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Greeting Cards

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Photo Greeting Cards are just scrapbooking in miniature. They have all the same components as a scrap page – Background, Journaling, accents and of course a photo (or two). You just shrink the format a little.  Like we’re always saying around here; sometimes you have to think small to get big results.

The other upside to this project is that it’s one way to avoid holiday card replication. What I mean is that when you create custom photo cards using, of course, your own photos; it’s guaranteed, that no one will get a card just like the one you send.

"Right," and you’re thinking, "the chances of adding a create-a-card project to my holiday schedule this late in the game are approximately as good as my finishing Christmas shopping before New Years."

Okay, skepticism is healthy when taken in moderation. But you may not know about the shortcuts you can take (and all the help can provide you). Think of the shortcuts this way: you do the fun part—designing the card, and then you could have someone else do the hard part—printing the cards, licking the stamps, and putting the cards in the mail. Delegation is what makes one person capable of accomplishing an almost infinite number of tasks.

So much for those who are on an already tight schedule. For those with plenty of time and creative initiative, there's also the option of starting from scratch—Designing, printing, addressing, and mailing the cards all by yourself. Of course that takes away from the family activity… but that might be a good thing.

Either way we thought we'd suggest five holiday photo ideas that you can use or adapt for your own, personal holiday photo cards.

Creating your own photo holiday cards is faster, easier, and more fun than you might think, especially when you have to help get you started.  Our holiday mini-pages are ideally suited for this task.  Just add photos and journaling and you’re on you way.

The Family Photo

Traditional family cards

Use a simple recent picture of the kids or yourself to delight family and friends. This photo was taken two years ago of our granddaughters. We used it for the family's holiday cards that year.

Option number one is to follow the time-honored tradition of sending family and friends a new family photo—a photo that includes all of the family or at least the kids. For this type of card, you have a choice. You can take a new picture now, or use one of the recent ones you have on hand. If you're short of time, pick one of the family vacation photos, or take a quick candid picture of the kids wrapping gifts, playing in the yard, or just clowning around with you or each other.

Whatever approach you choose, here are a few things to consider for holiday card photos.

  • You should move in close. No one will realize that the kids have grown a foot if they are on a distant horizon.

  • Try to include you and your spouse. After all, that’s what the timer on the camera is for… right? Christmas is a time for families, so get everyone in on the act.

  • Take a lot of pictures. Always take more pictures than you think you'll need. It's so easy to miss a great photo by not pressing the button when it just feels right.  Don’t forget the backgrounds, you’ll need them for your holiday scrapbook later!

  • Perfection is overrated. Some of our best pictures we have of our kids show their irrepressible personalities and quirky characteristics, including messy hair, food stains, and the impossible faces they made. Remember, you love them as they are and so will the people who get the cards. So let the kids be themselves, and do your best to capture their glowing personalities in the photos you take.

  • If you don't have kids at home or you’re single, no problem. The insights above still all apply, they just need to focus on you and your spouse if you have one. Consider taking a portrait with your pet or even better, a self-portrait. Best of all, enlist the help of a friend or co-worker to take a picture of you in your favorite activity for the card.

Holiday ghosts of the past

What’s gets more attention than a recent photo? A retro shot—one of you and your family on Christmas years ago. How about sending that shot of your husband wrapped in Christmas paper at age 6 to his side of the family. For this idea, you'll need a scanner, or you can take the photo or a negative to a local photo lab and have it scanned. Those picture stations you see in stores will not only make prints, but most will put your photos on disk as well.


There’s quite a range of options on how to edit old photos. The most popular is to convert the digital image to sepia (redish brown) tone. If you use an image-editing program such as Picture It! Digital Image Pro or others, you can embellish the image with additional effects such as torn edges. Many of mine come that way naturally just from time and abuse.


I made this retro photo collage last year from baby pictures I had of my brother, sisters and I.  It turned out so well, I later made 8 X 10 prints for each of them. For the record, I'm the one in the upper right corner with the big head.

A retro card, such as this '60s baby photos, can be as much fun as using a recent photo.


