It’s that time of year again: the mad rush to get the house decorated, presents bought and – for me, the most dreaded of all – the addressing and mailing of the family’s annual holiday photo card. You might just tell me to skip it, but that would let down relatives and friends who, even in this overexposed, picture-sharing world, may get a glimpse of our family only from that one mailing. All the more reason that I like my family’s card to be special. I want it to reflect our family’s design sense and to complement whichever photo we select. Fortunately, in this digital age, there are dozens of sites to choose from that offer a variety of designs. Here are five of my best card-ordering tips, plus a list of my favorite online sources.
1. Get going now. Many companies have early print order deadlines for holiday cards, so the sooner you get your order in, the better. If you order now, you will also have more time to get your cards out; you can break up the stamping and addressing into several stages.
2. Consult your address book before you shop so you know the right number of cards to order. Now is the time to edit and pare down your list.
3. Be aware that some square or oversized cards need more postage because they must to be hand-sorted by the Postal Service.
4. Make sure you proof the card copy. Companies may charge more to send a proof, but would you rather save a penny or have a misprint?
5. If you have trouble getting the entire family in one good photo, look for cards that have multiple-photo designs.
What kind of card are you?
▪ If you like sleek and modern design:
If your style is clean and graphic, then Pinhole Press is the site for you. Cards have no-fuss typography and photos are either full bleed or on a straight grid (no cockeyed images here). The color palette is limited, as the emphasis is on the photos. Card prices start at $1.49 each and take two to three business days to process, followed by three to five days for regular economy shipping. Also worth noting are some of Pinhole Press’ other gift offerings, such as photo jigsaw puzzles and a clever photo memory game.
▪ If you like lots of options:
Tiny Prints, the upscale cousin of Shutterfly, has just this season introduced premium laser-cut, letterpressed or foil-stamped cards, offering several designs and colors in each category. The ordering process is simple and delivery is quick, especially considering the complexity of the designs: You can get the cards in two days if you are willing to pay for their “Super Rush Plus,” about $40. If you have more time, the company offers free standard shipping on orders of more than $49. Premium cards range from $1.99 to $3.19 each, with less expensive designs ranging from $1.24 to $1.59. If you have a tighter budget, head to Shutterfly for cards that start at 40 cents each.
▪ If you like a woodsy look:
Alabama-based Night Owl Paper Goods offers flat cards that are printed on eco-friendly, sustainably harvested birch wood veneer. You can personalize the cards with photos and/or a greeting on one side and either a pattern or a mini-calendar on the other. With prices ranging from $2.25 to $3 per wood card, they are definitely a splurge. If you like the look of the real wood but not the price, you can order the same design on paper for $1.25 to $1.99 per card. After you have placed your order online, a designer will tweak your card, then e-mail you a digital proof within 24 hours. Once you approve the design, wood cards will ship within eight business days, paper cards within six.
▪ If you are a hipster/design lover:
Minted offers a ton of design variations ranging from the humorous and quirky to the sweet and sentimental. The company has distinguished itself as a promoter of young designers and regularly hosts design competitions, featuring the winners on the site. New this year are Booklettes, which consist of eight pages of photos and text, and Minibooks, which consist of seven pages of customizable photos and text; both are stylish versions of an annual newsletter. The Booklettes cost $2.28 each and the Minibooks cost $3.44 each, and neither requires extra postage. As for shipping, Minted has a handy form that estimates your shipping based on your order date, but assume if you approve your proof in one day, you will get your order two to five business days after.
▪ If you like preppy couture (think Tori Burch):
Cards with a distinctly “designer” look make Iomoi stand out. They are printed on heavy cardstock and come with coordinating hand-lined envelopes. Photos need to be applied separately, but for an extra charge (20 photos for $10), the company will print your photo for you on glossy photo paper. These are among the most expensive cards – anywhere from $4.40 to $4.90 each – but as with all the companies, the more you order, the less each card costs. Iomoi ships via the Postal Service, so allow three to eight business days for shipping.
