Photo Emergency

So it's December 1st, and some of you are looking at your calendar and freaking out.  Not all of you, sure.  But some of you, and not just about the weather or North Korea.  You’re thinking about all the tiny little things on your December to-do list that you were hoping to get done before now.  I get it.  I’ve been there too.  However, as it turns out, I might be able to help you procure some adorable images of your darling kids.  Or your darling dog.  Or your only friend the goldfish.  Doesn’t matter.  You can use these tips for all of the above, and more – for gifts, calendars for the grandparents, or perhaps even holiday card.

Whether you already have an image or need to create one (or several), here are some tips to get you there before time runs out.


1.)   Grab your camera!  If you need to collect some images that are grandparents-worthy, take a couple minutes with your camera.  Get to know the light meter function (usually the same as the auto focus square in your view finder).  If you are using an iPhone, just tap your finger on the screen where you would like to focus.  Your iPhone camera will meter light in that spot as well.  If you are using a point-and-shoot or a camera that has a manual function, it's best to stick to a “shutter priority.”  That way you can be sure to capture all the action when it happens.  And don’t forget to turn off the flash.


2.)   Head to some natural light.  If you live somewhere other than California or Texas and sunlight is hard to come by, then I have an option for you as well (see #6.)  But for those of us lucky to still see the sun regularly, head outside or to a room with lots of windows.  The more natural light the better.  But be sure your subject is not in direct light that might cast shadows on the face, or have the bright light directly behind your subject.  The best light is in shade with the entire face lit up.  At this time of year, just about all day is beautiful light, but I prefer around 3:30p.m.  I successfully shot images just yesterday in my back yard, and the light was perfect.

3.)   Stick to someplace familiar.  If you are shooting with kids, bear in mind that a place that’s familiar could be the difference between a photo shoot of a screaming toddler and a laughing one.  I always tell my clients that when I am shooting kids, home is always the best.

4.)   Let them be themselves.  One thing I run into all the time when shooting, especially people, is the idea that we have to pose our subjects in order to capture the best version of them.  I completely disagree.  Yes, you will have to remind kids (and some adults) to point their chin down, move a little to the right or left.  But, for the most part, try to be a fly on the wall. The images that my clients love the most – and the images that I cherish the most of my kids – are the ones where you see the personality coming through.  Maybe it’s a mannerism or a genuine laugh, but anyone can see the difference between an overly produced image and a genuine one.  And remember what I said about shutter speed.  The faster the shutter, the more likely you are to capture the giggle when it happens.


5.)   Let your kids be comfortable (or your dog or goldfish).  I know folks like to have color coordinated outfits, or things more formal than everyday.  I totally get it.  If you want your shoot to be a success, the more comfortable your subject is the more likely they look that way in your image.  Let your kids wear things they always wear.  When I shoot my kids, I usually just tell them to grab their favorite outfit, and meet me in the front lawn.  If the colors are too crazy – I can always turn the image into black and white.  But allowing them the flexibility to participate in the decision on what they wear usually makes them more cooperative.  And comfortable.  Which means you, the photographer, can focus on the shot, and not whether they are tugging at their fancy shoes or ruffled collar.  I love looking back at the images I’ve taken over the years where my son is climbing on his big sister or they are laughing hysterically.  The ones where he is wearing his bacon and eggs tee shirt and she has on the pair of jeans she couldn’t part with for a year.  That was them at that moment.  And I am so glad I captured it.  If you have a toddler that doesn’t care, great.  If you have a 7 year old that likes to wear only his batman costume – start with that.  You will get some amazing images that you will laugh about for years to come, AND you can likely get him/her to remove the mask and maybe wiggle out of his disguise as the shoot goes on.  It usually takes about 30 minutes before everyone starts to loosen up and forget the camera is there.

6.)   For those where shooting in natural light just isn’t an option, I recommend this as a last resort.  Not that it's bad - it's just harder, and the images take on a very different feel.  This approach requires a flash (very deliberately used) or some make-shift studio lighting.  Studio lighting could be as simple as a lamp with the shade taken off and directed towards the subject – or something more elaborate.  I did a version of this for my holiday card this year, simply because I had been wanting to try it, and it was super fun.  Pick a place in your house that you can set up a background.  Maybe it’s a white wall, maybe it’s a dark wall.  Maybe it’s a roll of Seamless paper that you have up on a backdrop stand - because eff it, you went all-in this year.  But pick a place, and make a photo booth.  For my family, I ordered props off of Amazon for like $9, and we made a night of it.  I used my rule of having people pick out what they wanted to wear, and nobody felt uncomfortable.  Just don’t have folks stand too close to the backdrop.  You don’t need to see its detail, just the super cute kiddo in the frame.

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OK.  Now you have images.  If you just captured them, you might not need to make adjustments.  But if you uncovered something from your yearly archive of adventures, and they are not production ready, then here are some fun tools to use.


1.)    Adobe Lightroom (   I’m a photographer, so of course I have Lightroom.  I learned it quickly, but I think most people could.  There are auto settings, dials to move to correct exposure and temperature, and lots of preset filters that you can have fun with.  There is also a mobile app (which truthfully I have never used.)  And it's available for approximately $10 a month.  The draw back is that it's a robust application, and you will likely have to sign up for a year.  But if you are into it, I highly recommend it.  There is a free trial, which may be enough for what you need.

Snapseed Tools Screen Shot

Snapseed Tools Screen Shot

2.)   Snapseed  (available on the iPhone App Store) I use Snapseed for all my iPhone editing.  I like it because the tools are extensive for an online app.  It has image tune, cropping, white balance, and also has more robust functions like healing and brush tools.  There are filters as well, but the super fun thing I like about it is it also has the ability to add text to an image.  And, it's free.

3.)   Photoshop.  Duh, right?  This is obviously awesome, but unless you are shooting in RAW format and/or want to Photoshop a dragon into your image, it's likely overkill.

4.)   Pixelz ( This is a great app that you can use to request image editing for $1.45 per image.  It's perfect if you want a background taken out of an existing image, but there is a minimum fee of $25, so you would need to have several existing images to take advantage.

5.)   Fiverr (  Kinda like Pixelz, there is a collection of photo services at Fiverr.  On Fiverr you can request all kinds of services for your images starting at (you guessed it) $5.  The freelance artists there have skills ranging from graphics, digital marketing, photo editing, as well as audio and visual editing  - and on and on.  It’s a little hit or miss, and could end up taking a couple of days, but a great resource to have in your “last minute” tool belt.

Artifact Uprising Screen Shot

Artifact Uprising Screen Shot

6.)   Artifact Uprising (  This iPhone app (and it's also fully functional photo commerce site at is great for not only iPhone photos but any photos.  The app is a super easy way to take your edited photos and turn them into holiday cards, or prints, or whatever you need really.  Stylistically, they have completely nailed it, and their pre-formatted holiday cards are Pinterest worthy.

7.)   Paperculture (  These guys have nailed the whole green Holiday card thing.  They also have great pre-formatted options for all kinds of stationary, but they take it a step further.  For every order they plant a tree.  And they use post-consumer waste and wood alternatives to produce your order.  I use them for everything I can - because, well, I care about that stuff.  If you do too, then check them out.  I used them for my photo booth holiday card, and I think they look super fun.


There are definitely many more tools you could possibly use. But as a quick and dirty approach to crossing this item off your to-do list while nailing the perfect image, this should get you there.  Happy Holidays, and be sure to have a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc for me.