treat. Here’s how to get moonglow before sundown.  

  1. Find a flashlight (yellow) or some glowsticks (white-blue). A tablet also works.

  2. Head to the darkest room of your house.

  3. Have a  helper beam your light tool downwards from above.

  4. Play around with angle and aim.

  5. Put your camera flash in  “night” mode if you have it. No flash.

GIA--Ghosts in Action (Best with a real camera)

The idea is to capture kids and costumes in motion--they’ll be moving faster than the camera so there’s a bit of a blur (aka ghost) in the frame. Try SCO or Camera+--both apps can adjust your shutter speed. People walk at a 1/30th second so try shutter at 1/50th.

  1. Stand way back from the kids

  2. Have them run, skip or twirl

  3. Aim the camera at another nearby object.

Bonus Halloween Tips:

  • Shimmery makeup typically doesn’t play well with flash and will create hotspots.

  • Add twinkle lights (many come with a battery pack) to any costume for added dazzle and cool photography, just mind it doesn’t constrict movement (or even breathing).

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Paper is Still Important: Tips for Non-Digital Picture Preservation

With all this hurricane drama--Florence’s wrath has come and gone--I think it’s time to talk about backing up your family photographs. Natural disasters come when you least expect them. Earthquakes, mudslides, hurricanes, and tornadoes are all alive and well in our weather system-- it just depends on where you live!

But I’m not talking about your digital cache. I mean the good old-fashioned stuff you hold in your hand. Maybe the ones that have been sitting in your spare bedroom for months now. Those filed away in your attic (hopefully not) or basement. 

You might be thinking, “Erin, Sweetie, I don’t have time for that.”   

But I’d argue that you don’t have time NOT to.  

That photo of your grandparents after the stop at the courthouse before he left for the war?  Your favorite Great-Aunt Adelaide on her wedding day? Are you the only one in the family who has a copy? Trust me, it’s time.

#1 Leverage those doubles from yesteryear!

Find your stash of doubles from the pre-digital days--either in the basement or (I hope not) the attic. Find your favorite two dozen & place them in an acid-free envelope.  Place the envelope in your evacuation go-bag. Now your favorite memories from the various field trips, vacations, and holidays can join you on the road trip ahead.

Don’t forget the big photo envelopes. Moms are notorious for over-ordering and then never passing out the pics. Divvy those up and distribute between siblings so everyone has a few snapshots of you from 3rd grade!   My brother has copies of my school photos and vice-versa. These spark terrific discussion when your niece sees your crimped-80s hair and bright fluorescent clothing choices.

Bonus tip: Grab an acid-free pen and note the year of the image or the age of the kid in the image.

#2 Scan the snapshots with your device.

In addition to the paper copies, take a few minutes to scan the snapshot stack and any images you inherited (e.g those wedding & engagement portraits mentioned above or the one of cousin Ethel who did go uphill to school each day). And don’t forget a few school snapshots - you know, the ones from the Thanksgiving pageant and the Springtime sing-along. Phone cameras work, but GeniusScan (app) is even higher quality and can be saved directly to Google Drive for backup. A USB works well too--then it can go in your evacuation envelope you’ve got stashed by the bed!  

Having backups in both print & digital when you can is the best of both worlds because it provides you with more options and minimizing your chance of a loss. Happy storing!

#3: Use a good old fashioned safety deposit box.
Remember when you went with Mom and Dad to the bank to put something in the safety deposit box. It was a secret drawer and only you had the key. These may have fallen slightly out of fashion in the digital age, but I’d argue there are still some paper items worth protecting! Photos for one! Safety deposit boxes are still available at some banks and most are in a vault, which means it has additional security. This New York Times article* can tell you more. You can also ask your estate lawyer or insurance agent to keep an envelope in their office as a backup. Or, if you want to keep it in your own home, check out this fireproof document safe*.  

Whether you go digital or opt for the safety deposit box, why not save these pieces of your ancestry?

Do it for you! Do it for your children. Do it for future generations!

*By the way, I don’t make any money providing links to products, but I’m also not responsible for the product or your use of them.  


How to Find Peace with Photo Organization

RETHINK
Myth: More is more.

