Traditions Matter - Here's Why

Holiday traditions are odd things, aren’t they?

Some are considered quite common. Others not so much.

As a child, I thought everyone gathered around Aunt Margaret at the piano to sing Christmas carols. I figured most families dragged out their bell collection (some very liberty-like, others of the souvenir variety) every year for an ear-piercing version of Jingle Bells. Eek! I also assumed serving egg-nog (with far too much, bourbon, cheers to Aunt Alice) from a century-old punchbowl was, you know, normal.

But we all create a baseline from the family we knew.

And I’m here to tell you, traditions don’t have to be big. They don’t have to be hilarious. They don’t have to be epic. They just have to exist. They matter. Why?

When the world feels unstable, when natural disasters seem too frequent and when tragedy is far too common, it’s nice to know some things never change. A little bit like the seasons, traditions provide predictability. Something you can count on in an impermanent world.

So do me a favor. Resist the urge to “shake it up” this season. Keep your own sense of peace - your safety net space.

Whether it’s gathering everyone for a photo in front of the fireplace, eating pickled beets out of jars or gingerbread frosting fights (sometimes not so friendly) in the kitchen, keep your traditions.

Start new ones. Maintain old ones. Lead the charge - even against grumpy men and bratty toddlers. Make it happen.

Your family will thank you.

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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.


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).


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!