▪ If you are a traditionalist:
William Arthur claims to have produced the first photo card in 1987. Of course, that was before digital printing, when photos had to be printed, then individually mounted on each card. Today both William Arthur and sister company Crane & Co. offer digital versions of their classic designs. Or if you are a die-hard traditionalist, you can order the personalized cards and mount your own 4-by-6 photo on their card’s pre-taped front. Designs mostly consist of simple band, scroll or ribbon-like hand-engraved borders, and you have many fonts, ink and envelope linings to choose from. Cards vary in price from $1.87 per digital card to $4.49 per hand-engraved, photo-mounted card. Both companies have a fairly long lead time, five to 10 business days.
Picture perfect photos
Every year I promise myself that I will take a family photo during the summer that will be worthy enough to grace the front of our family’s holiday card. And every year I break that promise. This year is no exception. So if you, like me, haven’t been organized enough to tick the holiday family photo off your to-do list, here are 10 tips to help you get a photo that is picture-perfect.
1. Set the stage. Have a plan before you drag everyone into the frame. Make sure furniture is in place or the front porch is swept. Set up furniture so family members are at different levels (i.e. one person is sitting, another standing, another kneeling).
2. Dress for success. Don’t wear crazy prints or patterns (they distract the eye) and avoid wearing white or black (both will make you look bigger than you are). If you are doing a full family photo, you will want to be coordinated but not too matchy. Choose clothes that are classic, comfortable and neat.
3. Reward happy smiles. Kids have a short attention span when it comes to photo-taking – as does your family pet. Make sure you have treats to tempt them with after picture-taking is over.
4. Light it right. Make sure that any light source – whether indoors or out – is behind the photographer. It is preferable to shoot in daylight because the result will be softer and more natural. That being said, avoid taking pictures midday, when the sun is at its brightest. Plan on taking your photo either early in the day (I prefer this time because usually kids are well-rested) or in the late afternoon. To avoid red eye, have your subjects look directly into a light source right before taking the picture. This will cause the pupils to shrink (some cameras have a little flash right before the actual flash goes off, which accomplishes the same thing).
5. Get close and personal. Tightly cropped, simple images without too much going on in the background make for an elegant photo. People want to see you and your family, not your recently redecorated living room.
6. Enjoy yourself – for real. You want to avoid shots that are too posed. If you are not having a professional take your photo, then ask a friend to take it for you. Chances are your friend can engage you and your family in a way that makes everyone feel comfortable. If you are taking the picture of your kids, have a few jokes or stories in your pocket to elicit a laugh. (This is much better than saying “cheese,” which usually leads to a fake smile.)
7. Relax. To keep everyone from stiffening up, have something like a family pet to interact with or something to lean on. Hands should never dangle by your sides; fold them in front of or behind your body.
8. Look your best. If you are worried about your weight, wrinkles or double chin, have no fear: There are small adjustments you can make to look your best. To avoid the “10 pounds” the camera adds, don’t face the camera head-on. Instead, turn your lower body to the side, then rotate your upper body slightly toward the camera (think of how the actresses stand on the red carpet). If you are posing with the rest of your family, position yourself in the back so you appear smaller. To avoid the double chin, watch where the camera lens is. If it’s at eye level or above, you are fine. But if it’s below eye level, then you’ll want to reposition yourself so you can tip your chin out more than usual.
9. Quality is found in quantity. It is likely that you will take 50 photos to get one that you like (even Richard Avedon had to take tons of pictures of Jackie O just to get that one special shot), but lucky for us, unlike Avedon, we live in the digital age, so we can snap away without worrying about the enormous expense of film.
10. Watch for the unexpected. Sometimes the best shot is when your subjects think you aren’t snapping anymore. I like to position the camera away from my eye but still directed at my kids and snap away. It’s then that I can get my family at their most natural.