Behind the scenes of the Christmas card


Wanted to show a little of what went into making the Christmas card this year. I started by setting the camera on a tripod and getting the angle first. Then I arranged the village in a way that looked good from the camera perspective, with a foreground, middle, and background area. I used a black king-sized bed sheet as the background.


Then I put up a softbox with a CTO-gel as the main light, and a bare speedlight in the back for the "moonlight." By gelling the main light warm, and shooting in tungsten white balance, the back light goes blue and looks like moonlight.


I kept the light in the back bare (no grid) because I wanted to get that glowing flare effect in the camera.


Here is the scene straight out of the camera...I also used a little flashlight for some minor light painting to brighten up the people in the front and the sleds. The exposure was f/16, 3.2 seconds, ISO 100. Why 3.2 seconds you might ask? Well that is precisely the amount of time for the lights inside the little shops to have a proper exposure at f/16. And f/16 was chosen for depth-of-field. I was lighting everything else with flash, but those 2 parameters were dictated by the incandescent bulbs in the village buildings and the need for a large DOF.


The lamps are lit, but I needed to drag the shutter (4 minute exposure) to get the tiny LED lights to register. I messed up here and should have also fired the flashes as it would have made the compositing easier later...lesson learned!

Lights on

Next, I shot the star ornament which would later be put in where the flash is in the back of the scene. In photoshop I fixed the top of the star where the string was to make it look symmetrical.


Then I shot some regular old Christmas lights against the black sheet at f/22, 70 seconds to get them to look like stars. Later I cloned them and moved them all over the place to make the starry background of the card. Keeping the background pure black made this part easy.

Xmas lights

After all of this, I was pretty done and wanted to pack it in. However, the Missus convinced me that Santa was definitely a necessary part of the card, so I set up the same lighting as I used for the village scene and shot Santa and all his reindeer!



That was enough for one day, so I packed it in. A week later we rearranged some furniture to shoot ourselves...


I used a 60" umbrella with a CTO gel on camera left, and the same bare flash up behind the black sheet background, so that the light would be similar to that used to light the village scene. This helps bring things together and keep the consistency in the final composite. We also used the same cotton fake snow stuff on the ground to make blending us in to the scene easier later...


Above is the final shot we chose. I added the "GWC" writing on the bag and then slapped it all together in photoshop. I did some minor dodge and burn, and made fake shadows at our feet, trying to simulate the same angle as the shadows of the figures to the left of the frame. Here is the final version:

Christmas Card 2011

The second error I made with the card is one of focal point...when I originally pictured the scene I wanted to place us further into the scene, about half way between the benches and the guys with the gifts. So that's where I set the focus. However, once everything was shot I thought we were just too small back there and decided to move us to the front of the scene. Of course, now we are in focus, where the rest of the scene was out of focus. Well there was no way I was re-shooting the scene again, so I made us a little blurry in photoshop and that was good enough for me. I mean, let's not get crazy here :)

Hope you enjoyed the card, and all the madness that went into making it!

Have a great new year!


  1. You are so unbelievably creative!! I set up a Christmas village every year and it looks so pretty that I often wanted to make it a Christmas card scene... I absolutely LOVE that you put yourselves in this village and all the special effect details including the finest GWC detail on the shopping bag!...this is just awesome! Love the card...Happy New year!

  2. This is very cool. Simple but perfectly executed man. Your bts frames here are great because it shows your thought process in putting together this comp. Good stuff man....good stuff!

  3. thank you!!! glad you both enjoyed it!


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