Monday, December 10, 2012


Five Tips for Better Holiday Photos

   This season is the stuff that cameras are made for: holiday lights and decorations, brightly wrapped presents, kids anxiously darting around the tree. Your camera is probably getting excited just thinking about the opportunities you're going to give it in the next few days. So as you get ready for the veritable Olympics of personal digital photography, consider these five tips for taking better pictures. Also, if you're shooting outdoors, don't forget my advice on winterizing your camera. And since you'll be taking a lot of pictures indoors, be sure to review my tips for taking better pictures of people and how to get better results in difficult lighting.
   Finally, before I get into the nitty-gritty of this week's holiday photo tips, I want to wish each of you a warm, safe, and happy holiday.


1. Set Your White Balance

There are few lighting situations trickier than Christmas morning, with a cacophony of lighting sources competing to confuse your camera. There might be morning light streaming in your window, but also overhead lights, decorative bulbs on the tree, and perhaps even a couple of candles to truly give your camera's sensor a coronary. Your best bet? Set the white balance manually using a white sheet of paper before the festivities begin. Check your camera's user guide to see how to adjust white balance.
Another option: shoot in your camera's RAW mode, so white balance won't matter. You can adjust the white balance afterwards, on your PC. You'll get better results, but it's more time consuming. Read "Fix Your White Balance" for some more pointers.

2. Fire and Forget

If your camera has a time lapse or intervalometer mode, you can set it on a tripod in a corner of the room and let it take a photo every minute or so. There are two cool reasons for trying this.
First, interval shooting might allow your camera to snap some interesting moments you'd have missed if you were trying to open presents, enjoy the festivities, and be the family photographer, all at the same time.
Second, you can use your camera's automatic abilities to take the few hundred photos and then turn them into a stop-motion movie. Especially neat if you have young kids, a stop motion video can be an awesome remembrance of this year's holiday. You can combine individual photos into a movie using Windows Movie Maker; see "Make a Stop Motion Movie, Part 1" and part two for details.

3. Pass the Camera Around

Not enthused about leaving the framing and timing of your holiday photos up to the camera? Then break out of your standard routine and pass the camera around the room. Let everyone take a few pictures to give you a break and to get some different points of view. You can even make a game of it; each person has to take five photos, for example, and pass the camera to the person to their left. If your camera has a beefy memory card, you should have room for hundreds of photos.
You do have a big memory card, right? Remember that you can get an 8GB CompactFlash card for as little as $20. 

4. Shoot Holiday Lights

Make sure you photograph the tree in all its illuminated beauty. You should steady your camera on a tripod, since this is the kind of photo you'll want to take at night.
Like most kinds of night photography, there's no right or wrong exposure. Set your camera to manual mode, pick a midrange aperture (like f/5.6) and then try a several second long shutter speed. Check your results. If you want brighter, more dramatic lights, extend the exposure time some more. You can "bracket" the exposure for a variety of different effects and pick the one you like best afterwards. To take this tree, with the fireplace in the background, I used a 6-second exposure.
I used a much longer exposure--30 seconds, in fact--for this close-up of a few lights and ornaments.

5. Get Up Close and Personal

If you ask me, closer is always better. I generally like shots that are tight and emphasize the subject, rather than wider angle photos in which the subject gets lost in the background clutter. This is especially important in holiday photos, because there is a lot of clutter to get lost in. Zoom in tight for your people shots, and look for subtle details to capture up close even when shooting still life shots, like the tree, ornaments, and presents


This diy comes from www.makinglemonadeblog.blogspot.com . These are real simple, just add your favorite paper or fabric. Even make them different sizes and shapes. Enjoy!

What inspires you? Sometimes I find inspiration in books, in nature, and in dreams. Sometimes I find it in the pages of a Pottery Barn catalog. Today I found it while playing home preschool with my daughter.

During an impromptu tree craft I was doing with my Ms. Noodle (which can be seen at the end of this post) a lightbulb went off and I realized an easy way to make some pretty little trees. These trees can be tucked along a mantel, in windows, in nooks, on end tables, as part of your holiday table... I even thought they'd make cute gift tags. They take less than 5 minutes to make, too. Oh, and they are practically free. Sweet.

Somehow they manage to look vintage and modern at the same time. My favorite mix!

Since our mantel area is literally under construction right now {tile and hearthstone to be added this week-- woot!} I only have a few snippets to reveal. I've tucked them into the shelves in our new built-ins, adding to what is already there.

I even used a few half-trees to spiffy up some frames and mirrors.

Easy decorating, using what you already have-- right up my alley!

