Archives For holiday

Xmas unwrapping1

The holidays offer a ton of prime photo-making opportunities, and many of those can be challenging. Shooting groups of people? Capturing Christmas morning? Getting details in low-light situations? Yep, I’ve been there, and I’m sure you have too.

Adobe Create contacted me and a few other photographers recently to ask for some holiday photo tips, which are now published in a new article at Adobe Create: How to Shoot Great Holiday Photos. My contributions include lighting for Christmas morning (a technique I learned from David Hobby’s Strobist blog), shooting outdoors in low light, and getting good (and spontaneous surprise) reactions in group shots.

Happy holiday shooting!

If you like the work I do, please consider signing up for my low-volume newsletter that I use to announce new projects, items, and giveaways that I think my readers would be interested in.

Rainy Seattle holiday

Holiday lights in downtown Seattle reflected in the rain.

If you like the work I do, please consider signing up for my low-volume newsletter that I use to announce new projects, items, and giveaways that I think my readers would be interested in.

Stuffie Stickers Hero

Kids love stickers. When my daughter was a toddler, we gave her pages and pages of stickers to play with—many of which ended up on the legs of an old table.

You can buy stickers of almost anything, from current movies and books to abstract shapes. But that plethora of options is also somewhat numbing—what’s special about another book of unicorns when you already have four?

So I decided to do something different one Christmas and made stickers of her favorite stuffed animals. It was easy, fun, and a great surprise when she realized that the animals on those stickers looked wonderfully familiar.

To make it happen, I took photos of the stuffies, built a sticker book at, and placed the order. Each book has a minimum of 90 stickers, so you could make 90 unique stickers if you want—I uploaded a dozen. The books arrived in time to put them into my daughter’s stocking for Christmas morning.


You can take the photos using any camera, even a phone camera. I chose to set them up against a black background to make them stand out more. The Moo stickers are small, measuring just under an inch square (0.86 inch), and I wanted them to be immediately recognizable.

The lighting was nothing too complicated. I had previously made a homemade macro photo studio with lights on either side for another project. I used paper as the backdrop. As you can see here, I tried doing a white backdrop at first, but found that black ended up looking better for the final result. But of course you don’t need to go to those lengths. Mostly you want the stuffed animal to stand out clearly.



Edit and Prep

After importing the photos into Lightroom, I picked my favorites and applied any touch-ups that were needed. Mostly that was removing dust from the background using the Spot Removal tool, or fixing areas where the edges of the paper were visible (using Spot Removal or the Clone tool).

Since each sticker is a square, you could crop the shots in Lightroom beforehand, but’s online tool to build the book is robust enough that I didn’t bother.

Stuffies lightroom grid

Upload and order

Next, I created a new StickerBook order at, uploading the images for each sticker. The tool divides the number of total stickers (90) by the number of images you upload. In my case, I uploaded 12 photos, resulting in 7 stickers of each stuffie in the book. (Actually, six of the stuffies got 8 stickers, since 90 divided by 12 is 7.5—there’s one more page of the first six designs than the other page.)

Moo com sticker build

The books cost $9.99, plus shipping. That’s certainly more expensive than the stickers you can get at any toy store, but none of those are stickers of your child’s own toys. When my daughter saw that all of her fuzzy friends were in the stickers, she looked amazed. And that, in turn, was a gift to me.

If you like the work I do, please consider signing up for my low-volume newsletter that I use to announce new projects, items, and giveaways that I think my readers would be interested in.

Christmas Silhouette

December 23, 2014 — Leave a comment

Teague and Austin Olympic Hotel

I spent part of today traveling to visit relatives for the holiday and part of it going over a photo shoot from last week. This photo was captured using pretty much just the light from the Christmas tree. A few small decorative garlands with lights were also set up, but this was in a big hotel ballroom, so they didn’t provide much illumination. I made the shot with a Fujifilm X-T1 at ISO 6400, using the Fujifilm XF 18-135mm lens at f/3.5.

