Saturday, November 30, 2013

Dramatically Improve Your Photography for Less than $20

Improving your photography does not require upgrading to a new camera body or buying that fancy lens you've had your eye on. There are lots of small investments that you can make that will have a big payoff in the quality and range of your photography. This article highlights some inexpensive purchases that you can make to give your photography a quick boost.

Dramatically Improve Your Photography for Less than $20 | Boost Your Photography

Get a Background

Take a trip to your nearest school supply or big box store, and you will find tri-fold boards that remind you of your Science Fair days. A white tri-fold board makes an excellent background for high key or product shots, allowing you to get a bright, all-white background. You can also use it as a reflector, to bounce light back onto your subject. A black tri-fold board can be used for low key shots or to provide an all-black background for darker, moodier images. Just a few dollars gives you a multipurpose tool that provides a lot of new options for your photography. Read more in Easy Photography Upgrade: the tri-fold board.

A white tri-fold board makes a great high key background.
A black tri-fold board makes a dramatic low key background.

Get a Pack

Scrapbook paper comes in 12 inch squares with a wide variety of colors and patterns. You can get a pack of different patterns and colors or just a handful of single sheets at any craft or scrapbook supply store. These can be used as background or settings for smaller objects and can be used to create patterns or designs when shooting oil and water or water drop shots.

Scrapbook paper makes a great background for product photography.
Oil and water photographed above the same piece of scrapbook paper.

Get a Remote

A remote shutter release gives you a new range of flexibility when using your camera. A remote is particularly useful if you want to get in front of the camera, as it allows you to focus and then take pictures of yourself easily. A remote is also a useful tool in combination with a tripod. A remote lets you trigger the camera without touching it or adding potential motion to your still shot. Read more in Easy Photography Upgrade: get a remote shutter release.

Finally, a remote is the best way to utilize the ‘Bulb’ mode on your camera. 30 seconds is often the longest set shutter speed option on a camera, but bulb mode lets you keep the shutter open for an indefinite amount of time. Look for a remote that has an option to hold the trigger button depressed. Bulb mode is useful for any long exposure situation, such as light trails, star trails, or images of slow, silky water and waterfalls.

45-second image captured using a remote release. Read more about Waterfall Photography.
This image is available for purchase.

Get Closer

Macro or close-up photography lets you explore the tiny details of the world around you. While dedicated macro lenses cost hundreds of dollars, a small investment can lead you to macro-level results. Read about Macro and Close-Up Photography Tips and Tricks for advice about how to get the most out of your investment.

Close-up lenses are filters that screw on to your existing lens. They act like a magnifying glass and allow you to get closer to your subject than your lens’ normal minimum focusing distance. Read more about close-up lenses here. A set of four close-up lenses are available on Amazon for less than fifteen dollars.

Snowflakes captured with a +4 and +10 close-up lens on a 50 mm lens.

A reverse ring allows you to mount your camera lens on backwards for close-up results. You can read more about reverse ring mount adapters here. Purchase a reverse ring that fits your camera model as well as the diameter (width) of the lens you want to reverse.

Extension tubes mount between your lens and the camera, changing the minimum focusing distance and allowing your camera’s sensor to record details over a much smaller subject. A full description of using extension tubes can be found here. Generic metal extension tubes are sold in sets of three and cost less than fifteen dollars, while specialized tubes maintain the electrical connections with your camera’s body and cost over $100.

Can't decide between the three? Read more on Cheap and Easy Macro: comparisons and recommendations.

Get Reflective

Reflections can really add something to a photograph, and a mirror is an inexpensive item that can provide endless photographic opportunities. You can find large mirrors at a very low cost at your local craft or hobby store – they are often sold near candles to create a decorative centerpiece. I have a 12-inch round, frameless mirror that I use frequently in photos that I purchased for about $8 at a hobby store. I have been considering going back for a larger version, to make it easier to avoid having the edge of the mirror appear in the image, but the 12-inch size provides reasonable coverage without being bulky.

Candles reflected in a mirror.

