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.

 

I bet that some of the best photos you have of your family are the candid, unposed, spontaneous ones? The look of sheer terror on mum’s face during that holiday bungee jump, dad caught using Mum’s mud mask or your youngest planting a kiss on the dog’s nose.

But mention the words ‘family portrait’ and suddenly everyone assumes you need to dress up smart, stand together in a line and smile politely at the camera – to put your best face on. But not every portrait has to be the kind of thing Nana would frame for her mantlepiece.

Often, the best portraits are the ones that let everybody’s personality shine. They aren’t trying to present a phony image of the perfect family; as if mum doesn’t occasionally rough up some Waitrose cupcakes so she can pass them off as homemade for the school bake sale (I see you) and dad hasn’t long-since said goodbye to that 32” waist.

Instead, they use relaxed informal poses and genuine expressions to capture the same spirit as your favorite spontaneous snap shots.

Little Boxes is a fun way to create a lighthearted and authentic family portrait that shows the reality of family life, in all it’s disorganized, spirited, unruly, chaotic charm. Because most of the time, that’s what family life is like. Siblings play-fighting, teenagers glued to their phones texting, mum trying to squeeze in a bit of downward dog in between loads and a toddler that still eats, sleeps and breathes in last Christmas’ Elsa costume. And wouldn’t you rather look back at a family portrait that captures everyone for who they really are, at that time in their life, rather than a glossed-over generic group shot where everyone pretends butter wouldn’t melt?


1. How it works

One of the major faffs about family portraits is the seemingly impossible task of getting everyone together at the same time and place. The beauty of Little Boxes is that you can shoot each person separately, as all the photos will be assembled into a collage later.
For each ‘offender’, you’ll need to think of two components: first the personality trait or ‘type’, then the ‘crime’ they’re guilty of. For example:

First and foremost, you’ll need to source a decent-sized box. Search online for things like ‘pallet boxes’ or ‘export boxes’ as these are generally bigger than standard moving boxes.

Unless you’re a dab hand with Photoshop, make sure everyone stays entirely within the box when being photographed; no hands, fingers, legs, or hair poking out. Otherwise body parts might end up cropped, which will look odd.

When photographing each person, play around with lots of different poses and facial expressions. You want a mix of relaxed, natural, funny, and animated moments. Anything that might communicate the qualities, characteristics, and habits each person is known for. So if mum is known for rolling her eyes or dad complains about loud music by covering his ears in an exaggerated way, try to recreate that for the camera. It’s all about capturing their personality, you want everyone to look at the final photo and say, “That’s so Roger”.

Don’t be afraid to include props too

So mum might be pouring herself a much-needed glass of lady petrol, the bookworm of the family might have their nose buried in a classic or a teenager could be furiously texting if that’s what they’re known for.

You can also play around with more than one person in the box at once to convey different family dynamics and cute interactions, such as siblings cuddling or a daughter painting dad’s face with makeup. And don’t forget any family pets!

Finally, because you’re going to assemble the photos in a grid-style collage, remember to take some shots of each person looking in different directions; up, down, left, right, and to react as if they’re looking at someone in each of those directions; perhaps by pointing or using hand gestures to amplify their reactions. You could even have people pretending to interact with the person in a neighboring box, such as having dad pour a bottle of wine into the box below, with mum lining up her glass beneath to catch it.

I would advise you take lots of shots of each person with different poses and reactions, then you can decide which is best to use once you’ve seen them all. You could even create multiple collages from all the individual photos; some with the entire family, others with just kids etc.

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

2. Who it’s for

As a family portrait, Little Boxes would make an unusual Christmas, birthday, or Mother/Father’s Day gift for parents and grandparents. And because you can shoot everyone separately, you can even include them in the photo without them needing to know what it’s for – which will make a great surprise when they open it!

However, this idea need not be limited just to family portraits. It would work equally well with a group of friends, perhaps for an 18th, 21st, 30th, or 40th birthday gift, or as a cunning gift for a boyfriend or girlfriend. Imagine if you were to secretly get all his lad mates together for a shoot and then add a photo of him in the center of the collage. Similarly, I bet you’d score some major brownie points if you assembled all her besties together and then presented her with the group portrait as a surprise.

Alternatively, Little Boxes would make a really thoughtful Christmas present for your own gang of friends. You could photograph each one separately, not telling them what it’s for, then assemble everyone into a collage, and surprise each of them with the same group portrait for Christmas.

Finally, if it’s a friend’s wedding anniversary, you could create a fun collage of the bridesmaids and groomsmen with the special couple at the center.

It really is the type of quirky gift idea that can be tailored to almost any occasion.

3. How to turn it into a gift

This is such a quirky and unusual way to capture a group of friends or family, that I recommend giving it in a form 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

Frame it, supersize it, or print it onto canvas, this idea lends itself perfectly to a range of Photobox’s wall art gifts. 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 let the recipient keep your special gift proudly on display. Photobox even has collage canvases, with different configurations, so you can just upload each individual image and it will arrange them for you. Check out the full range here
.