Reality: I know this won’t come as a shocker, but with photographs, less IS more. Books line the stores with ways to tidy up. Millennials are driving an experience-based economy. It’s all around and there’s no denying it. There’s simply no need to keep all 67 images from that trip to Gulf Shores in 1991.  

Wouldn’t it be better to have a few standout photographs in frames and on your walls. Maybe another handful in an album? Wouldn’t it be nice to know that shoebox is gone?

Solution: Start clearing it out and organizing them now.  It’s never too late to begin.

REORGANIZE
Myth:  You’ll eventually get to that stack of photo albums sitting in the guest bedroom. The same one that’s been there since 2016.

Reality:  Out of sight, out of mind.  As you pile the boxes of mini-polaroid snapshots and Walgreens-processed doubles, ask yourself:

  • How often am I in here?

  • Does anyone else know about these boxes?

  • Do I need to move before I’ll make this happen?

Solution: One step at a time. First, do what I call the First Filter. Make two piles: Keep and Toss. (No “Maybe” pile allowed). Pass along other images or discard the rest.  You can even send a stack away to photo scanning companies to get digital copies for you and your loved ones.

RELIEF
Myth: You’ll have time to grab a box of photographs if the house is on fire.

Reality:  If there were a wildfire approaching, maybe. But when you smell smoke or hear the tornado siren, you move fast. The boxes are heavy. You’re panicked. In fact, the boxes are a fire hazard themselves, sitting at the foot of the attic stairs.

Solution: Grab 10 key photographs you want to keep. Put them in an archival envelope and stash them by your bed. Whew. Does this mean you can’t bring them all? Yes. Is your life more important than photos? Yes.

The Photographs in Your Attic: 3 Myths

Are you like some members of my family?  Have you stockpiled boxes of photographs thinking that you’ll eventually frame or place in an album?  Oh dear.

Before you add anything more to that collection, let me help you with a few lessons learned from both sides of my family in recent years.

Myth: All your photos can be safely stored in the attic.

Reality: Do you hang out in your attic in the summer?  Nope. Neither should your photographs. Just think about all those old damaged photographs from your Grandmother Tessa’s trunk. It wasn’t just tobacco and coffee staining those up. It was heat, humidity, and mold. While the attic might be the "safest" place -- nobody will accidentally toss them out -- its also generally the warmest place in the house. And the most humid. Climate changes between seasons are enough to leave them a crumbled mess.

Solution: No need to display them. No need for them to be convenient, but temperature control matters.  Just keep them in your main living area or the basement. High shelves, to avoid flooding, are best. 

Myth: The photographs are in plastic so they should be fine.  

Reality:  Is the plastic merely water repellant or is it waterproof?  I’m asking for a friend who had air conditioner ducts leak. . . and a relative of said friend who had a leaky roof ruin boxes of baseball cards and genealogy research. True story. But there’s more. Is the plastic acid-free? (i.e. Are there any chemicals, which might unintentionally harm the photographs?)

Solution:  

  1. Check the details on that plastic storage box before you invest in it.

  2. Periodically check the box for cracks, holes, or faulty seals. (e.g. Have you overpacked it and prevented it from sealing?).

  3. Gauge the weight of the box. If you had to move it, could you? No, really?

Myth: No one goes into that attic but me.

Reality: Ever experience a squirrel invasion?  Or had to fumigate an attic for bugs? Does your cat or dog ever escape up there?  Could you find all their, ahem, droppings, if you had to? Attics get unexpected critters and they don’t all discriminate in what they destroy. But I’m talking about humans too.  

Solution: Check boxes for food and drink stains that could attract critters. If you find any, get a new box.  Bonus points to you if you use acid-free storage boxes.

Medina Photo Mojo Series: Five Tips for Back to School Photographs for Parents

1. Get Low

Have you ever taken a photo from the height of a child? Really bent down to their eye-level? It makes a huge difference in the frame of the photo. It also reassures your child that while an adult, you’re still part of their world. This may also change the expression in their eyes! Sniff!

 

2. Step Closer

Sometimes the photographer tries to take it all in. The house. The yard. The roller coaster. The jungle gym. And sometimes that’s fine. However, don’t forget to crop. A close-up can capture so much more. His first day of school “hairdo”. The barrettes she just had to have.
 