Get Around

Want something fun and different to play with in your photography? A crystal ball is a great prop for creative and unusual photographs. There are several sizes of crystal balls available easily online. The 50 mm and 80 mm sizes work well for photography. The 50 mm size is more portable, while the 80 mm size (pictured below) is a bit larger and easier to use for more encompassing scenes.

Flowering tree photographed through a crystal ball. (Image rotated 180 degrees.)

Get Light

A reflector can make a big impact on your portrait and close-up photography. 5-in-1 reflectors give you a variety of options to use when bouncing and diffusing light. Reflectors are useful in both indoor and outdoor lighting situations and can help balance light in the scene. These reflectors are also compact and portable, folding down into a bag smaller than a salad plate. 5-in-1 reflectors start at around $15.

Water drops on a CD. White reflector used to balance light from the window.

Get Stable

A tripod opens up many new avenues in your photography. Freeing yourself from the camera allows you to take better self portraits (read more about How to Shoot a Successful Self-Portrait ). A tripod also gives you the flexibility to shoot photographs with longer shutter speeds. See examples in the article on What an Aperture of F/22 Can Do for You.

GorillaPod is a brand of flexible travel tripods that provides the functionality of a tripod in a convenient, portable size. A GorillaPod can be used as a traditional, three-legged, tripod, but it can also be wrapped around bars, fences, or posts for an unusual point of view. A GorillaPod is small enough to fit in a larger purse or camera bag and comes with an inexpensive price tag. Entry-level GorillaPods for point-and-shoot cameras start under $20, and the larger version for supporting DSLR cameras start around $30. Read more about How to Maximize Your Tripod or Product Review: GorillaPod Tripod.

This photograph was taken with my DSLR on a GorillaPod wrapped around a metal spoke.

Summary: Inexpensive Photography Upgrades

You do not need to spend a lot of money to greatly increase the quality and variety of your photographs. Basic backgrounds, using tri-fold boards or scrapbook paper packs, can add variety and simplicity to your images. A remote shutter release will get you out from behind your camera and provide the ability to take sharp, crisp pictures and long exposures, even beyond 30 seconds. There are several inexpensive options to get you started with close-up and macro photography, including close-up lenses, reverse rings, and extension tubes.

A mirror or mirrored surface is an easy way to play with reflections, while a crystal ball can do more than tell your fortune. A reflector can move you forward in your portrait photography and improve the light in your close-up images. Finally, a tripod is an important investment, and a travel tripod, like the GorillaPod, is a great way to get the functionality of a tripod at a convenient price and portable size.

So many options! What will you do first to boost your photography?

Want more great ideas?  Follow Boost Your Photography on Pinterest: Boost Your Photography

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Fall Round Up

Just in time for Thanksgiving, it's the Fall Round Up: your one-stop spot for a look back at this fall's posts. Catch up on the previous round ups here: Spring and Summer.

Yes, Go Chasing Waterfalls


A collage mug is one of many ways you can use your photography for gifts.

For Beginners:

Explanations and overviews geared towards those wanting to get more out of their photography. Many of the 'Tips and Tricks' and 'Inspired Ideas' are also applicable.
Comparison of changing apertures from the wide, middle, and narrow ends of the spectrum. 

Tips and Tricks:

Advice for getting the most of your camera and photography
Improve your Fall Photography: use a polarizer

Inspired Ideas:

How to make the shot with specific photography ideas
Photograph the Harvest

Travel Photography

  • Photography Collections: start a collection - Consider a collage as a way to display travel memories. Unify your collage by focusing on a specific item or element, like full doors, door knobs, or even hearts.
  • Window on the World - Windows are a unique way of placing the viewer within the frame of your photograph. Consider paying attention to windows when you travel.
Windows give you a view. Window on the World.

Stay Connected:

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Saturday, November 23, 2013

Yes, You Need a 50 mm Lens

Yes, You Need a 50mm Lens | Boost Your Photography

The holiday season is just around the corner, so now is a great time to think about giving yourself a photography gift (or to start dropping very specific hints). If you are looking for something that will make a dramatic difference in your photography and widen your photographic options, all without spending a large amount of money (right at $100 for the Canon version and $109 for the Nikon version), then you should look no further than a 50 mm prime lens.