I hope you’re enjoying the holiday as much as I am.

Carsons2After we mailed our holiday cards last year, my wife decided to order a stamp for our return address instead of printing and affixing stickers. The stamp arrived, we put it into a drawer, and forgot about it until it was time to do this year’s cards.

After we received our cards this time around, Kim stamped all the envelopes with our address, and also added postage. One day, while Ellie and I were signing the cards and putting them into the envelopes, I noticed what you’ve probably already seen in the image: Apparently we’re the “Carsons,” not the “Carlsons.”

Kim and I both remember proofing the form when we ordered the stamp, and we’re both certain it said “Carlsons.” So we suspect the manufacturer goofed, but since that was last year it’s not like we can complain.

So that left two choices: make an edit mark on all the envelopes to include the L, or send them as-is and see who notices. Of course we chose #2. As we anticipated, the most wordsmithy of our friends have been the first to notice.

Happy holidays from the “Carson-Carlsons!” Thank you for your friendship and joy.

Ellie in Snow

Carlsons xmas lights 2014 b

One of the absolute unexpected joys of becoming a father is watching my daughter absorb experiences for the first time. Now I finally understand the notion that being around kids makes you feel younger.

As the holidays approached this year, Ellie decided she wanted a Christmas tree of her own, in her bedroom. The idea sounded odd to me, and I wondered briefly whether saying yes would be over-indulging our only child. But, hell, a Christmas tree in my own bedroom as a kid would have been awesome! My wife and I said yes. Ellie didn’t want a real Christmas tree that would be thrown away after the holiday, so we picked out a little 24-inch artificial tree.

Last night, Ellie and Kim sat down on the floor in the living room (near an outlet) to decorate it. Since the tree is technically designed for a tabletop, it already includes built-in LED lights. Of course that wasn’t enough. The girls had already gone shopping and brought home new lights and ornaments, so while I made dinner, they worked on the mini tree. Ellie practically bounded when it was done, calling me over for inspection and pointing out the star—a cascading gold fabric bow—on top.

Decorating bedroom xmas tree

After dinner I bathed the girl while Kim brought the tree to Ellie’s room and plugged in. The girl walked in wearing a towel (dry on her torso but wet from the thighs down) and exclaimed, “My tree!” as if she hadn’t heard Kim mention not 20 minutes before that it would be waiting for her.

We usually spend a few quiet minutes in Ellie’s room after tucking her in, and tonight I had the pleasure of watching her fall asleep entranced by the tree. She stared at it, lying on her side with blankets tucked under her chin. She did her best to keep her tired eyes open to gaze at the colored lights, not looking anywhere else in the room. And in that gaze I recognized a sort of satisfied wonderment. This tree, which she’d no doubt envisioned dozens of times since the idea first emerged, was real and there in her own room.

Perhaps she just admired the colors, the new ornaments deliberately bought, the small stuffed penguin now destined to hang from branches instead of get buried at the back of a shelf. Maybe she couldn’t believe that it was really there in the foggy transition just before sleep.

Sitting near her, watching her eyelids droop and slowly open, I was filled with my own wonder. Will this be a memory that sticks with her for years? Will she someday relate the story of when she was five years old and got her very first bedroom Christmas tree? Or would this moment be absorbed by all the other experiences rushing through her young developing self and be forgotten, save for a glimmer of recognition each year when she pulls the tree out of its skinny box?

I want to encourage those memories and shape her personality as best I can, while also acknowledging that my contribution may be only a faint sense memory—bright hued starbursts in a dark room with a vignette of sleep encroaching at the edges. I know realistically that’s the best I can expect (especially given the general poor state of my own memory from when I was that age).

Maybe that’s enough. I was there to see her eyes as the lids eventually gave up trying to hold themselves open. I saw that wonder and felt my own glimmer of recognition.

Bedroom xmas tree