3. All In the Family

Get in there!  That’s right. Get a group shot. Don’t be embarrassed. Set up your timer and prop up your phone with a book.  Get everyone tucked in nice and tight. Capture your connection to one another - even if it means risking another round of “Stop touching me!!”

 

4. Same Spot, Every Year  

Try to use the same one every year. First, it establishes a routine with your child as they grow up. Second, you can display this shot to show how they’ve changed over the years. Fireplace. Front steps. Foyer. You choose. Another idea? Take a pic in front of that sapling you planted when you first moved in. One more? Stop by the grandparents' house for a surprise and quick photo opp.

 

5. Embrace the Silly

Kids will be kids. It’s the natural way of things. While you may prefer a more traditional image walls or holiday cards, there’s nothing wrong with mugging the moment. Ask them to make a silly face or to dance to their favorite song.  Gaze wondrously at their whimsy! Freeze-frame their fun-loving personalities!
 

BONUS: Don’t forget Fido.

Have a pet?  Take a few minutes to graph a photo of the two of them together.  From iguanas to goldfish and basset hounds to Bailey the hamster, it’s all about the love. Snap them at feeding time. An action shot is fun too -- perfect for a rambunctious puppy!

 

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5 Factors to Consider When Choosing a Photographer

Pictures have so much power, don’t they?

There’s nostalgia. And memories. Multi-generational moments. And messy children.

They can represent the day you got married, the moment when your laughter becomes a cackle, the year you got your braces off or the last month with a loved one. A meaningful photograph is the stuff of legends.

That’s why it’s easy to get caught up in the emotion instead of the project details.

Organizing a photography session -- let’s face it -- is not for the faint of heart.

Before you fall in love with the idea of that gold-framed portrait above the fireplace, you have to choose the right photographer. I can help.

1. The Actual Offering
A lot of photographers include the basics -- they snap a session and send you hundreds of digital files a week later. Lickety split. Sounds fast and efficient. That might be for you. But others (that’s me!) can provide a whole slew of services including wardrobe consultation and selection, session-day direction and prompts, as well as portrait display options, then send you a reasonable (and previously vetted) amount of high-quality photos. (No closed eyes or slouching to sift through).

2. The Outside Question
This is really your choice. The outdoors can be a beautiful shot, but carry with them the chance of rain, wind, bugs, dew, and heat. Then there’s glare and squinting and lots of sweating!  (I am flexible, but do more inside portraits. To each their own!). Also, consider the participants of your portrait. Adults are neat (fewer spills) and easily maneuverable across locations. Toddlers not so much. That’s why it’s essential to see what the “time” really includes.  (See #4)

3. The Retouching Policy
This is a very personal preference. Some photographers choose five photos themselves for retouching. Others let the client choose. Some retouching can make you look dramatically different, modifying eye color, finessing your hair tone, restoring your body shape to 20 years ago and removing all traces of non-head hair. Others prefer a more natural route (I’m the classical type) and photoshop out more major issues like hair in your face, blemishes, softening lines around your eyes, or a shirt rumple. My advice? Consider your style. Review the portfolio.  And then go with your gut.

4. The Timeline

This is so critical! And it’s not just about the session! There’s

  • the time leading up to the session (Will we meet beforehand? When is our consult?)

  • the time of the actual session (Does the fee include one hour or five hours? Is there time to change outfits? How long will my infant last without sleeping?)

  • the turnaround of proofs and touch-ups (I need these for my holiday cards!).

  • Finally, once you order, how long will the photos take to be delivered?

Flexibility (take all the time you need!) is helpful, but accountability and deadlines are nice too. I prefer to meet with people in person after curating a gallery of 10-20 proofs. That gets the portrait on the wall in a few weeks, rather than a few months. But you know your lifestyle and schedule best!

5. Style is Essential

While most people choose a photographer based on personal connection -- and this matters --what’s equally important is a photographer’s style. Are they more documentarian with action shots? Or do they pose people carefully? Are they more akin to weddings or multi-generational portraits? Is there an artistic quality to their portfolio or is their style more straightforward? Only you know what’s best for your family, your home and your happiness!

Happy posing!

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