What is So Special about a 50 mm Lens?

A 50 mm lens is a prime lens, which means that it only offers one focal length (50 mm). The benefit is that the entry-level 50 mm lenses are also very 'fast' lens: they have a wide maximum aperture, usually f/1.8. As a comparison, most entry-level zoom lenses and kit lenses have their widest aperture at f/3.5 or up towards f/5.6 as you zoom in with the lens.

A wide aperture, like f/1.8, brings with it a whole host of photographic opportunities that are not as easy to achieve with other apertures. Shooting wide open at f/1.8 creates a very narrow depth of field (area of the photograph in focus) and easily creates 'bokeh,' the colored circles of light and blur created by a deliberately out-of-focus background. This ability to manipulate the depth of field and control the focus to such a narrow area provides infinite photographic possibilities. Read more about What an Aperture of F/1.8 Can Do for You here.

This photograph of a single leaf demonstrates the ability of the 50 mm lens to create bokeh at its widest aperture (f/1.8). Because the depth of field is so narrow at f/1.8, the single leaf and its branch are the only things in focus, and the leaves in the background fall out of focus rapidly. These leaves and the light on them are rendered instead as a collection of colorful circles of light (the bokeh). Bokeh can be very appealing and is highly sought after in art photography, as well as in portraits.

A 50 mm lens is very small and fairly inconspicuous (or at least, as inconspicuous as you can be with a full DSLR body). 50 mm lenses have always been popular with street photographers, people who value the 50 mm's small size and fast shooting. A 50 mm lens is also very light and makes carrying around your whole DSLR a little less onerous. With the 50 mm lens on, I can easily carry my entire DSLR in my purse, which was not designed for photographer and is fairly small as purses go these days. Having a small, portable lens also makes it far more likely that you will consider bringing your camera along with you, and having your camera is the first (and critically important) step towards capturing that once-in-a-lifetime shot.

The 50 mm lens is also a very adaptable focal length. It is considered close to the view and vision of normal eye sight (although the view is more zoomed in on a crop sensor camera than on a full frame one). 50 mm is wide enough for you to capture large sections of a landscape view, like the farm above, or to get close up to something small. It is also a good length because 50 mm does not create noticeable distortion when shooting portraits (which is a common problem at very wide focal lengths).

Lily shot with 50 mm lens and +4 close up lens

A 50 mm lens also provides an opportunity to experiment with macro and close-up photography without also investing in a separate (and far more expensive) dedicated macro lens. You can buy a simple reverse ring for less than $10 USD that allows you to mount your 50 mm lens backwards on your camera, creating a microscopic magnification. Read more about the benefits of using a reverse ring here. The 50 mm lens is also ideal for use with extension tubes that make your subject even larger, relative to your sensor, or with close-up lenses that change the minimum focusing distance and allow you to get closer to your subject. Read more about how to use extension tubes here and how to use close-up lenses here.

50 mm lenses have the added benefit of being fairly inexpensive, especially for camera lenses. While lens-envy is the curse of many a photographer, the 50 mm is a lens that is actually within budgetary reach. The entry-level version of the 50 mm lens, the 50 mm f/1.8 is available from Canon for $110 USD (list price), currently retailing for $101 on Amazon; from Nikon for around $110 USD (list price on Amazon), from Sony for around $170 USD (list price on Amazon); and from Pentax for around $180 USD (list price on Amazon). Faster versions of the 50 mm lens, such as the 50 mm f/1.4 or 50 mm f/1.2 rise in cost as the aperture widens but are something to consider if you have had a 50 mm f/1.8 for a while and want to get even wider.

A 50 mm lens is an excellent upgrade, giving you a wide aperture at low cost and providing tack-sharp images with fantastic background bokeh. It is a great lens for any photographer.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Thankful .. for Food Photography

With only a week until Thanksgiving here in the US, what better time to think about food photography? Thanksgiving meals offer a vast array of colorful and meaningful foods to photograph, but the tips in this article are useful for all meals of the year.

