Photobox’s resident gift guru, Matt James of Party-Ideas-by-a-Pro, is an award-winning party planner who’s produced birthdays, weddings, and events for A-list celebrities such as Stella McCartney, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Sir Elton John. He shares his inspirational ideas for using Photobox products to create thoughtful and meaningful Christmas gifts.

 

Most family portraits are lame. There, I said it.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s nice to have a traditional family photo where everyone’s dressed up smart, on their best behavior and smiling lovingly at each other. But let’s face it, it’s probably not a very realistic representation of your motley crew is it?

How often does your hair get that immaculate blow dry? How often does dad really wear a tie? And when was the last time the kids sat that still and quiet (without spaghetti all around their mouths)? In fact, who are those people?!

The same often goes for group shots of friends. Those old Ibiza hen night pics notwithstanding, most group photos nowadays just consist of everyone huddling together and saying cheese. Bit of snoozefest.

The problem with both these scenarios is that they end up producing somewhat lifeless or boring photos, lacking any real spirit. They don’t really communicate who you all are as individuals. Instead of conveying character and charm, they end up looking just a bit, well, bland. Group photos are far more interesting when everyone just loosens up a bit, acts natural and lets their real personality shine – rather than trying to pose awkwardly.

Head Swap is an easy way to create a more lighthearted and authentic family portrait or group shot; one where stiff and posed is replaced with lively and expressive. These fun, animated shoots are a great opportunity to relax and goof around with your nearest and dearest, which will likely result in a far more honest and real depiction of your family and friends – in all their unique, eclectic, boisterous, chaotic glory. This sort of memorable group shot will make a great gift that’s sure to bring a smile to everyone’s face.

1. How it works

You’ll need to shoot this photo in two stages. First, the head shots, which fortunately you can shoot separately. Then the body shots, where you’ll need to get everyone together as a group. In between these two, you’ll need to upload the head shots to the Photobox site and order some large-format prints. Check out the options here.

For the head shots, spend a bit of time thinking about what qualities and characteristics each person is known for, and what facial expressions might bring these out on camera. Although you’ll want facial expressions to be real and spontaneous, people often need a bit of direction when you want them to do something specific. It can help to prepare some prompts that might trigger a particular reaction. So, if dad’s known for frowning all the time, you might say ‘show me again how you reacted when I told you Peter wanted to take ballet classes’. The more typical a reaction you can elicit for each person, the better. You want everyone to look at the final photo and say, ‘That’s so Richard’.

Try to shoot lots of different expressions for each person, so you can decide which one to use later, after you’ve seen everyone’s. People often loosen up and get more into it, the longer it goes on. So maybe start off with a few prompts to encourage certain reactions then, the more they relax, just freestyle a bit and get them pulling all kinds of different faces. You might find the exaggerated ones that come out later in the shoot are actually more fun than the typical characteristics and mannerisms you’d intended to depict. This way, you’ll have plenty of options.

Once you’ve received your large-format headshot prints from Photobox, get everyone together for the group photo where they’ll hold it in front of their face. There are a number of different ways you can approach this. You could either shoot everyone holding their own photo or you could play around with having each person hold their headshot on top of someone else’s body – it just depends how quirky you want it to be.

If everyone is holding their own headshot, one fun idea could be to arrange them in the style of a formal family portrait; some sitting, some standing, hands lovingly placed on shoulders etc as this would be a great contrast to the really expressive head shots.

Alternatively, you don’t have to use entire headshots. You could just make regular size prints of people’s mouths making different expressions and then hold these in front of everyone’s real mouths, as in the example below.

Check out more of my practical tips for taking photos at the end of this page.

2. Who it’s for

These Head Swap photos would make a great shot of a group of friends, perhaps for an 18th, 21st, 30th, or 40th birthday gift. If you wanted to make it a surprise, you could take the head shot of the birthday boy/girl, without telling them what it’s for. Then have someone with a similar physical build dress in their style of clothes and act as a stand-in for them in the group shot, but using their headshot. That way, you could include them in the photo without them knowing!

