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.

 

When you think about that motley crew you call family or the disorderly rabble you chose as besties, they probably resemble a (loveable) rogues’ gallery of pretty colorful characters. A misfit bunch that infuriate you just as much as they make you smile.

Cast your eyes over your group of friends and you can probably point to the messy drunk, the control freak, the flirt, the drama queen or the cougar – who may or may not have had an affair with her Pilates instructor. Otherwise, you know exactly who in your family is the wine snob, the hoarder, the hopeless romantic, the prude or the gullible one.

Yet very few family portraits or posed group shots capture everyone’s real personalities; their funny and annoying character traits, their weird habits and obsessions, and all their peculiarities and imperfections that you love them in spite of. So get them to own it!

The Usual Suspects is a lighthearted take on a family portrait or group shot, where your line-up of most wanted must admit to a defining characteristic and confess whatever shady behavior they’re most guilty of.

1. How it works

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:

  • Forever Bachelor: Brotox
  • Babe Magnet: Manscaping
  • Hot Mess: Selfie addict
  • Lush: Frosé
  • Baby Mama: Home by 8
  • Type A: Trains for school sports day
  • Diva: Shoe fetish
  • Messy Drunk: Power ballad karaoke
  • Cougar: Pilates instructors

You might need to gently suggest possible ‘types’ and ‘crimes’ for each person – self-awareness not being everyone’s strongest suit – so as not to offend. Also, it’s probably a good idea to coordinate these in advance to avoid duplicates. Lord knows, I have more than one ‘Hot Mess’ in my group of friends.

For the signs, you can knock up something simple on your computer yourself. Alternatively, you can buy printable mug shot signs on etsy.com for under £10, available for instant download. These either let you edit them yourself or come with empty boxes to hand-write in the crime. Likewise, you can buy police lineup ‘height chart’ backdrops on amazon or etsy for around £15 to complete the look.

Depending on the occasion, you could also incorporate funny poses, costumes, and props to accentuate the character ‘types’ or ‘crimes’. For example, ‘The Lush’ could be swigging from a bottle of Prosecco, the botox addict could be expressionless, or the fake tan addict could apply heavy make-up to the face but leave white ‘goggle marks’ around the eyes.

The great thing about this idea is that, if you’re assembling a large group of people, you don’t need to have them all together in one place. Assuming you’re not using a ‘height chart’ backdrop, you could just email each person a printable sign and ask them to take their own photo to email back to you – which means it’s easy to include friends and family regardless of where they live.

In fact, the beauty of this idea is that it’s an opportunity to bring together an entire family or group of dispersed friends to create a uniquely personal gift – even when that may not physically be possible.

Once you have all the individual photographs, you can then just arrange them together into a collage before uploading it onto one of Photobox’s many gifts.

Check out my tips for creating your own collage at the end of this page.


2. Who it’s for

Not all family portraits need to be traditional kind that Nan would frame on her mantlepiece. In fact, you probably already have plenty of those. Often, it’s the less formal family photos that are more memorable. Especially when they really capture their personalities, as this does.

The Usual Suspects would definitely make a quirky and unusual family portrait as a 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!

It also looks cute when you create a collage of mugshots with just kids (especially if you make them look a little thug-like with dark sunglasses, hoodies and a bit of attitude). So another option would be to shoot just the grandkids as a funny gift for grandparents.

However, this idea is probably even more suited to 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, The Usual Suspects 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.

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

Finally, this idea would also work well as a leaving or retirement gift for a work colleague – or even as the company Christmas card!

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 fun and extraordinary way to capture a group of friends or family, so you want them to be able to see it every day. Here are some suggestions:

Wall Art

This would work especially well as a Canvas. Fit your image onto the size you want or choose a Collage Canvas and you won’t even have to create the collage yourself. If it’s a special present, how about printing each photo on a Canvas that they can hang as a line up on their wall? Check out the full range here.

Desktop Gifts

Alternatively, if you want them to be able to see it every day, there are many desktop gifts, like a Wooden Desk Print, freestanding Photo Block, or a Mugs.

Everyday Gifts

You can get even more creative and try to find a gift that fits your theme perfectly. Photobox has unusual gifts like Phone/iPad Cases, Cushions, Beach Towels or Jigsaws which you could add your The Usual Suspects photo to.

Christmas Cards

Finally, you could also use your The Usual Suspects photo to create a unique family or company Christmas card to send out for the festive season.

Tips

Here are some of my pro tips for creating your The Usual Suspects photo.

1. Choose the gift

Before you set about creating the photograph, think about which gift from the Photobox gift range you want to apply it to. This might 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 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.

Other gifts, such as their Timeless Framed Prints or Mugs for example, require you to assemble the collage yourself (see instructions in step 3, 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.

2. Photography tips

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

  • Background: unless you’re using a ‘height chart’ backdrop, you’ll need to think about the background you’ll be shooting everyone against. Will it be a plain white wall? Or do you want a coloured background – in which case, you’ll need to hang some sort of coloured card, wallpaper or fabric pulled tight behind them. If you’re asking people to shoot their own photo, I would suggest emailing everyone a sample photo and asking them to recreate it as closely as possible.
  • Lighting: 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.
  • Clothes: you need to be really clear on what type of clothes everyone should wear. Is there something that would suit their ‘crime’ maybe?
  • Poses: if you’re asking people to take their own photos, be very specific about the poses and expressions you want them to use. You don’t want to end up with a whole bunch of serious faces and one or two goofy ones. I’d suggest you ask them to take a number of different options, so you can choose whichever works best with all the others.
  • Signs: if you’re emailing signs for people to print off, be clear about which size and orientation, such as A4 landscape. And if they need to hand-write in the ‘type’ or ‘crime’ suggest block capitals using a thick black marker.
  • Orientation: you’ll probably want to crop each image from about waist height up, so have everyone take their photos in landscape mode, allowing plenty of empty background on either side of them and above. This will give you more options when you come to crop later.
  • Position of signs: give clear instructions on where they should hold the sign. In front of their chests works well if you intend to crop around waist height.
  • Resolution: most smartphones nowadays take high resolution images but remind people to check they’re on the highest possible resolution settings 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

3. Create your collage

Got your individual images? To create an evenly-spaced collage, you’ll first need to use your computer’s photo software – such as Microsoft Photos – to crop them all down to a uniform square shape. 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). Then you’ll see a range of different configurations you can choose from. Click on the layout you want and then drag each of your photos into the desired position.

Once you have 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.


Collage Canvas

Illustrations, layouts, background colours… Let your creativity run wild with a Collage Canvas.


Photo Coasters

Relive your best moments every time you have a drink – cheers!


Simple Mug

Put one of your favourite photos on a mug – plain and simple.


Collage posters

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


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.


Aluminium Mounted Prints

Get your photos printed directly onto aluminium for a modern alternative to a traditional print.