Quick Tips to Improve Your Food Photography | Boost Your Photography

Use Natural Light

Most home kitchens have big, bright windows for a reason: to improve your food photographs! (Ok, so maybe there is more than one reason.) Natural light brings out the bright, normal colors in your food and avoids the potential odd color casts of indoor lighting (the yellow or fluorescent tones, for example).

Delicious Jordanian كنافة k'naffy (no agreement on the English spelling)

Bright, diffuse light can make the whole scene look more appetizing, like in the photograph above. This type of light happens when the sun is high and bright in the sky, so it is not shining direct light into the scene or creating harsh shadows. The light seems instead to come from everywhere and lights the scene more evenly. Direct light and shadows can be used for food photography, like in the example below, but it has a very different look and feel.
Golden hour shadows on chicken bites

Watch the Background

The background can make or break your food photographs, which is especially difficult if you are taking a picture of your food in a restaurant and have less control over our surroundings.
World's Best Onion Rings. (Not the world's best food photograph.)

This photograph is certainly more documentary than artistic, though it does capture the tastiest onion rings I have ever eaten … ever. (The Skagway Brewing Company in Skagway, Alaska is worth the trip for the onion rings alone, but the beer is fabulous too.) While the empty tasting glasses in the background could be said to add context to the image, in reality they distract the eye from the subject, as do the bright blue and red colors of the people and ketchup in the background.

Get In Close

One way to avoid background problems in the first place is to get in close. Filling the frame with your subject will keep your viewers attention firmly on the food. It also serves to simplify the composition and remove potential background clutter.

Getting close also makes it easier to create a high key white background, like in the image below. These mini cupcakes were placed atop a blank white piece of copy paper and quickly photographed before the rest of the staff gobbled them up! Natural light from the window behind added to the overall look.

These delicious cupcakes came from Capitol Bakery in Madison.


This tip is helpful whether you are planning to get in close or take a wider shot. Consider accessorizing your food photographs. For close-in shots, this can be as simple as a decorative placemat or a piece of scrapbooking paper. For the Brussels sprouts below, the red colors of the placemat and the leafy design lend an autumnal atmosphere as well as a great color contrast with the greens of the bowl and the sprouts.

For wider views, consider the rest of the composition and background. Where are you placing the food? Is it a countertop, a table, etc.? Consider using decorative linens, tablecloths, napkins, or other accessories. Do not forget about utensils or cutlery to complete the scene.

Go Wide (Aperture)

Many food photographs are shot using a wider aperture. A wide aperture gives a narrower depth of field, allowing the background and the food itself to quickly fall out of focus. This has the double benefit of helping to de-emphasize the background and to add a softer look to the food. In the photograph of the cake below, it is the mint leaf that is entirely in focus, but even the chocolate behind is beginning to fall out of focus. Read more about What an Aperture of F/1.8 Can Do for You.

Delectable Dessert

Tell a Story

You can make your food photographs even more involved by trying to tell a story or capture a process. Think about the wider setting or context for your food and use that to your advantage.

The catered breakfast featured above would have looked quite bland in an up-close image. Then the focus would be on the clear dish cover and the plastic wrap on the orange juice. Set in the broader context, on the balcony of an Alaskan cruise, next to a lounge chair with a view of the ocean, the focus is now on the setting and the overall story of breakfast room service.

You can even take a series of images to tell the story of the creation of the food. This series documents the making and baking of my favorite Irish soda bread recipe (found here if you are so inclined). Here, the plain white backdrop of my kitchen serves to help simplify the individual images and to unify the overall collage.

Don't Be Afraid to Play with your Food

Food photography is a fun and easy way to showcase your own cooking or a favorite meal out. A little bit of planning (using a bright window, changing your angle to avoid a distracting background, or accessorizing with a quick piece of paper or a placemat) can make big a difference in your final shot.

And don't forget to stop and capture your Thanksgiving feast too before you dig in!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Where to Order Photography Gifts

The previous article, Photography Gifts for the Holidays, provided an overview of some of the major categories of products that you can create and customize using your own photographs. This article will provide an introduction to some of the online retailers (in the US) from which you can create and order photography products, along with recommendations at the end.