You could also do something similar as a birthday or Christmas gift for a boyfriend/girlfriend. I imagine they’d be pretty impressed if you rounded up all their friends for a group photo without them knowing. And the fact that you could still include their headshot would make it an even bigger surprise when they open it.

You could also apply the same principle to a friend’s wedding anniversary, getting together all the bridesmaids or groomsmen to create a quirky gift with the happy couple included without their knowledge. Alternatively, you could have a bunch of work colleagues pulling various sad faces to use as a retirement or leaving gift. There are so many possibilities.

One of the most obvious of course, is to use it as a kooky, modern, family portrait. This would make an unusual Christmas or birthday gift for a grandparent. Or, if you use the stand-in idea to create a shot of the entire family, as a Mother’s/Father’s Day gift for a parent. Not that you have to include the entire family in order to gift it to a parent. Photographing just siblings together or one parent with their children would also work, as would getting all the grandchildren together as a gift for Nan.

3. How to turn it into a gift

This is such a fun and extraordinary way to capture a group of friends or family, so I recommend giving it in the form of a gift that they can display or use in their everyday life. That way, it’ll bring a smile to their face every time they look at it.

Wall Art

There are lots of different options available – from a traditional Canvas and Timeless Framed Print, to stylish aluminum mounted or Wooden Wall Prints – that will ensure your recipient keeps your photo proudly on display. Photobox even has a Collage Canvas, with different configurations. You can just upload each individual image and it’ll arrange them for you. Check out the full range here.

Desktop gifts

Pick a Wooden Desk Print, freestanding Photo Block, or a Mug and they’ll be able to see it every day at home or work.
Check out all the options here.

Everyday gifts

Photobox has numerous other small gifts, such as Phone/iPad Cases, Cushions, Personalised Beach Towels, Jigsaws and more – all of which you could customise with your Head to Head portrait. Which one would they appreciate most?

Christmas cards

Finally, you could also use your Motley Bunch photo to create unique family Christmas cards to send out for the holidays.

Tips

Here are some of my pro tips for creating your ‘Spell It Out’ portrait:

1. Choose the gift

Before you start creating the photograph, think about which gift from the Photobox range you want to apply it to. This might influence whether the portrait works best as a square or landscape image. This in turn might affect how many people you include in the portrait.

For example, if it’s just two people in your portrait, this often works best as a square image. Whereas, for larger groups you often need the space provided by a landscape orientation.

2. Photography tips

Be sure to consider the following points:

  • Background: make sure you take all the headshots against the same background, such as a plain white wall.
  • Lighting: depending on your choice of background, be sure to take each headshot in similar lighting conditions to avoid some appearing darker than others.
  • Clothes: tell people what type of clothes they should wear, especially for the body shots. If you want to create a contrast between the formal body shots of a traditional family portrait and the lively headshots, you might want people to dress more smartly for the body shoots. For the headshots, I’d avoid shooting anyone wearing a tie as this can be harder to match with body shots.
  • Expressions: play around with several different facial expressions for each person so that you can decide which looks best later.
  • Resolution: most smartphones take high resolution images but check it’s on the highest possible resolution settings before taking your photos.

Simple Canvas

Print your photo edge-to-edge on your Canvas Print and let your picture do all the talking.


Square Prints

Don’t leave your Insta shots on your feed, put them on a Square Print – they’re already in the right format!

Retro Prints

Go for a 70s style with these vintage-inspired prints. You can even add a caption or write on them with marker pens later.


Collage posters

Put up all of your favourite shots in the spotlight with a supersized collage poster.


Framed Magnet Collage

Change your photo collage in a flash with a set of photo magnets and frame.


Little Moments Photo Book

Tell your story in a flash with this small 25-photos book.


Photo Diaries

Admire your favourite shots while getting organised with a photo diary.


Square Magnets

Turn your fridge into wall art with your set of 9 photo magnets.


Box Framed Prints

Add depth to your creation with a 48 mm deep frame and make your snap take centre stage.


Wooden Photo Panels

Turn your best snaps into wooden works of art.


Acrylic Prints

Give your photos some serious wow-factor with an acrylic print that makes colours truly pop.


A4 & A3 Personalised Wall Calendars

Opt for a traditional look with our classic Wall Calendar.