Christmas Card Photo

December 3, 2007

these awesome photos by Jan Von Holleben I linked to a couple of weeks ago? Well. I also shared them with my kids. Up on seeing them, their brains almost exploded with the possibilities. They immediately started suggesting scenarios and similar photos. So Ben and I figured we could use Jan’s brilliant technique and create an image for our Christmas cards — satisfying our kids and checking our cards off the holiday list in one fell swoop.

We’re not sure if this is the final shot yet, but I share this with you now in case any one out there wants to try something similar in time for Christmas. Very fun. Very satisfying. And it gets better with each try. Here is the progression of our attempts and a few tips we learned along the way.

1) The content. We wanted to take advantage of the flying aspect, so we decided the angel speaking to the shepherds would be perfect. We call the image: Unto You a Child is Born! We also immediately decided the babies wouldn’t get to be in this particular image. Neither one can hold still for even 2 seconds.

2) We practiced without a real backdrop, standing on the couch and staging the kids on the area rug, just to see if we could get the hang of it before we committed to more work.

3) Next we attempted the photo with the backdrop. Initially we tried to use the black pavement of our driveway for the night sky, and the grass that meets the driveway as the ground. But it was just too cold the day we shot the photo, so we moved it inside.

4) We shot indoors in the afternoon and there was still plenty of light. We used rolls of black garbage sacks for the backdrop. (The garbage sacks were kind of hard to work with. I think the driveway would have been easier.) We stood on a ladder to take the shots. One thing I really liked about Jan’s pictures is his use of every day objects as props. We tried to do the same, using diapers for the angel wings and keeping the costumes simple.

5) We love our little Canon Elph. But it’s not a real, real camera. So we could only get the photo so clear. At which point, we called for a favor from Guest Mom Sara’s husband, Travis Stratford. He came with his awesome camera and awesome camera skilz and we shot again. This time at night. Can you believe how much clearer his shot is? Awesome.

6) We are trying to decide if this is the final shot or if we should make one more attempt. Things we would change at Travis’s smart suggestion: make Ralph’s clothes more contrast-y against the black. And mess with the light sources so that angel Olive looks like she’s illuminating everything else.

7) A few last notes. The kneeling and standing were harder to pull off than the flying. The whole project would have been easier if we’d changed the title to “Angels We Have Heard on High” or something like that and had all the kids flying. And if we’d kept shoes on our shepherds that would also have helped. The shoes help keep their feet straight.

If you attempt one, I hope you’ll share. We can start a flickr group of Jan Von Holleben knock offs.

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{ 52 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Juliane December 3, 2007 at 12:21 pm

This is awesome-what a fun family project! It’s fun to see what you’ve been up to.


2 Shannon December 3, 2007 at 12:25 pm

What a wonderful idea! I bet it has been lots of fun, too.


3 *******chocolatecanary********* December 3, 2007 at 12:31 pm

I am putting this on my list for next year. I love it!


4 penniesinmypocket December 3, 2007 at 12:39 pm

WOW! I absolutely LOVE it!!!! I am so going to try something like this when DD gets older!


5 esther December 3, 2007 at 12:54 pm

That’s awesome! How creative and fun!


6 a spectator December 3, 2007 at 1:15 pm

I did one, too–already in the mail. I also did angels. I only have a 3 year old and ten month old and made them both angels. Not perfect (10 month old was awake :)), but fun!


7 Cherry December 3, 2007 at 1:16 pm

This is one terrific idea! I love it and thank you for sharing it.


8 Cocoa December 3, 2007 at 1:26 pm

This is my list for next year’s card as well. We would have done it this year except I get mine done by November so next year it is.

Definitely retake the shot adjusting the lighting and clothes. It’s going to be phenomenal!


9 Amanda December 3, 2007 at 1:28 pm

Oh wow, that is just a beautiful shot. Great job! I’m sure everyone who receives your cards with that photo will be “wowed”!


10 Beth December 3, 2007 at 1:34 pm

These are so neat! I just have to tell you, I was trying so hard to figure out how you got your Olive to be suspended in the air! I really thought she was! So much fun and such a neat idea. I love the shepherds seeing the heavenly angel. That’s what Christmas is.


11 Maya Papaya December 3, 2007 at 1:41 pm

Lovelovelove this! Great job!

I would like to see another photo with Ralph’s clothes more contrasty, but who has time for another photo shoot! I would be thrilled to receive this photo as a Christmas card as is.


12 Andrea Scher December 3, 2007 at 1:41 pm

I am so inspired by you!!!


13 Courtney December 3, 2007 at 1:48 pm

I love it!What a fun family project!


14 Stine December 3, 2007 at 1:49 pm

What kind of camera did your friend use for the final shot? It looks great!


15 lainakay December 3, 2007 at 2:01 pm

AMAZING!! What a creative idea! Love it!