Where to Order Photography Gifts | Boost Your Photography

Basic Advice

All of the retailers in this article have some things in common, so this will cover some of the commonalities first before diving into the specifics.

The overall process for creating and ordering a photography gift or product is generally the same. You begin by creating an account with the retailer. (Creating a new account often comes with a promotion offer, such as free prints.) Once the account is created, you can upload photographs from your computer or hard drives to that account, and you can organize photographs into online albums. There are usually options for you to share those albums digitally with others. When you are uploading photographs, be sure that you are uploaded the full resolution (biggest) versions of the files, particularly if you are printing at a larger size, as you want the full quality of the original image. If you are going to upload a lot of photographs at once, it may take some time, depending on the speed of your internet connection. Once your photographs have been uploaded to your account, you can use them to create, design, and order photography prints and products. You can also save in-process projects (like photo books) to work on at another time.

All of these retailers also have an option for you to subscribe to their promotional emails, and I suggest that you do. Many items go on sale throughout the year, and there are always a variety of deals involving free shipping. When I am ordering a more expensive product for myself, like an entire photo book with a lot of additional pages, I will often create and design the book and then wait a few weeks and watch the sales. Inevitably, photo books will go on sale for 30-40%, maybe even combined with free shipping, and I will purchase the book then. The sooner you can get started on creating and designing holiday gifts, the more time you will have to watch the sales and get great deals on your orders.

(If you do not enjoy receiving a lot of email, you can sign up with a different email account dedicated to promotional emails or use a labeling or filtering system to avoid such emails going directly to your Inbox. Personally, I have all such emails filtered into a 'Shopping' label, via my Gmail account, and then I only look at that folder when I am thinking about making a purchase.)


Shutterfly is a well-known online photography retailer and is made up of several photography-related companies: Shutterfly, Tiny Prints, Treat, and Wedding Paper Divas. All of these companies and their products can be ordered through the Shutterfly web site. Shutterfly also had mobile apps available for Apple and Android products.
12 month calendar created on Shutterfly

Shutterfly has organized its photography products into five main categories: cards & stationary, prints, photo books, calendars, and home décor. You can access these from the links on the home page or the header at the top. The 'store' tab at the top will also take you to all these sub-categories.

Cards & stationary has a wide range of themed products available, and you can search by theme or occasion. Current categories include Christmas, Holiday, Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, New Year's, Birthday, Thinking of You, Sympathy, Congratulations, and many, many more. Once inside a category, you can further narrow your search based on several factors: the number of photos, the format, size, paper type, color, price, and even the trim style (square or rounded). Specific card designs are often available in a range of colors and formats. Clicking the 'Personalize' button allows you to add your own photograph(s) and preview the final card.

The prints category includes standard small prints, collage posters, and large format (poster) prints. It also includes other methods of printing such as canvas, acrylic, and wall decals. Each of these options has different sizes and price points available.

The calendars category includes options for wall calendars, desk calendars, and calendar posters. You can choose between 12 and 18 month formats and a variety of sizes. Different styles, themes, and designs are available for each format of calendar, and there are many customization options, including the addition of specific personal days or holidays.

The photo gifts and home décor tabs offer an overlapping range of photography products. You can customize your technology with phone cases (iPhones and Samsung phones) and iPad covers. Or you can customize your kitchen with magnets, table runners, and a whole range of mugs, tableware, and drinkware. You can even gift your living room with blankets, pillows, and creative prints and frames.

The final important tab at the top is for Special Offers. Here you can see many of the same specials and deals that arrive in the promotional emails. Shutterfly also does a good job of advertising for these same deals when you are viewing or ordering relevant products.

Shutterfly also allows you to create and share digital albums of your photographs through an emailed link, a post on Facebook, or the creation of a 'share site.' A share site is a unique web address where you can share photographs and albums either publically or with select people (requires them to have a password). You can share an unlimited number of photographs and albums on a share site. You will not receive commission on any purchases through your share site, unless you upgrade to a Pro Gallery (starting at $99 a year).


