Introduction: How to Make a Holiday Card... Behind the Scenes

About: Commercial photographer with a need for some diy projects with the kiddies!

Here's how we made our Holiday Card - The Tangled Tinsel Tale, with a short timelapse of the whole thing, to inspire you for your own holiday cards!

Step 1: The Tangled Tinsel Tale - Concepting

The continuing story of Rocket Boy and Gears, as they tackle yet another strange holiday case. This time, they are trapped deep in the cellars under the Big Man's wintery home, working on the heating system to keep the elves from freezing up and being unable to make presents!

Actually, it is our 16th annual holiday card, from both my photo studio and from our family (duel purpose concepts!). The base concept is, of course, to show off my wonderful, amazing and talented kids, while allowing me to show off a bit as well. My wife gets to show off her amazing patience as we struggle, hem and haw and basically procrastinate the making of the card each year. Her gentle pushes make sure it does get done!

I didn't break this one down as thoroughly as I probably should have for a good instructable. But, here are the basic steps that show up each year in our efforts and seem to make sure that we get a nice strong card each year.

What you will need:

The Concept - First and foremost, brainstorm up a bunch of ideas. For me, this means surfing around and just looking at every thing I can. I really don't know where my inspirations will come from. There are usually multiple influences, from music to instagram, that feed into the idea. I tell my kids to keep a sketchbook handy. You never know when the idea will strike!

And, remember, good ideas are easy; it's the execution that is hard. But, without the execution, the idea is worthless!

Here's the timelapse video of the entire process.

Step 2: The Props - a Little How, a Little Why

One of the keys to a successful photoshoot is props. Whether it is wardrobe, set pieces or handheld props, decide on a few pieces that can help you tell the story and set about building or acquiring them. Somethings can be purchased, rented or borrowed. Others, for example a christmas tree shaped boiler, need to be built.

We built ours out of plywood and cardboard. To make the metal rivets, we used googley eyes. There is probably a cheaper solution, but we were running out of time and didn't have a chance to hand make them.

The plumbing was just a bunch of pvc parts from the local big home supply store, put together by Rocket Boy himself. We had to look back to our original drawing a few times to make sure we weren't over building in areas that would not be seen in the actual photo.

The tree was skinned with sheets of card stock, stapled into place. The idea was to imitate riveted and welded steel plates, so we overlapped the edges. A coat of grey primer helped to seal it up before going over it with a can of steel metallic spray paint. The prices of these materials have really come down from a few years ago. I don't think the metal spray paint was all that much more than regular rattle cans.

When building a large prop for a photoshoot, keep in mind that you don't need to do a full 360 degree build. The final view is going to be from just one angle, so any effort to make the back perfect was actually a waste of time, materials and effort. We left the back open so we could run power to the lights in the plumbing area.

Step 3: The Shoot and Final Product

Once your prop is done, it's time to start the photography. Plan your shoot according to your concept, your equipment and your skill set! For us, with a full compliment of tools and 20 years of experience creating concept base images, the sky is the limit.

For you, the sky is still the limit! This project is your opportunity to learn new skills and put them to the test. Learn what your camera can do and, I think more importantly, what it can't. Limits like that force us to come up with creative solutions that can make the final results even better than you imagined.

Once we finished shooting, we brought the image into CaptureOne and then Photoshop, to tweak the colors and densities and add the text. Since we send out snailmail cards every year, we laid it out in InDesign and tweaked things until it was perfect.

Once it passed the final proofing (proof read everything! and get someone else to proof it too. Better yet, get two or three people to proof it. There is always one little misseplling that gets past the spell checker. And, it is very frustrating to hear about it later!), I uploaded it to my favorite printer. Short run printing means that it is fairly cost effective to get 150 cards done up, with the fold and envelopes and everything. And, the final result looks much different than the usual mini lab family portrait with the "canned" holiday wreath graphics.

Hand write a quick note, and or insert your "year in review" letter, put it in an envelope and drop in the mailbox and you are done! Usually these steps require a nice evening with holiday music, a beverage or three and a bunch of cuddling as a reward when you are done!

I hope these basic steps inspire you to make your own holiday cards!

Happy Holidays!

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Homemade Gifts Contest 2015

Participated in the
Homemade Gifts Contest 2015