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.

 

Are you one of those people that’s always thinking, ‘I must get everyone together for a nice family photo’?

So you look at some professional portraits, where everyone’s dressed like they’re going to church, smiling politely and looking straight ahead with their hands placed tenderly on each other’s shoulders. Then you look over at your motley bunch; little Jack with spaghetti smeared around his mouth, Maisie with Play-Doh matted in her hair and dad dashing out the door with his work shirt untucked and tissue paper stuck to razor cuts all over his face – and just think ‘never gonna happen’. Well, you’re not alone.

Fortunately, the days of cheesy studio portraits with their formal poses and quaint painted backdrops, are over. You see, the trouble with those traditional family portraits is that they’re all so staged and unrealistic; resulting in a somewhat lifeless photo lacking any real spirit or personality.

These photos don’t really convey who you are as a family; that dad’s the jokester who’s always pulling goofy faces, that little Jack has an infectious giggle or that Maisie takes everything uber-seriously and carries herself with all the poise of Lady Mary from Downton Abbey. And really, wouldn’t you far rather capture those qualities in a family photo, than be standing rigid and smiling blandly like a bunch of mannequins?


So, this idea, The Motley Bunch – a nod to the opening titles of the classic US Sitcom The Brady Bunch – is all about creating a modern family portrait. One that’s natural, relaxed, sincere, candid and shows that you’re a family made up of individuals.

Aim for a photo that really captures who you are as a family and lets everyone’s personalities shine though. One that’s fun, quirky, and most importantly, real. Don’t shy away from photographing your motley bunch in all their silly, chaotic, peculiar glory. I guarantee it’ll be the family portrait you look at and smile.

1. How it works

While the beauty of this type of collage-style portrait is that you can photograph each person separately, I’d recommend you always have several people present for each. You want to capture expressive, funny, animated moments – where people are laughing, pointing, pulling goofy faces and reacting to each other. So you’ll get more realistic and natural responses if there are other people in the room, out of shot, that they can play off.

Although you want facial expressions to be spontaneous and authentic, you might find this easier to achieve if you prepare some prompts to trigger a reaction. So, if mum’s known for rolling her eyes all the time, you could bring that out for the camera by saying, “Show me again how you reacted when I told you I wanted to become a fruitarian”.

It’s worth having a little brainstorm in advance about which qualities, characteristics and habits each person is known for, so that you can think about how to bring these out for the camera and capture their personality. You want everyone to look at the final photo and say, “That’s so Maisie”.

Finally, because you’re going to assemble the photos in a grid-style collage, remember to take shots of each person looking in different directions; up, down, left, right, forward. And to react as if they’re looking at someone in each of those directions, by pointing or using hand gestures to amplify their reactions. I’d 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.

Oh, and don’t forget to include any family pets as a cute touch!



2. Who it’s for

As a family portrait, The Motley Bunch would obviously 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 works 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.

Remember, you don’t necessarily need to get everyone together or even take all the photos yourself. If you’re specific with your instructions, you could ask each person to take their own photo and email it to you to assemble into a collage. Check out my tips for creating the best shots at the end of this page.

Alternatively, The Motley Bunch would make a 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.

1. How to turn it into a gift

This is such a quirky and unusual 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

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’ll ensure your recipient keeps this special gift proudly on display.

Photobox even has Collage Canvas Prints with different configurations, so you can just upload each individual image and it will arrange them for you. However, I like the idea of getting each person’s photo printed onto a separate square canvas. Then, you can arrange them into one large grid and create your own gallery wall at home, like in the example below. Check out the full range here.

Desktop gifts

Alternatively, there are many gifts, such as a Wooden Desk Print, freestanding Photo Block or a Mug, that’ll ensure they can 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 ‘Motley Bunch’ portrait:

1. Choose the gift

Before you set about creating the photograph, think about which gift from the Photobox range you want to apply it to. This may influence whether the final image would be best arranged as a square or rectangular collage, how many individual images it should consist of, and consequently, how many people you include.

Some gifts, such as their Collage Canvas, have a built-in collage-making template that let you choose from different grid-styles, then upload individual photos and choose where each one goes. Alternatively, you might decide to print each image on an individual square canvas to be hung in a grid shape on the wall.

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

In these cases, 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 to achieve an evenly spaced grid-style collage like the examples below.



Alternatively, your gift might be more suited to a landscape image, in which case you can either go for an evenly-spaced collage, like the ones above, or a more varied collage, like the example below. Either way, for now just look up your product on this chart and make a note of the ratio.

2. 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 need 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.

3. Photography tips

Whether you’re shooting all the photos yourself, or asking people to take their own and send to you, be sure to think about or communicate the following points:

  • Background: unless you or someone you know can change background colors in Photoshop after a photo’s been taken, you need to think about the background you’ll be shooting everyone against. Will it be a plain wall? Or do you want each photo to have a different coloured background? In that case, you’ll need to hang some sort of coloured card, wallpaper, or fabric pulled tight behind them.
  • Title image: if you want to include a title image with the family name, such as ‘The Wheeler Bunch’, and position this at the center of the collage, you could just knock up a simple chalkboard sign and photograph this as part of the shoot – or have one of the bunch holding it.
  • Lighting: indoor or natural outdoor lighting can have a huge impact on how each image looks. So, be sure all photos are taken in the same lighting conditions to avoid some looking darker than others.
  • Clothes: be clear on what type of clothes everyone should wear. Should people dress smart or are you happy with more casual jeans and t-shirts?
  • Poses: if you’re asking people to take their own photos, be very specific about the poses and expressions you want them to use. Remember to get them to take lots of different options, with each option repeated looking in several different directions so that you have more flexibility when positioning them in the collage.
  • Orientation: you’ll probably want to crop each image from about chest height up. So have everyone take their photos in landscape mode, allowing plenty of empty background on either side of them and above. This’ll give you more options when you come to crop later – especially if you’re planning a collage with a mix of square and landscape photos.
  • Resolution: most smartphones nowadays take high resolution images but remind people to check their settings are on the highest possible resolution before taking their photos.
  • Sending: a large hi-resolution image might be difficult for people to email to you. If so, tell them to use a free online service such as WeTransfer.com

4. Create your collage

Got all your individual images? To create an evenly-spaced collage you’ll first need to use your computer’s photo software – such as Microsoft Photos – and crop them all down to a uniform square shape. (If, however, you’re planning a collage with a mix of square and landscape photos, don’t crop them just yet.) 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.

If your collage includes some landscape images, you may find that it’s cropped your photos in an awkward way, perhaps cutting the top of someone’s head off. If this happens, you can crop those images to match the orientation yourself, using your computer’s photo software and then re-upload them to picbow.com

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

Once you’re 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 gift.


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