Snapfish, affiliated with Hewlett Packard (HP), is another well known US photography products company. Snapfish also has international divisions in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, Germany, France, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Snapfish has mobile apps available for Apple and Android devices.
Photography collage mug created on Snapfish

Through Snapfish, you can order traditional prints via the web site or for pick up at a local retailer. Snapfish can send your print order to retailers including Walmart, Walgreens, Meijer, and DuaneReade. This is useful if you need prints immediately, as they are often ready in around an hour from when you order. Select other photography items, including certain styles of cards, calendars, and posters can also be ordered for pick up in store, though the timeframes for that pick up vary.

For online ordering and purchases, the Snapfish web site has tabs at the top divided into store, prints, photo books, cards, and calendars, along with links for holiday specials and offers. The store section is further divided into print at home, home décor, bestsellers, new, and photo gifts.

Print at home includes a wide variety of free downloads that you can access and print on your own home printer, many of which are themed around holidays and events, such as birthdays.

The home décor section offers a range of canvas prints and collages, acrylic prints, poster prints and collages, and a variety of photo panels and framed prints. These include aluminum prints as well as stand-alone panels.

The photo book section offers a range of product choices and sizes, with an emphasis on embellishments that include small, personalize-able designs, patterns, and icons that you can use to add on to your photo book pages. You can also choose a designed theme based on a variety of topics.

The cards section is subdivided into holidays, invitations, announcements, and more standard greeting cards. Card designs can then be sorted by the number of photos included, the price, the orientation, the card format, and by color. Clicking the 'create card' button lets you jump right into adding pictures and personalizing your chosen card.

The calendars section includes wall and desk calendars as well as a specialty calendars section including planning and poster-sized collage calendars. All types of calendars come in a variety of colors, designs, and sizes and can be personalized with specific dates as well as photographs and captions.

The holiday offers tab includes links to all of the current coupons, deals, or discounts available. These discounts (and coupon codes) are also featured on the site along with the relevant products.

Snapfish also allows you to create and share digital photo albums through its site. You can share albums via a link, in an email, or via many social media outlets. People who share your albums can then use them to order their own prints or photography products using your pictures. (You do not receive any profit on these purchases.)

Cafe Press

Cafe Press is a bit different than Shutterfly and Snapfish in that it is an online retailer as well as a place to buy customized photography products. It sells a wide variety of products created by individuals, and you can even upload your own images and offer them for sale on the Cafe Press web site. Or you can simply design and order items for yourself. Cafe Press also has international websites for Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom.
Wrapped canvas print crated on Cafe Press

The 'create' section of the Cafe Press web site provides an overview of the items available for customization. It is subdivided into t-shirts, photo gifts, clothing and apparel, baby gifts, drinkware and kitchen, accessories, home and office décor, stationary, wall art, and even custom jerseys. Each of these subsections contains an overlapping array of items. After deciding on an item, click 'start designing' to begin the customization process.

You can also become a Cafe Press seller by uploading your pictures to the Cafe Press Marketplace. Cafe Press determines the prices of all items, and you receive 10% commission on each sale. Or you can become a Cafe Press retailer and set your own markup on items.

Comparison and Recommendations

Trying to figure out which retailer is best for you and your photography projects? It depends a bit on what your overall goals are. If you are looking for a place to upload, print, and share photographs, then you will want to go with Shutterfly or Snapfish. They are also the winners if you are looking for more standard paper and photography-based products like prints, posters, cards, calendars, and photo books. If you are looking to put your photographs on anything you can imagine (or try to then sell those items), you would want to go with Cafe Press.

Full disclosure, I personally use Shutterfly, after having had a few customer service-requiring issues with Snapfish (off-printed and folded Thank You cards and a 12x12 photo book designed by me with 12x12 images that were then truncated slightly when printed. In both cases, customer service was fair and helpful, and I eventually received a new set of Thank You cards and a full refund on the photo books, but I decided two encounters with customer service was enough). I have also ordered wrapped canvases from Cafe Press after a great Groupon deal several months back and was pleased with the results.

