Welcome to our 12 Days of Christmas

Each day we'll add a new tip or offer to make this your best photographic Christmas ever.

Follow us on Facebook for the latest from us, and while you're there, please share any questions, comments or ideas sparked by the 12 Days of Christmas.

12th Day of Christmas - Tell me a story

For children, pictures and words go together. Young children take photos that illustrate stories or idea in their heads. They're natural mini photojournalists. Give a child a camera, and see what I mean. Childrens' photos don't mean much to other people without the story, but everything can be special to a child.

Grown-ups do the opposite. We admire 'art' - pictures that stand alone and speak for themselves, without any words needed.

This Christmas, I suggest that you avoid serious-grown-up syndrome, and have a go at taking photos like a child. Because it's more fun, and it helps you see the joy in everything.

Here are some photos that mean a lot to me that I took last week. The photos won't mean a thing to you... until I say that it was a trip to the awesome new RSPCA at Wacol to get 2 kittens.

Photographic story of a trip to the RSPCA to get two new kittens

Here are some tips to enjoying the process of getting shots like these.

  1. Tell a story of an event. There will be lots of them over Christmas. Don't try to cover every step (getting ready, getting there etc. that's too grown-up and analytical). Instead, just shoot the things that mean something to you. Think "If I were a teenager in love, what things would I include in a letter to my lover?". They're the things to shoot.
  2. If it's indoors, avoid the flash if you can. It spoils the moment and the fun, and screams paparazzi. Minimise the blur by turning up the camera's sensitivity or ISO. Auto ISO works fine for the latest SLRs, but you might need to set "High ISO" on some compacts, or "High Sensitivity" SCN mode on Panasonics. On SLR cameras, try a lens that lets in lots of light, like a 50mm fixed lens ("nifty fifty"). All of the pictures above were taken on that lens.
  3. Use auto, or "P" mode on an SLR. You don't have time to worry about settings if you're giving your story the attention that it deserves.
  4. Shoot lots! Two of these shots were taken from the hip without looking through the viewfinder at all.
  5. Don't let the camera get in the way - you're part of the event too
  6. Smile. You see happy pictures when you're happy. It's not a test.

11th Day of Christmas - 20% off everything online sale

Get the discount code from our Facebook page and save 20% off everything you buy online until 10:00pm on Monday 19th December Sorry - the sale has ended now, and it was so popular it nearly melted our computers! Thanks for your patience if you had to wait to download a gift certificate. That was our last sale before Christmas.

You can still get gift certificates for our courses online here.

10th Day of Christmas - remote-control movies

Try something new this Christmas: a time-lapse movie, made with a normal camera or easier still with an iPhone or smartphone. Time-lapse movies used to be hard work, but now they just take a couple of minutes' planning. And if the children join in, you can get hours of creative fun (or peace), as you make a movie starring their new toys. Or shoot Christmas lunch speeded up 180 times to squish an hour into a more digestable 20 seconds.

The easiest way is with a smartphone and a $2 app like TimeLapse by xyster.net for iPhone. The app shoots all the pictures by itself and makes the movie too. You'll need to hold the phone securely. For iPhone, I do this with the $20 Glif - a small and classy accessory for putting the iPhone on a tripod. Or just lean the phone against a shelf. In the TimeLapse app, you press 'Frame and Start', and off it goes, putting the finished movie in your camera roll.

You can use a normal digital camera, but it takes a bit more work, because not many cameras can automatically shoot pictures at set intervals for you. This lands you the thrilling job of pressing the button every few seconds. But that's just what you need to make a stop-motion movie of the children or their new toys. Put the camera on a tripod so that it's not moving, turn off the flash and take successive photos of the toys, moving them a little between each shot. Load all the photos into Picasa (see Day 1 for this), select them and press Create, Video, From selection. All of the default options are fine, so press Create Video and it creates and saves the movie for you.

On iPhone, the (free) app PikFliks by FatDog does all this for you too.

Following yesterday's post... I wonder if it will work to shoot an automatic timelapse of the present opening? No... I will not shoot the present opening... I will not shoot the present opening...

9th Day of Christmas - opening the presents

Do you try each year to capture the joy and surprise on the kids’ faces when they open their presents? Do you now own a library of tops of heads and forced-smile photos? Me too.

After 7 years of trying, I'm going to do it differently. This year's trick is... put the camera down, and back away slowly. I've decided that opening the presents is not a good camera moment. It's a good family moment. The instant they pull the wrapping paper off, their eyes are looking down anyway, and if you're holding a camera when they look up, their expression will show all the joy and spontaneity of a politician at question time. Sometimes, the camera gets in the way too much.

Playing with the presents on Christmas DayA better time for photos is when they're playing with the presents. Use your zoom to get right in close to the action and blur the background, and take loads and loads of photos to make sure you get at least one good one. Try a toy's-eye view. Use your stealth parenting skills to sneak up on them and capture those priceless unposed moments of pure joy, or disappointment, depending on how naughty or nice they’ve been.

