I wonder what the first family photo cards looked like? I have one early example, probably from the late 1940’s, showing my mom’s family in sort of dogpile crush. Poor grand-dad is clearly overwhelmed by the three women in the picture.
Collecting Christmas Cards
When I was young, the Kodak photo Christmas cards seemed like the ultimate in holiday luxury. The thick white textured yardstick and sharp black-and white picture looked so, well, classy. Mom liked to send personalized cards imprinted with messages like “Greetings from California” or “From Our House on Bishop Drive to Yours,” so I don’t remember seeing many of our own photo cards.
Like most family historians who’ve inherited a collection of family papers and photos, I’ve found stacks of old Christmas cards tucked away in closets and drawers. Combined with cards we’ve received over the years, I’ve put together a nice collection of both awesome and awkward family photo cards.
What were they thinking?
- A snapshot of six unsmiling kids standing in front of a fence like a police line-up.
- A basketball-star sized Dad showing off his legs in a skimpy nightshirt.
- Unfortunate gestures from the unhappy teenager.
I love holiday cards. They capture the kitschy, down-home, this-is-us spirit of our friends and family like nothing else.
We’ve kept a little stash of the best of the best, and they come out each year to be passed around and enjoyed again as kind of an ongoing family saga. Year after year, some cards are always perfect, some clever and creative, and some a true surprise.
I’d love to share them with you, but then, people would probably cross me off their holiday card list. Instead, here are a few tips for taking family photos that avoid the nightmare that is “Taking the Christmas Card Photo.”
How to Take a Great Family Photo
DO Plan ahead. Charge your camera battery, buy film, know how to use the camera.
DON’T Make everyone wait while you figure out how the release the shutter or turn on of off the flash.
DO Accommodate the youngest and oldest members of the group.
DON’T Take the picture when the baby (or grandparent) is hungry or needs a nap.
DO Set up the picture in front of a calm background or natural foliage.
DON’t Stand people in front of a busy scene with phone poles or trees poking out of their heads.
DO Include all body parts when framing the photo.
DON’t Cut off hands, feet, arms, or heads. It’s most distressing.
DO Have fun, show a sense of humor.
DON’T Set up an “inside” joke that only an “insider” will understand; don’t send out a photo that will embarrass anyone.
After the Photo Shoot
Fortunately, the miracle of digital photography gives us a second chance to redeem many Awkward Family Photos. You can still fix a lot of problems with your photo software or an online photo editor like PicMonkey.com or Canva.com.
Crop It Out
Go ahead and crop out distracting background clutter. Use your photo editor’s clone tool to edit out that phone pole sticking out of Dad’s head. Zoom in tight on a group and eliminate roving hands or flying fingers.
Lose the Color
When the family rebel insists on wearing a clashing color or pattern, eliminate the problem by converting the entire image to black-and-white. Sharpen the contrast, and you may have a better picture than the original color version.
Add an Inset Image
Take a tip from graphic designers and layer a second smaller photo on top of an offending portion of the photo. No one will know that the dog was being too nosy.
When all else fails, use one or two photos that show the spirit of your group, if not the perfect family photo that you envisioned.
You’ve Got (Old) Mail
The genealogist in me can’t quite throw out those old Christmas cards, but I don’t want to spend a lot of time on them, either. I suppose I could go through the cards meticulously listing names or searching for connections between “friends, associates, and neighbors.” I could display the cool vintage and retro cards and put the rest away for a rainy day. Or, I could pull out all the old Kodak photo cards and fall into the picture imagining what ever happened to those church missionaries in China or that family down the street.
What do you do with old holiday cards?