Think about the specific products you might order and the specific services that you want. Then spend a little time browsing the web sites and choose the one that fits best for you. Remember my suggestion above: each of these sites offers dramatic sales, especially during the holiday and New Years seasons. Get on the mailing lists now, and you can find a great deal on just what you are looking for.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Photography Gifts for the Holidays

Photography Gift Ideas: use your photographs to create lasting gifts | Boost Your Photography

As the advertisements and commercials have made quite clear, the holiday season is just around the corner. Now is a great time to start thinking about how you can use your photographs to make creative gifts, cards, and artwork. This article will cover some of the most common photography holiday gifts, and the second article in this series will provide an introduction and overview of some of the most common retailers to use when creating and ordering such products.

Holiday Cards

Holiday cards have become one of the most popular uses of photography during the holiday season, and this is an important one to start thinking about early. You want to have enough time to create, design, print, and receive your cards so that you are able to mail them when you want.

Many companies offer a wide variety of formats and designs for holiday cards, including layouts for one to many pictures, space to add your own message, and even already created messages for many occasions including Christmas, New Years, Hanukkah, and others, even more general celebrations of the season or the year. Sites also allow you to upload and print your own designs or collages created through other software or applications.

Tips for Holiday Cards

Family group shots or individual collages of the family members (human and animal alike) are very common for holiday cards. When taking a group picture for a holiday card, think about allowing space around the subjects for a design or text overlay. If you have time, you may want to browse card designs first to help you decide whether you want a horizontal or vertical image, for example.

A formal, posed family shot works well for a holiday card, but you do not have to limit yourself to this particular style. Unposed, candid moments also have great potential for cards, particularly if they share something unique or interesting about the subject captured.

Consider also the message that you wish to send. Most people who receive holiday cards are looking forward to seeing what everyone looks like or how much the kids have grown or learning of exciting news from the past year. Photographs from a recent trip or vacation are great, but showcasing each of your children on a different, exclusive vacation can send more of a message of bragging than of catching up with old friends. Think about the kinds of photographs you would want to receive and use that to help guide your choices.

Prints and Canvases

Printed and framed photographs or canvases can make great holiday gifts. There are many sizes and options available. The most common issues to consider with prints are the size of the print and the resolution of the image.

Standard US print sizes, such as 4 x 6, 5 x 7, and 8 x 10 are readily available, and it is easy to find frames for images of this size. Keep in mind that the size of print you choose may require some cropping of your original image. Different cameras shot images at different aspect ratios. (An aspect ratio is a comparison of the length and width.)

My DSLR, for example, shoots at an aspect ratio of 2:3, which means that if I wanted to create a 4 x 6 inch print, it would be exactly right, and I would not need to crop the image. If I wanted to create an 8 x 10 inch print, however, the aspect ratio of my original shot would scale up to an 8 x 12 print, which means that I would need to crop the equivalent of 2 inches off the longest edge. Read more about Aspect Ratio: Know Before You Crop.

Gray shaded areas show what would be cropped going from an 8 x 12 to 8 x 10 print.

You can do this in two different ways. The first way would be using an editing program on your computer or tablet to crop your photograph to an 8 x 10 aspect ratio. If you choose this route, you should first make a copy of your original photo file and only crop the copy. This allows you to change your mind and have the original image preserved. The second way would be to upload the original file, as is, and use the cropping view of the retailer you are using to purchase the print. (Most retailers will show you a preview of your print image and allow you to adjust which portion of the image is cropped for the final print.)

The second important factor to consider with prints and canvases is the resolution of your original image. Resolution refers to the number of pixels and how those pixels are divided when printing the image at a specific size. The confusing thing about resolution is that people often discuss resolution in terms of DPI. DPI refers to dots per inch or the number of pixels printed within each inch of a printed image. The problem is that DPI contains two variables: the dots (pixels) and the number of inches. You can only know the DPI of a specific image IF you know the size you will be printing it at (the inches).

For example, let's say that you have an image that is 2400 x 3600 pixels.