Desktop Gifts

Alternatively, there are many desktop gifts, such as a Wooden Desk Print, freestanding Photo Block, or a Mug, that will ensure they can see it every day at home or work. Check out all the options here.

Everyday Gifts

Or maybe your recipient would prefer one of Photobox’s other gifts. You could turn your Little Boxes photo into an Phone/iPad Case, Cushion or Jigsaw.

Christmas Cards

Finally, you could also use your Little Boxes photo to create a unique family Christmas card to send out for the festive season.

Tips

Here are some of my pro tips for creating your Little Boxes portrait.

1. Source your box

First, source your box. The orientation of your final collage will be determined by whether you use a square or rectangular box. If rectangular, your collage will need to be either portrait or landscape, such as the examples below.

Some gifts, such as their Collage Canvas, have a built-in collage-making templates that allow you to choose from different grid-style configurations, then upload each individual photo and choose the position it should appear. Alternatively, you might decide to print each image on an individual square Canvas to be hung in a grid shape on the wall.

Whereas with a square box, you’ll be able to create an evenly-spaced grid-style collage with any orientation; square, portrait, or landscape, such as the examples below.

2. Choose the gift

Before you set about creating the photograph, you should also think about which gift from the Photobox range you want to apply it to. This also might influence whether the final image would be best arranged as a square, portrait, or landscape collage and, consequently, how many individual box-photos it should consist of.

Some gifts, such as their Collage Canvas, have a built-in collage-making template that allows you to choose from different grid-style configurations, then upload each individual photo and choose which position each should appear in.

Other gifts, such as their Timeless Framed Prints or Mugs for example, require you to assemble the collage yourself (see instructions in step 4 below) and upload it as one complete image.

In this case, choose your gift and make a note of the dimensions if there are different size options available. Then look up the product on this chart to determine the best ratio for your collage and how many individual images you’ll need for either a square or rectangular shaped box.

3. Plan your shots

Spend some time thinking about what type of poses and reactions you want from each person. Although you’ll want an element of spontaneity on the day, people often require guidance if you want them to do something specific.

As mentioned in section 1. ‘Create the photograph’ above, think about what qualities and characteristics you want to bring out of each person and plan some prompts that might help trigger a reaction.

Photography Tips

Think about the following points:

  • Box: Box: be careful when sourcing your box. Try to avoid using cardboard pallet boxes that collapse with a fold halfway along the longest side. This fold can cause them to sag inwards when erected, meaning you won’t have a perfect square or rectangle shape when you come to crop each image. This will result in your final collage having an uneven grid shape. You need a rigid box that supports itself without bending, so you can crop each individual photo in alignment with the edges of the box.
  • Position of box: indoor or natural outdoor lighting can have a huge impact on how each image will look. So, depending on your choice or background, be sure everyone takes their photo in similar lighting conditions to avoid some appearing darker than others.
  • Inside the box: although you’ll want people to touch the insides of the box for various poses, if you’re using a cardboard box that might bend, tell everyone to touch lightly. Otherwise you might lose the straight edges and make the images difficult to crop. You’ll also need to remind everyone to stay entirely within the box when being photographed. No hands, fingers, legs, or hair poking out – otherwise body parts might end up cropped, as in the before and after cropping examples, below.
  • Clothes: be clear. Do you want people to dress smart or are you happy with more casual jeans and t-shirts?
  • Poses:remember to take lots of different poses for each person with them looking and reacting in different directions – up, down, left and right – so that you have more flexibility when arranging them in the collage later.
  • Resolution: most smartphones nowadays take high resolution images but remember to check your settings are on the highest possible resolution before taking the photos.

5. Create your collage

Once you have your individual images, you’ll first need to use your computer’s photo software – such as Microsoft Photos – to crop them all down to a uniform square or rectangle shape. Crop in as tightly as possible using the edges of the box as a guide, as this will cut out any background or surrounding areas (you can still add white or black borders around each image later).

Then head over to one of the many free online collage makers, such as picbow.com. On the picbow.com site, choose ‘Photo Grid Collage Online’ then ‘Add Photos’. Once your images have uploaded, click the ‘Grid Collage’ drop down menu on the right-hand side and select the ratio for your chosen gift that you established in step 1, (i.e 1:1 for square or 4:3 / 16:9 for landscape). You’ll then see a range of different configurations you can choose from. Click on the layout you want and drag each of your photos into the desired position.

Once you’ve the layout you want, you can also play around with different border colors and thickness on the ‘Collage & Border’ drop down menu on the right-hand side.

Happy with the collage? Click on ‘Download/Share’ to save it to your computer. Then upload this image to Photobox and apply to your chosen photo gift.


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