Tutorial: Simple Mantel Trees

scrapbook paper
glue (I used rubber cement)

The first tree I made was from two mismatched scraps of paper. The second time around I used a whole piece of scrapbook paper to make a larger tree. Either method works! The first tutorial is the basic idea using scraps, and then I detail the faster method below it.

Step One: Fold a piece of paper in half, pattern side in.

Step Two: Freehand a simple tree shape along the fold, so when you cut you'll have a whole tree. Cut out the shape. Do this using other pieces of folded paper until you have 4 whole tree shapes.

Step Three: Apply glue to one side of the back of one tree. Glue one side of the back of another tree to it. Continue on until you have all four trees glued back to back, creating a 3-D tree.

Step Four: Trim off any excess paper that peeks out and you are done!

Shortcut method: fold a piece of paper in half {pattern outward}. Fold each half back upon itself so that white paper is showing on the outside.

Keeping the piece closed, cut in half so you have two identical folded pieces.

Draw the tree on the outside, making sure the fold is in the center of the tree.

Cut out the trees. You should have two. Then use one to trace the same shape in the same method onto the second piece of folded paper.

Now you have four identical trees, ready for gluing in step #3 above!

This method actually makes two additional tree shapes. I made a few half trees and propped them against picture frames, books, and more.


 Most people can agree on what Santa Claus looks like---jolly, with a red suit and a white beard.  But he didn't always look that way, and Coke advertising actually helped shape the modern day image of Santa.
   2006 marked the 75th anniversary of the famous Coca-Cola Santa Claus.  Starting in 1931, magazine ads for Coca-Cola featured St. Nick as a kind, jolly man in a red suit.  Because magazines were so widely viewed, and because this image of Santa appeared for more than three decades, the image of Santa most people have today is largely based on their advertising.

1931 Coke Santa Ad

 Before the 1931 introduction of the Coke Santa Claus, created by artist Haddon Sundblom, the image of Santa ranged from big to small and fat to tall.  Santa even appeared as an elf and looked a bit spooky.
   Through the centuries, Santa has been depicted as everything from a tall gaunt man to an elf.  He has worn a bishop's robe and a Norse huntsman's animal skin.  The modern day Santa is a combination of a number of the stories from a variety of countries.

Santa Claus, 1936

  The Civil War cartoonist, Thomas Nast, drew Santa Claus for Harper's Weekly in 1862, Santa was shown as a small elf-like figure who supported the Union.  Nast continued to draw Santa for 30 years and along the way changed the color of his coat from tan to the now traditional red.  Though some people believe the Coca-Cola Santa wears red because that is the Coke color, the red suit comes from Nast's interpretation of St. NIck.
   The Coca-Cola Company began the Christmas advertising in the 1920's with shopping related ads in magazines like The Saturday Evening Post.  The first Santa ad used a strict-looking Claus, in the vein of Thomas Nast.

Santa, 1937

   At this time, many people thought of Coke as a drink only for warm weather.  The Coke Company began a campaign to remind people that Coke was a great choice in any month.  This began with the 1922 slogan "Thirst Knows No Season", and continued with a campaign connecting a true icon of winter---Santa Claus---with the beverage.
   In 1930, artist Fred Mizen painted a department store Santa in a crowd drinking a bottle of Coke.  The ad featured the world's largest soda fountain, which was located in the department store of Famous Barr Co. in St. Louis, Mo.  Mizen's painting was used in print ads that Christmas season, appearing in The Saturday Evening Post in December 1930.

Santa, 1938

 Archie Lee, the D'Arcy Advertising Agency executive working with The Coke Company, wanted the next campaign to show a wholesome Santa as both realistic and symbolic.  In 1931, The Coke commissioned Michigan born illustrator Haddon Sundblom to develop advertising images using Santa Claus--showing Santa himself, not a man dressed as Santa, as Mizen's work had portrayed. him.
   For inspiration, Sundblom turned to Clement Clark Moore's 1822 poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas", or what it's commonly known to day as "Twas the Night Before Christmas".  Moore's description of St. Nick led to an Image of Santa that was warm, friendly, pleasantly plump and human.  For the next 33 years, Sundblom painted portraits of Santa-an interpretation that today lives on in the minds of people of all ages, all over the world.

Haddon Sundblom, 1931

Haddon Sundblom, some 30 years later


  From 1931 to 1964, Coke advertising showed Santa delivering (and playing!) with toys, pausing to read a letter and enjoy a Coke, playing with children who stayed up to greet him and raiding the refrigerator's at a number of homes.  The original oil paintings Sundblom created were adapted for Coke advertising in magazines, store displays, billboards, posters, calendars, and even plush dolls.  Many of those items today are popular collectibles.
   The Coke Santa made its debut in 1931, in The Saturday Evening Post and appeared regularly in that magazine, as well as Ladies Home Journal, National Geographic, The New Yorker and others.  The instantly popular ad campaign appeared each season, reflecting the times.  One ad even featured Santa in a rocket!