  • Printing that image as a 4 x 6 inch print will have a resolution of 600 DPI
  • Printing that image as a poster print of 16 x 20 inches will have a resolution of 150 dpi (and you will need to crop the image down from 16 x 24)
  • Printing that image as a large canvas print of 24 x 36 inches will have a resolution of 100 DPI (no cropping needed)

The industry standard is to recommend a DPI at or above 72, while 300 dpi is a general recommendation for a high quality print. If you print an image at a large enough size that the DPI falls below 72, then you may start to notice pixilation (the presence of individual pixels) in the image. The chart below can be used as a guide for what size of original image you would want to have in order to print it at the sizes below.

photography resolution dpi comparison chart
Resolution translated into DPI

For larger prints, there are a variety of formats available. You can print an image as a poster print, which will require a frame to display. Images printed on metal often come with their own means of hanging and do not require a frame. You can also print an image as a wrapped canvas print that is hung on the wall by itself.

Canvas prints are printed at a larger size than the final image and then wrapped around a wooden frame (often an inch or so in thickness). You need to factor in that wrapping area when choosing an image. If you have something important too close to the edge of the print, it will be wrapped around the edges and not visible when viewing the canvas from the front.

There is now a growing collection of other ways to display printed photographs beyond basic prints or canvases. These include desktop display plaques, photo cubes, ornaments, and even wall decals. Different retails offer different options, which will be covered in more detail in the next article.

Photography Gifts: calendars, mugs, placemats, and more

There are a wide range of other products that you can personalize with photographs. Many of these products offer a wide range of customization including colorful borders, backgrounds, designs, and text to accompany your images.


Calendars are a great gift idea, as they are functional and used throughout the year. Most calendars can be designed with one photograph per month or a collage of images. You also have options for customizing the look and style of the calendar itself and for adding personal facts on specific days. You could create a calendar of extended family birthdays and send one to each family or fill a calendar full of funny memories linked to specific days. Many programs will even save this information to your account so that you can reuse it for future calendars.

Table Gifts: mugs, plates, placemats ...

There are many accessories for your table that you can make out of your photographs. Coffee mugs are a useful daily item and a creative way to remember a special vacation or a favorite moment. Plates and placemats are functional as well as decorative. Consider making plates or placemats that also celebrate a special season or holiday. Bringing them out at only certain times of the year will help make them more special and fun to use.

Blankets and Pillows and more: endless customization

Blankets and pillows can turn your photographs into flexible and functional decorations. You can create a cover for your iPhone, Samsung phone, or a tablet. There are so many different options available for fun photography projects, that you can really tailor your gifts to the recipient. Think about objects or displays that they would be most likely to use or appreciate, and choose your images and designs accordingly.

Photo Books

The final photography gift is the time-honored photo book. Rapidly replacing the standard binders full of plastic sheet-pockets of photographs, photo books allow you to widely customize and individualize your photographs. Photo books are available in a wide variety of sizes and styles, and most retails offer a large range of customizable options. You can upload an album's worth of photographs and have them inserted into a book automatically, or you can choose your own design template and individually place and arrange each photo and piece of text.

Photo books are a great project to work on gradually, as it can be overwhelming to try and put together all at once. Most retailers allow you to save your projects in process and work on building your book up over time. Consider also narrowing the scope of your book to a specific length of time, holiday, child, or other organizing principle. For example, each year I make a photo book that features the 365 daily photographs that I have taken during the past year as part of my 365 project. Doing the book about a month or two at a time as I go along makes it much easier to wrap up after the year has ended.

Summary: Holiday Photography Gifts

There are many possibilities for using your photographs to create lasting holiday gifts for yourself and others. Holiday cards are a great way to share an update with friends and family. Prints and canvases get your photos off of your computer and up on to your walls. Other photography gifts allow you to create and customize a wide variety of daily life and display kinds of items. Finally, the photo book preserves your memories in a printed, concrete form that is ideal for sharing and reading with others.

The next article will cover some of the common online retailers for photo gifts and products to get you started creating great photography gifts.