I'd love to hear your views - is it worth it or not? Have you found a way to get good shots and not spoil the moment? Comment on our Facebook page. For now, I'm repeating the mantra "I will not shoot the present-opening... I will not shoot the present opening..."

8th Day of Christmas - making angels without the snow

Light-painting Leo the dog as a fairyLooking for a solution to the kids' holiday boredom? Be the coolest parent/aunty ever with this trick. Put wings or a halo (or devil's horns?) on your children. Here, Eleshia has given Leo the full fairy treatment - all done without the computer.

The settings are the same as for the Christmas tree photo – so have a peek at Day 4 below for a reminder. It will have to be properly dark for this shot - leave the Christmas tree lights on, but turn off everything else. See that in the Day 4 settings, I suggested that you listen to how long the camera takes over the photo? Here’s why. During that time, anything you do with a light will become a blur written into the photo. If you hear 4 seconds between the camera’s clicks, you’ve got 4 seconds to draw wings with a torch. Most cameras will shoot for at least this long, but be aware that some Sony, Olympus, Kodak and Pentax compact cameras just can't. All SLR cameras will.

Set it all up exactly as for the Christmas tree photo and shoot. Between the clicks of the photo, get your willing accomplice to stand perfectly still while you stand behind them and paint them with light. You can use a torch pointing roughly in the direction of the camera (not directly at the camera, though, or it'll be too bright). If you keep moving, you won't come out in the picture. Check the photo and refine your light-painting technique - it takes a few goes to get it right.

If the camera stubbornly refuses to shoot no matter how hard you press the button, it’s too dark for it to see to focus now that there's someone standing in the way of the lights on the tree. And it won't shoot if it can't focus. So move the person next to the tree so the camera can still focus on the tree.

Last week, we took a version of this shot for the Multicultural Development Association with 1,000 people all coordinated drawing hearts in the air with candles - more fun that I've had in ages! We'll post that picture and story later (it's not good karma for photographers to scoop their clients and release an image before them!).

7th Day of Christmas - painless family photos

Now we’re going to get everyone together for a nice family photo”… Aaaargh! When I hear these words, I think of forced smiles and cringe-worthy poses. awkwardfamilyphotos.com has the best collection of, well, awkward family photos. It's a priceless resource of what to avoid.

Grandma laughing in a waterpistol fightThe key to easy family photos is people having fun. Not faked fun. Not 'smile-for-the-camera' fun. Real fun! We are experts at spotting fake smiles. So shoot when people are actually enjoying themselves

Well before the photos, put the camera onto a setting called 'continuous shooting' (also called 'Burst' mode on some brands, and 'Sequential shooting' on others) so that you can take lots of pictures quickly, and your camera won't get in the way of the fun. Then you can either poach photos like this shot of Grandma in a waterpistol fight...

Or you can get people together in a group, but you've got to be really, really quick, as you'll only have peoples' attention for a few precious moments. These types of photo are given, not taken. Get everyone in really close together, don't worry too much about posing, and shoot quickly. See the tips below for the 3rd day of Christmas for ideas to shoot larger groups.

If you're prepared to put in some time on the computer, with big groups I shoot dozens of pictures, and swap a few heads around on the computer because no single picture will have everyone looking good. The easiest tool for this is the Photomerge Group Shot feature in Adobe Photoshop Elements (in the Organiser select the photos then click File, New, Photomerge Group Shot, and follow the instructions). You can get a 30-day free trial of it here.

6th Day of Christmas - 50% off Photo Editing Made Easy 'til 5pm

Get a 1-year pass to our popular Photo Editing Made Easy course for just $105 - that's half price! But it's only until 5:00pm today. Sorry - you've missed the sale price - it was only on for 10 hours, and it was popular! Follow us on Facebook if you'd like to find out about other offers. You can still get gift certificates for the course at the regular price. Click here for a gift certificate.

Go from this...

to this in 3 minutes

You don't even need your own software yet - try them all on our computers and find out which is best for you. And (like all our courses) you can come back as often as you like for a year. We can show you all the main types of software from the free Google Picasa through to the full Photoshop. Bring your own photos (and laptop, if you want to). Perfect as a stand-alone course, or combine it with our photography courses for a complete package.

See full details of the Photo Editing Made Easy course here. Click here to get a gift certificate online instantly, or give us a call on (07) 3255 8811.

5th Day of Christmas - Generation gap photo

Start a new yearly tradition: get a photo of the oldest and newest members of the family together at Christmas.

You don't need to show the whole person - just hands or feet can be evocative too, and have a much better "wall life" than shots of faces. You know this photo is Grandad and baby without spelling it out.

Black-and-white is perfect for this because it focuses your attention onto the people, while colour draws your attention to their clothes. To make strong black-and-white images, if you have the time I'd suggest shooting in colour and turning them to black-and-white on the computer afterwards. This is for two reasons:

  1. You can leave a part in colour if you want to
  2. You can choose a more dramatic style of black-and-white

Let us know how you go with the shots - and feel free to post any good images up on our Facebook wall for comments and ideas.