Santa, 1941

  Sundblom continued to create new visions of Santa through 1964.  For decades after, Coke advertising has featured Santa's image based on Sundblom's original works.
   These original paintings by Haddon Sundblom are some of the most prized pieces in the art collection of the Coke Company's Archives Department, and have been on exhibit around the world, including at the Louvre in Paris, the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, the Isetan Department Store in Tokyo and the NK Department Store in Stockholm.

Santa, 1951

   The Coca-Cola Santa has had a powerful, enduring quality that continues to resonate today.  Many of the original paintings can be seen on display at "World of Coca-Cola" in Atlanta, Ga. or touring during the holiday season.

Did You Know?

   People loved the Coke Santa images and paid such close attention to them, that when anything changed, they sent letter to The Coke Company.  One year, Santa's large belt was backwards.  Another year, Santa appeared without a wedding ring, causing fans to write asking what happened to Mrs. Claus.

   In the beginning, artist Haddon Sundblom painted the image of Santa using a live model-his friend Lou Prentiss, a retired salesman.  When Prentiss passed away, Sundblom, used himself as a model, painting while looking into a mirror.  After the 1930's, he used photographs to create the image of St. Nick.

   The children who appear with Santa Claus in Haddon Sundblom's paintings wee based on Sundblom's neighbors.  However, the neighbors were both girls, and Sundblom simply changed one to a boy in his paintings.  He also used the neighborhood florist's dog, a gray poodle in one of his paintings, but painted the animal with black fur. To make the dog stand out in the holiday scene.

Santa, 1953

     The image of Santa Claus has appeared on cartons for bottles of Coke since 1931, when artist Haddon Sundblom first created his version of St. Nick.  Early cartons completely covered the bottles of Coke--almost as if they were inside a box--and had a handle at the very top.  The carton itself was created--and patented--by the Coca-Cola system.  Introduced in 1923, it allowed people to take home more bottle of Coke.
   The Coke Polar Bear stars with Santa on the 2006 advertising for the U.S. Hispanic market.  The Coke Polar Bear was introduced in 1993 as part of the "Always Coca-Cola" campaign.  The first commercial featuring the bear showed was called "Northern Lights" and showed a group of bears watching a "movie" (the Aurora borealis) and drinking from bottles of Coke.

Santa and Spriteboy

   The "Sprite Boy" character, who appeared with Santa and was used in Coke advertising in the 1940's and 50's, was also created by artist Haddon Sundblom.  Though the Coke Company does have a drink called Sprite.  The Sprite Boy character was not named for the beverage.  Sprite Boy's name came because he is a sprite--an elf.  Sprite Boy first appeared in ads in 1942, while the drink Sprite was no introduced until the 1960's.

   In 2001, the artwork from Haddon Sundblom's 1962 original painting was used as the basis for an animated TV commercial staring the Coke Santa.  The ad was created by Academy Award-winning animator Alexandre Petrov.


   Here's another great treat from www.whatmegansmaking.com.  With all of the people that drink coffee, this would make a great homemade gift along with some of their favorite coffees and maybe even a nice mug to go with it and some biscotti to dunk with the coffee.  I'll be coming out with some of my favorite biscotti recipes real soon.  I always make alot during this time of the year.  People just can get enough of it!

Homemade Peppermint Mocha Creamer

Homemade Peppermint Mocha Creamer


I warned you when I made homemade pumpkin spice creamer that I would be trying a peppermint version during the Christmas season. I only lasted a few days after Thanksgiving before I gave in to the demand of Christmas flavored treats. And this homemade peppermint mocha creamer is the perfect way to add some Christmas spirit to your morning coffee. Or hot chocolate for that matter – this would be equally delicious in both.   As with the pumpkin spice version, this is incredibly easy to make and has been a big hit around here. I lightened mine up by using skim milk in place of the whole milk, so I don’t even feel too guilty having a little bit every morning.  Now that I’m on a homemade creamer kick, what other flavors should I try??

Homemade Peppermint Mocha Creamer



Homemade Peppermint Mocha Creamer


1 cup whole milk (*I used skim with good results)
1 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons maple syrup
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon peppermint extract


In a medium sized saucepan over medium heat, whisk together milk, cream, maple syrup, and cocoa powder. When mixture begins to bubble around the edges of the pan, remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the peppermint extract. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a glass bottle and store in the refrigerator.