Friday, December 6, 2013


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


   Christmas is a time of presents, anticipation, excitement and goodwill virtually anywhere in the world. In different parts of the world, however, the specific traditions used to celebrate Christmas can vary widely.

United States

   Here in America, a typical tradition at Christmas time is to leave a tray of cookies and a cup of milk out for jolly old Santa Claus. Santa makes his list of the boys and girls that have been either naughty or nice, and comes to their home on the night before Christmas. Santa will leave the good children a gift made by the elves at the North Pole, and he will leave the naughty children nothing but coal in their Christmas stockings.

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   During Christmas time in Caracas, Venezuela, from December 16 to December 24, the streets are closed for the roller skating mass. Yes, that is exactly what it sounds like: a mass of people roller skating together through town. Frustrating for those trying to make their way through traffic around the streets that are closed for the holiday tradition? Perhaps, but this is a very well-known tradition in the area, and many people love to participate in it each year.


   In Australia, Christmas is hot like a summer day in the U.S. In Australia, the Christmas dinner is much like the American Thanksgiving dinner. The Australian Christmas dinner typically consists of turkey, ham, pork, plum pudding, and mince pies. Australian tradition is to have Christmas dinner on a beach in the middle of the day. Perhaps the most important part of Christmas in Australia is the “Carols by Candlelight.” This event takes place on Christmas Eve, with thousands of people gathering to light candles and sing their favorite Christmas carols.


   In France, Christmas time is all about the light show. Imagine that – the nation that is home to Paris, the “City of Lights,” steals the show during the most lights-focused time of the year. Examples can be found all over the country during the Christmas season; for example, during the Fête des Lumières from December 5 to December 8, Lyon features over 70 light shows that are simply breathtaking.

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   Christmas in Brazil is the most celebrated holiday in the country, since about 90 percent of the population of Brazil consider themselves to be Christians. Christmas is a big deal in Brazil! Because Brazil is in the southern hemisphere, it is summertime during the holiday season; temperatures can reach well above one hundred degrees Fahrenheit. December 24 is the day that begins the official Christmas celebrations. It starts with Christmas cooking, which traditionally includes codfish and turkey with beer or juice as a beverage. Because pine trees are rarely found in Brazil, households that have a Christmas party will often feature a fake tree with Christmas lights and decorations. There can be several families at each gathering, with over seventy people attending one Christmas party. The night often starts with Bingo, then comes the singing and eventually a “Secret Santa” exchange. Just before midnight, all the lights in the house are shut off (with the exception of the Christmas tree lights, of course) and the children lie in bed and await the arrival of Santa Claus.

5. Japan
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    At Christmas time in Japan, people are getting ready to order buckets and buckets of fried chicken. Rather than celebrating Christmas with a ham or turkey, as is traditional in many other parts of the world, Japanese families usually celebrate the holiday by eating loads of fried chicken. Although only about one percent of the Japanese population follows the Christian religion, ads have made it a tradition anyway to eat at Kentucky Fried Chicken during Christmas. After filling up on fried chicken, it is also traditional to enjoy a heaping plate of cake for dessert.

4. Italy
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   Perhaps one of the most unique ways to celebrate the Christmas season is found in Italy. In Italy, on January 5, children await the arrival of a magical figure to bring them candy and other goodies. But it is not Santa Claus they are waiting for; no, these children are waiting for a witch named La Befana. She is portrayed as coming down the chimneys of various homes and delivering gifts, all while holding a broomstick. Instead of leaving milk and cookies for jolly old Saint Nick, Italian children leave wine and crackers for this mystic witch. However, in Norway, it is said that you must hide all of the brooms in your house or the witches will steal them and ride them off into the night. Perhaps they are headed to Italy.


   In Finland, the Christmas celebrations primarily extend from December 24 to December 26. Fir trees are set up in each household on Christmas Eve. Much like during Christmas in America, people in Finland bake gingerbread cookies and other yummy treats. Finnish Christmas dinner begins on the night of Christmas Eve, at the spotting of the first star in the sky – usually between five and seven o’clock.


In Mexico, Christmas is known as La Posada. It is a tradition to carry a picture of Joseph and Mary from house to house in the search of “shelter” before the birth of Jesus Christ himself. In Mexico, Santa Claus is not usually used to symbolize Christmas like he does in America. Instead, the people of Mexico choose to use the striking red flower called the poinsettia as a symbol of the season – a tradition that has begun to catch on in other parts of the world as well.


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   In Germany, the Christmas celebration begins on December 6 and continues non-stop until after Christmas Day. On December 6, the baking and decorating begins. It all starts with the spiced cookies and cakes, then comes the home-made cards and gifts. One of the more well-known Christmas traditions – and one that originated here in Germany – is the creation of beautiful gingerbread houses. Christbaumgeback is the name of a German dough that can be shaped like clay before it is baked and used to decorate the Christmas tree. Although gingerbread and gingerbread houses are certainly a part of Christmas celebrations elsewhere in the world, none can match those created in Germany.


Last Minute Gift Tags- Recycled Crafts

Last week at craft day, Karla reminded me of some Christmas gift tags I made last year with the Cuttlebug and old ornament boxes.  Karla was going to make some from her boxes, but we didn't get around to it- so I made some for her. 
Some vintage ornament boxes have great graphics, and I hate to throw them away, so I cut the pictures from the boxes...
...get out my Cuttlebug and Sizzix tag template.
...cut the boxes so the pictures will line up with the outline of the tags.

...crank the Cuttlebug and see what comes out.
Sometimes, it's a good idea to proof read the tags before you tie them to the package.
Case in point:
I'm pairing up the tags with some bakers twine and slipping them in a white burlap bag for a hostess gift for Karla...she's having a dinner tonight.
Want to make some tags, but don't have ornament boxes or a Cuttlebug?
Image4I scanned some tags so you can print them on cardstock and cut them out.
Here's a full page .pdf of theornament box tags.
I also scanned some favorite vintage wrapping papers with and without an oval templates.  You can print the oval tags on cardstock, and cut out; or print the gift wrap on card stock and cut into any shape you want.

Double click on any image to open in a larger size in a new window and right click your mouse to save the image to your computer.