4th Day of Christmas - Moody Christmas lights

Twinkly Christmas lights really build the Christmas mood, but the photos often come out lifeless. Want to capture the feeling with them? You can do it with almost any camera (the shot below was on an $88 camera). Here's how...

    Christmas tree lights shot on an $88 camera
  1. Christmas lights are dim, so the darker the room is, the brighter they will come out. If you're shooting the Christmas tree, shoot at night, turn off your flash, and turn off most of the lights in the house too.
  2. But now that it's so dark, the camera will take ages over the photo to let in enough light. If you try to hold the camera in your hand, it will look like there's an earthquake in your living room as you wobble the camera. So rest it on something - a table, cushion or tripod, and pop on the self-timer to stop any chance of jiggling when you press the button to shoot.
  3. Take a test-shot to see what you get, and to listen to how long the camera takes to shoot the picture.

  4. If everything is too dark, try the following:
    For most compact cameras, try the 'night mode' (often it lives in the 'scene' or SCN mode menu). If it's still too dark, on Canon compacts, head for 'long shutter mode'; on Panasonics, go for 'starry sky' mode. All of these modes allow the camera to shoot for longer to let enough light in.
    If it's a Nikon or Pentax SLR, or Olympus EP series, turn up the brightness control. These poor doves get confused when it's this dark.
    If the lights look great but the room has come out too dark, try shooting again, but flashing the room lights on for a moment during the photo - the longer they're on for, the brighter the room will be.

  5. Shooting lights outside the house? Exactly the same settings apply.
    If you get some great shots, we'd love to see them. Post them on our Facebook wall, and let everyone know how they were shot. We'll be giving you some more ideas to play with these shots later in the 12 days.

3rd Day of Christmas - A warm community glow

Got great neighbours? Take a group photo of everyone in your street and give them a copy. Mix it with a christmas celebration, and you’ll have the most networked, friendly street in Brisbane. Read on for 5 easy steps to get the picture.

Try shooting group photos from up high
  1. Use height. Choose someone’s house with a high veranda for the camera, and everyone can cluster below.
  2. Pick your time of day. Everyone will need to be in the shade, or with the sun low and behind them, but avoid sunlight falling onto their faces.
  3. Gather everyone in really close. This takes cajoling - or Christmas spirit. The picture looks best when they’re squished together.
  4. Shoot lots and lots of pictures. Any camera on auto mode will be just fine. Ask everyone to look away and look back suddenly for the picture, so their expression is fresh and they're not squinting into the sky.
  5. Get everyone’s e-mail to share the picture for free. Then sit back and reap the rewards of a street where everyone knows each other.

Your camera isn’t just for photos: it’s a passport to getting to meet and know people, whether you're travelling or in your own street. Even if the photo doesn’t work, the networking will.

I'm shooting our street next week - I'll let you know how it goes!

2nd Day of Christmas - Two savings

Buy one gift certicate online, get another 50% off

Our first sale... ever!

Sorry - the sale is now over. But we have another 1-day sale coming. Follow us on Facebook to find out.

Or click here to see all of the gift certificates on offer.

1st Day of Christmas - One big montage

See the whole year at a glance with a collage of photos – made in 30 seconds with the free Google Picasa. Print it as a canvas on the wall, or as a Christmas letter-with-a-difference and avoid Christmas-card cramp.

Collage of photos

Picasa is the king of making quick collages. Even though we use super-duper Photoshop, we switch to Picasa to make collages because it’s so much quicker and easier. Here are the 6 steps:

  1. Go to http://picasa.google.com/ and press the button to download and install the free Picasa. It’s small, friendly and fairly polite. See this link for our tips on the best options to use when installing Picasa, so it knows where your photos are.
  2. in the toolbar and click Picture Collage (or on earlier versions of Picasa, just hit the huge Collage button at the bottom of the screen). If the photos that you want aren’t all in the same folder, push the small green drawing-pin button at the bottom to lock those selections from each folder before picking more from another folder.
    Picasa's screen for choosing images to make a collage
  3. After clicking Picture Collage, click Page Format and pick the option for the size or shape that best fits the paper or screen that your collage is destined for. If it’s going to be printed on an A4 page, pick A4.
  4. Have a play with the drop-down box at the top for choosing the type of collage. I like Mosaic and Picture Pile.
  5. Play with the arrangement of the pictures – drag and drop – to get a great layout. Play with the Background Options controls too.
  6. When you’re done, hit the Create Collage button. It will create a new picture of your collage and (on a PC) will save it in My Pictures > Picasa > Collages. This picture is ready to send to the printer – and if you made it out of lots of pictures, you can make huge prints - up to 70cm wide. Or to e-mail it, select the picture and hit the Export button (the default settings are good for e-mailing).

That’s it!

Picasa is also great at making time-lapse movies, as well be seeing later in the 12 days of Christmas.

We'll have more tips on our Facebook page, so Follow us on Facebook for the latest updates.

Phone us on (07) 3255 8811 or click here to book.