16 Kelly December 3, 2007 at 2:25 pm


I looked at this today and couldn’t believe how big your kids look. I miss Ralph, Maude and Olive. I loved those little kiddos! Glad your family is well and so many congrats to Ben who just defended. That deserves a big party.
kelly stewart


17 pillingfamily December 3, 2007 at 2:52 pm

those shots are so awesome. i think i might have to steal your idea for a Christmas card. how are you ging to present the picture on the card?


18 robin k December 3, 2007 at 3:02 pm

Wow, Gabby.


19 Mommy Cracked December 3, 2007 at 3:21 pm

How neat! They look great!


20 Mommy Cracked December 3, 2007 at 3:21 pm

How neat! They look great!


21 Bek December 3, 2007 at 3:56 pm

wow….never in one million years would I even try that. I would be crying!!!


22 Kristi December 3, 2007 at 4:59 pm

Holy Mackerel–this is awesome!! I love that your kids were so excited to pose–they are so stinkin cute.


23 Anonymous December 3, 2007 at 5:01 pm

That’s fabulous. I’m inspired. Now if I can just get my 4YO to cooperate.


24 mk December 3, 2007 at 5:10 pm

Very cool!! Are you going to add a sheep? I want to try this when my kiddos are older.


25 Laurie December 3, 2007 at 6:19 pm

What a GREAT idea, Gabrielle. I love it! (I want to try this, too !)


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27 BeachysCapeCodCupboard December 3, 2007 at 7:37 pm

Oh my gosh I so want to try this!!! (I love your darling diaper wings!!!) =)


28 chickadee December 3, 2007 at 7:52 pm

that’s awesome. what a great job!


29 pepper December 3, 2007 at 7:56 pm

Very Very fun, I will have to keep this in mind when my kids are older.


30 Chris December 3, 2007 at 8:20 pm

Gabby, that’s great imagination and photo you have there! Cool.


31 Anonymous December 3, 2007 at 8:26 pm

fantastic idea. that shot looks great, but i agree that you should try another with a lighter-colored shirt on Ralph. also, make sure the angel’s feet are in the shot.


32 Chief Family Officer December 3, 2007 at 11:22 pm

Wow, that’s just amazing – you’re such a talented family!


33 chronicler December 3, 2007 at 11:58 pm

Okay now this is totally the coolest Christmas card idea ever! I love them and wow I am speechless! So totally cool!


34 heather December 4, 2007 at 4:49 am

What a great idea!! It looks great!

I’ll have to file this away to try in the future!!


35 dawn December 4, 2007 at 9:31 am

Looks like a very cool project to do witht he kids! And very cute pic too!


36 Kristen December 4, 2007 at 9:34 am

Great creativity. Thanks for inspiring us to actually do all these great ideas we see. I thought about trying my own “knock-off” but unfortunately my camera is broken so I think I’ll save it for a summer backyard project.


37 Amanda Conley December 4, 2007 at 9:52 am

I adore this project! I’ll bet your kids had a blast! Super cool!


38 lisapow December 4, 2007 at 2:14 pm

you are a very talented woman!! That is so cool!!!


39 Ashley Forrette December 4, 2007 at 3:00 pm

How cool! What a great idea. I love it!


40 Emily December 4, 2007 at 4:31 pm

Wow, I can’t imagine a more chic homemade Christmas card. I am going to save this one for when I have enough kids to do it. Although if I only end up having two I can always invite a neighbor….


41 Ellen December 4, 2007 at 4:58 pm

LOVE THIS! And if you decide to shoot it again, the first shots with the kneeling look great where she’s actually touching her heels to her butt. It looks more like kneeling. Anyway, great job!


42 wesley's mom December 5, 2007 at 12:37 am

This is great. We are taking our pictures this week. I am definetly going to figure a way to use this idea.


43 sarah starr December 5, 2007 at 3:07 pm

SO GREAT! I love the bare feet.


44 Britney December 6, 2007 at 1:06 am

Love it! Love it! Love it!


45 Daniel December 6, 2007 at 1:14 am

We love it, Gabrielle! Best… Christmas card… EVAR.

(In fact, we blogged about it, we thought it was that awesome.)


46 Dana December 6, 2007 at 2:39 am

Brilliant ! for a 1st attempt you did amazing job! I can’t wait to see your final image!


47 lynne December 6, 2007 at 12:17 pm

so brilliant!!!! i can’t wait to try this!


48 LoGunns December 10, 2007 at 11:46 pm

I love how it involves the kids and let’s them be creative in a new way. Next year we will try it.


49 halfmama January 10, 2008 at 7:57 pm

Well this is extremely late but thanks to your wonderful idea (which I fully copied!), we managed to get our holiday cards done this year. Thanks so much for inspiring me. I love your blog… and I’m delurking to show you the results of said inspiration!


50 christinemm January 29, 2008 at 7:24 pm

Wow what a great job you did! You are so creative. I love that your children shared in the creative process!


51 Blissful Babe December 5, 2008 at 6:06 pm

That is so totally cool! What a fun thing to do with the whole family! I love the idea and will bookmark it for future reference!

Thanks and good luck with the final product!


52 Amy from Texas December 8, 2008 at 1:51 am

That’s so fun! I will try this when my kids are older.


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