For those of you who have been anxiously waiting by your mailboxes, fear not! The 2013 Massa Christmas Card is at the printer’s as we speak, and should go out in tomorrow’s mail. Yes, I am VERY late this year. The pressure of living up to the precedent* I have set is catching up with me. Truthfully, it almost didn’t happen this time, but for a good snowy Saturday trapped in the house, and a good printer whose motto is “your first call for the last minute!”
Speaking of last minute, I realize this post is coming way too late to help anybody this year. It is also not intended to teach you how to make cards like mine. For me, it’s a labor of love… but I wouldn’t wish that kind of insanity (not to mention expense) on anyone else. However, as a professional, I can’t help noticing some very common, yet very fixable issues with the cards I receive. Here are some simple tips to help you make next year’s holiday card your best one ever!
1. If at all possible, use a REAL camera.
Hey, I love the convenience of my cell phone camera as much as anyone. It’s perfect for posting spontaneous moments on all your social media, but for a holiday card it just doesn’t cut it. Take a look as this picture of my nieces (click to enlarge) – the girls are gorgeous, the composition is good, the setting is cozy. Heck, even Chewy the dog is adorable and I’m not much of an animal person. Unfortunately, none of that translates because of the poor cell-phone quality photo. Had this shot been taken with a better camera – even a point-n-shoot – the results would have been far superior.
If you absolutely must use a cell phone, take the shot outdoors. Natural light is much more forgiving!
And speaking of lighting…
We all love the twinkling beauty of our Christmas lights. “Hey! Wouldn’t the kids look great in front of the tree?” Yeah, they would… but that’s a tough shot to pull off for even the experienced amateur photographer. Typically, if the tree lights look good, the subject is way too dark. Consequently, if the subject is well lit, the lights loose their ambiance.
I’m not suggesting you don’t try. Hey, go for it! Mess around with your camera settings and take lots of shots. That’s the biggest benefit of the digital age – no film to develop & waste. However, if it doesn’t work out, don’t be reluctant to scrap the idea and try something else.
As a General Rule, Less is More.
I know! I know! Choosing only ONE photo for your holiday card is a task reminiscent of Sophie’s Choice. “But they’re all so cute… how can I possible pick just one?!?!” I hear ya. Just the other day I was looking through old Christmas pictures and wanted to re-print every single outtake from when my boys were younger. Hence the onslaught of postage-stamp-sized images on the dreaded photo montage card. The card companies make a killing on these, but personally I’m not a fan. Trust me on this – ONE gorgeous, well-lit, well-composed photo is worth 1,000 so-so ones.
However, if you absolutely must do a photo montage, choose close-up images and fill the frames. (Click images for bigger view, and NO, this isn’t REALLY one of my cards!)
Rules are made to be broken…
My cards certainly do NOT fall into the “less is more” category! That being said, I want to give a big shout-out to two other “completely-over-the-top” card-senders that I know.
First, to my niece, Denise. Denise is a wonderful photographer, who just happens to have three very photogenic kids. Her holiday cards typically consist of four 5×7-inch photos that are beautifully composed, perfectly lit, and expertly printed. I hate having to choose only one side to display.
Second, to my good friend Maryanne. Mare’s cards kick sand in the face of the less-is-more rule! They typically contain multiple themes, oodles of photos, and an over-abundance of stickers, and glittery embellishment on the front, inside, back, envelopes, and anywhere else she can stick something. Despite the unconventional design standards, these are truly the most fun cards I received and I cherish each one.
Bottom line, if you do something different and/or wonderful… go big or go home.
And last but not least, let’s talk about printing
A bad print job can wreck havoc on even the most beautiful photos. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Photos ALWAYS print darker than what you see on your computer screen. Don’t be afraid to make adjustments — go lighter and brighter!
- Less isn’t always more when it comes to cost. Sure, the local drugstore only charges five-bucks for ten-thousand cards, but chances are the 17-year old kid that works there hasn’t changed the chemicals in the processor in weeks. That makes for dark & dirty-looking prints.
- If you can spend a little more, try a small local print shop. You’ll get better quality and customer service. This year, I’m very pleased to use Comptime, in Ramsey, NJ. (www.comptime.net)
- For a good-but-cheap option, try an online service like www.vistarpint.com. Coupons and discounts are readily available… and if you can’t find one, call them and ask! Also, there’s no law that says you have to order from the “holiday card” section. If you’re a little more design/computer savvy, try the over-sized postcards, which are very cost effective.
Well, that’s my 2-cents on the holiday photo card subject. A big thanks to the Nichols Family for allowing me to make and example of their cell-phone photo… and my all your future holiday photos be merry & BRITE!
*For those who are not familiar with my Christmas cards, check out a few samples in my portfolio under “fun stuff!” www.lightlysaltedgraphics.com.
Dawn Massa is a seasoned Art Director/Graphic Designer, and owner of Lightly Salted Graphics. www.lightlysaltedgraphics.com.