Getting the perfect picture of my children for my yearly Christmas card is something of an obsession of mine. Yesterday I drug my whole Seattle family photography into the Seattle portrait studio with an elaborate plan. I wanted a photo of my kids doing the one thing I cannot get my husband of 12 years to do, putting up Christmas lights. I thought it would be festive and fun without dipping too far into cliche’ waters. To bring my plan to fruition, I assembled the following: two strings of Christmas lights, new hats, gloves, scarves for each child, a dead tree limb, box of instant mashed potatoes, and all the patience I could muster.  Like any parent of 3.5 children (our daughter is due in February) I am no stranger to that anxious feeling that fills the pit of your stomach when your child is being professionally photographed. However, I have the double jeopardy factor of also being the photographer.  Needless to say, photographing my own children as a group can cause enough anxiety to require a prescription. So I decided to do something I’ve never done with them before; I photographed each child separately with the intent of Photoshopping them all together after the fact.  Here’s how it went down…

Step 1: Photograph my daughter. Audrey is 8 and her status as a middle child often means she is the instigator of trouble. Her creative nature tends to run wild in situations that combine sugar and periods of minimal parental supervision. This was the case last night. I knew right away that photographing her first would help limit the possibility of filing an insurance claim the following morning. The additional benefit was that she was removed from her brothers and unable to dare them to do anything or start any fights. Once I had the tree lit, ladder in place, and a bed of fresh snow (instant mashed potatoes) covering everything, it was easy to capture a few fun photos of her as she pretended to string lights and giggle. One of her best qualities is her infectious laughter and the ease at which she finds humor in life.

Step 2: Photograph my youngest son. Five year old Alex has about a 3 second attention span. I knew that a few things had to happen to get him in the photo. First, he had to positioned in a stationary spot so I could keep my camera focused on him. Second, we would have to ask him to say butt, poop, or fart, to entice him to smile. Third, all of this had to happen without his siblings present or there was no chance of getting him to follow directions. I took three frames before he had enough and felt entitled to the donut we had promised as a reward.

Step 3: Photograph my oldest boy. Tyler, like many oldest siblings has spent a good amount of time being photographed by me in his 10 years of life. However, he hates it more than his siblings and is at an age where it’s nearly impossible to get a natural smile or to convince him not to look in the camera. We took 20 images of him just to get one where he didn’t look constipated, angry, bored, or simply goofy.

Step 4: Photograph the Christmas lights separately. Here’s the real trick of it all. Getting kids to hold still can be “challenging”. Getting them to do it when your only light source is LED Christmas lights is nearly impossible. I knew from the beginning that to get a sharp, well lit images of the kids, flash would be required. I also knew that I wanted the final image to look as if they were indeed lit by the glow of the lights and maybe an outdoor flood light for good measure. This meant making a different, much longer exposure for the lights without any children. Once I had all 4 images, all that was left to do was sweep up the 64 oz. of instant potatoes that had filled the studio, give the kids their obligatory bribes, and spend the next 8 hours doing digital manipulations.

Getting the perfect picture of my children for my yearly Christmas card is something of an obsession of mine. Yesterday I drug my whole Seattle family photography into the Seattle portrait studio with an elaborate plan. I wanted a photo of my kids doing the one thing I cannot get my husband of 12 years to do, putting up Christmas lights. I thought it would be festive and fun without dipping too far into cliche’ waters. To bring my plan to fruition, I assembled the following: two strings of Christmas lights, new hats, gloves, scarves for each child, a dead tree limb, box of instant mashed potatoes, and all the patience I could muster. Like any parent of 3.5 children (our daughter is due in February) I am no stranger to that anxious feeling that fills the pit of your stomach when your child is being professionally photographed. However, I have the double jeopardy factor of also being the photographer. Needless to say, photographing my own children as a group can cause enough anxiety to require a prescription. So I decided to do something I’ve never done with them before; I photographed each child separately with the intent of Photoshopping them all together after the fact. Here’s how it went down…
Step 1: Photograph my daughter. Audrey is 8 and her status as a middle child often means she is the instigator of trouble. Her creative nature tends to run wild in situations that combine sugar and periods of minimal parental supervision. This was the case last night. I knew right away that photographing her first would help limit the possibility of filing an insurance claim the following morning. The additional benefit was that she was removed from her brothers and unable to dare them to do anything or start any fights. Once I had the tree lit, ladder in place, and a bed of fresh snow (instant mashed potatoes) covering everything, it was easy to capture a few fun photos of her as she pretended to string lights and giggle. One of her best qualities is her infectious laughter and the ease at which she finds humor in life.

Seattle Family Photography

Step 2: Photograph my youngest son. Five year old Alex has about a 3 second attention span. I knew that a few things had to happen to get him in the photo. First, he had to positioned in a stationary spot so I could keep my camera focused on him. Second, we would have to ask him to say butt, poop, or fart, to entice him to smile. Third, all of this had to happen without his siblings present or there was no chance of getting him to follow directions. I took three frames before he had enough and felt entitled to the donut we had promised as a reward.

ij-0030-3 copy

Step 3: Photograph my oldest boy. Tyler, like many oldest siblings has spent a good amount of time being photographed by me in his 10 years of life. However, he hates it more than his siblings and is at an age where it’s nearly impossible to get a natural smile or to convince him not to look in the camera. We took 20 images of him just to get one where he didn’t look constipated, angry, bored, or simply goofy.

Seattle Portrait Studio

Step 4: Photograph the Christmas lights separately. Here’s the real trick of it all. Getting kids to hold still can be “challenging”. Getting them to do it when your only light source is LED Christmas lights is nearly impossible. I knew from the beginning that to get a sharp, well lit images of the kids, flash would be required. I also knew that I wanted the final image to look as if they were indeed lit by the glow of the lights and maybe an outdoor flood light for good measure. This meant making a different, much longer exposure for the lights without any children. Once I had all 4 images, all that was left to do was sweep up the 64 oz. of instant potatoes that had filled the studio, give the kids their obligatory bribes, and spend the next 8 hours doing digital manipulations.

Step 5: Yes, you’re right. If I could simply have gotten the kids to all be in a picture together that would have been much better. And yes I know other photographers would say I could probably have used a high ISO and skipped the flash all together. But as any mom with a full minivan will tell you, group shots rarely work, and if they do, it’s a one time, life altering miracle that cannot be repeated; It’s much like a lighting strike, winning the lottery, etc, etc, etc. So I spent a good portion of the day blending the 4 images together, compensating for the color temperature discrepancies, and finally, finding the perfect layout for my Christmas card. And for any Photoshop novices reading this, yes- 8 hours of work on one image. So if you love this photo and think, “Let’s do that with my kids” be prepared for me to answer, “Sure, but there is an additional fee required because of the time consuming nature of this process.”

So here’s the final result. My Christmas card was ordered at 8:37pm tonight. With any luck I will have them by Friday. Now I just have to address and lick 200 envelopes…

2015-12-11T03:46:32+00:00