Another option is to create a montage or collage of old photos. This option is especially good if you have photos of individual family members, but no photo of the entire family. Again, you can use your image-editing program to assemble the collage (see above).


Montages can be tricky. You’ll need a theme for the montage before you assemble all the photos you want to use. Once you have a clear idea of the theme and how many photos you want to include (remember—think small), you can then size the photos, choose a background image and determine the layout of the photos in the montage. If you choose to use a border or frame, try to keep it simple. With a montage, the more elements you add, the more difficult it will be for family and friends to absorb all the visual elements in the images.


Seasonal still-life photos: Cards that show off your photographic abilities

Another traditional approach to photo holiday cards is to use a seasonal still-life photo. For those who live in areas that don't get snow until after Christmas (or never), a seasonal still-life is a good option for creating a festive theme.  


While stills aren’t my specialty, our Christmas mini-page frame makes it look really cute.. don’t you think?  

Simple seasonal still-life photos can be found as easily as looking around the holiday tree. This photo taken with our Panasonic DMC-LC43 digital camera using only the light from the flash didn’t turn out too bad for an amateur photographer.


The trick to photographing a still life of seasonal decorations is to keep the image arrangement and the photo simple. Here are a few ideas that might help.

  • Holiday ornaments made by your children - Photograph the homemade ornaments using only the light from the tree. This light will create a nice holiday glow. Be sure you disable the flash or cover it up temporarily and use a tripod when you take the photo. Existing light photo’s need to be as steady as possible.

  • Food and goodies - Homemade breads, cookies, and pies can make appetizing holiday still-life photos. For example, take a picture of a loaf of fruit cake while it is still on the cooling rack. To add warmth, turn off the camera's flash again and take the picture under normal household (incandescent) light. A couple of lit candles on either side of the loaf can also make a great added touch.

  • Holiday decorations, mistletoe, holly, and, of course, the holiday tree - Natural subjects are ideal for still-life photos. Again, with these types of subjects, it’s best to turn off the flash, especially if you're shooting indoors. The natural warmth of household lighting always provides a warm, festive tint. Being different counts, try to take a new approach to the photo by shooting from an unusual position or try using the macro function on your camera and you may be able to isolate interesting details. Just like above, adding candlelight to the scene may be the way to go.

Seasonal backgrounds

Always one of my favorites, this approach uses a wintry scenic or landscape photo for your holiday cards. The experts say that if you want a postcard-perfect image, then take the picture on a bright, clear day. Having said that, however, I feel that this is a great time to show off your most evocative images of early morning snow or fog scenes, misty morning landscapes, waterfalls, and even rainbows arching across the horizon.


We shot this one on vacation.  This was the view from our plane over Tennessee at sunset.  It reminded us of what Santa must see from his sleigh.  We just put it behind one of our mini-pages and hit print.

So, the weather isn't perfect, you can use one of your favorite, weather images of early morning fog, for instance, or even a sunset from 15,000 feet high as shown here.


Here are a few tips for getting the most out of your scenic photos.

  • Use a wide-angle lens or no zoom. In general, the experts rely on moderately wide-angle lenses (28mm) and zoom settings to capture a broad sweep of the scene. Most zoom cameras today, digital and film, usually come close to this with at least a 35mm setting. In addition, a narrow aperture, say f/11 or f/16 (if you can set it), helps ensure front-to-back sharpness. In the terms I understand… get as much in the scene as possible and take several shots with different settings and see what turns out.

  • Use a polarizer on glassy surfaces like windows or water. A polarizer intensifies colors, reduces glare and reflection, and increases saturation. Again, in my terms, it makes the reflection less and darkens the colors.

  • Take your photo in the early morning or evening and take advantage of the beautifully rich light.

  • Take your time and compose the picture with care. Most scenic shots  aren’t going anywhere (;-]) Any expert will tell you that a good landscape photo will coax the viewer's eye into the scene and guide it through the image (like a path through a forest). Frame the image so that there is something in the foreground to provide a natural starting point for the eye, and arrange it so that more distant objects, such as the curve of a river or cloud line, direct the eye through the rest of the image.

Last, but not least:  Photos as art

You don't have to be a digital artist to make cool holiday photo cards. You do, however, need a capable image-editing program and a fairly good eye to know when you’ve gone too far. The last point deserves some further explanation.


I’ve found that there is a fine line between an enhanced photo and a trite, over-done photo. We’ve already seen enough "watercolor-effect" images and “soft-focus” images. If you choose the artsy approach for your holiday card, the best advice I can offer is to use special effects and filters with a light hand. This is usually one case where less “is” really more.  


We took this photo with our new Panasonic camera on vacation in the Caribbean.  I just opened the photo in my graphics program and selected the effects menu and chose Charcoal.  Looks pretty good, doesn’t it!

Digital art from you photos doesn’t have to be difficult.  Just take your time and know when to stop.  This simple charcoal picture was created with Microsoft Photo Editor and its special effects filters.


Here are a few ideas you can try.

  • While it’s still in the camera, try using your slow-sync flash feature (your medium to high end cameras all have them) during a long exposure. This will create an image with both sharpness and motion blur. This technique is perfect for pictures of the kids and pets playing at night. You can also create in-camera color tints by placing a colored filter or a piece of colored cellophane over the camera's flash unit to change the overall color of the image. I’ve found that green with a scene of snow makes for an eerie winter feeling.

  • Black and white conversion. While this sounds overly simple, never underestimate the singular ability that black and white has to make an artistic statement. From personal experience, I recommend shooting images in color, and then converting to black and white on the computer. This allows you to get the highest resolution and still have the ability to convert to black and white later. Many image-editing programs provide one or more ways to convert to black-and-white images. The conversion is simple. In most programs it’s as easy as selecting the effects menu and selecting Black and White.

  • One of my favorite effects, especially for cards, is to turn them into charcoal images. Like black and white, this can be a very simple yet powerful statement for the holidays.  Just imagine your favorite family photo or scenic as a line drawing. Like black and white images, this is usually very simple. I do have one suggestion to make the effect a little more clear.  Choose a photo with high contrast (lots of dark shadows and bright colors). This will really make your photo stand out.

  • The last effect I want to talk about is tints. While sepia toning (which we talked about in our holidays of the past) is likely the most familiar tinting effect, you can choose other color tints and often achieve wonderful results. Colors and tints of color have symbolic meanings that you can use to underscore the message of the photo. For example, yellows and reds create feelings of warmth, while blues and greens create feelings of cold and calm before the storm.

Let's wrap it up

If you’re one of those that have a busy schedule, the easiest next step is to delegate the printing and mailing functions. Kids can be a real help in this area if you have them.  We always made it a family event with fresh made cookies and hot chocolate.  The four of us had no problems knocking out 40 cards in an hour.  Just a little preparation, such as an up to date address list, made quick work of it.  If family is not the answer, many of the same stores with the photo scanners, are prepared to take your work of art and print as many copies as you need.  Your local church or teen organizations are always looking for opportunities for their kids.  A mailing list, the printed cards and a few dollars for labor and mailing costs will make short work of your Christmas task.


For those who have more time, you have the option of creating the cards and printing them on your photo-quality printer at home. Most craft and office supply stores carry blank card stalk and envelopes suitable for printing photo holiday cards. I use photo-printing paper, as it’s already a heavy bond.  Just make sure it’s blank on the back, you don’t want to try and write your special holiday notes over a company logo. You can personalize the cards with stamps, stickers, ribbons, and other decorations before sending them.  If you use our mini-pages, most of that work is done for you.


Regardless which route you take, creating your own photo cards is a sure way to break out of the tired-looking-holiday-card rut. And remember that the holiday photos you take can also be used for dinner invitations, holiday letter stationery, and as post-holiday thank-you cards. At least the ones you won’t be putting in your new holiday scrapbook.  And don’t forget that this is the electronic age.  How easy is it to attach your new electronic card to an e-mail for instant delivery.


Just one final note, Christmas isn’t the only time of year we send cards.  Birthdays, Valentines Day and Anniversaries are just a few examples of how you could use these techniques all year long.