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Seasons Greetings



uring the winter holidays it is common to receive a flux of invitations flying through our mail slots, like something out of a Harry Potter movie. From distant relatives to a best friend’s dog, Christmas photos hang on our refrigerators and remind us of those we cherish and miss. 

Christmas cards have evolved over the years, very much so since their first debut in 1843. BBC News reported that Sir Henry Cole of England is the man credited for originating the concept of sending regards during Christmas time. His hand-drawn lithographs were considered the first commercial Christmas cards in history. 

With the birth of the printing press and the surge of computers, illustrated Christmas cards are mostly left for children. Currently, professional photographers have taken hold of the reigns of capturing the holiday spirit. It has become a common practice for families across the country to have holiday-themed family portraits taken by professionals to mail out to family and friends.

Local photographer Jen Tarbox of Jen Tarbox Photography explained where she thinks the custom of Christmas cards comes from. She said that people send holiday cards to stay connected to those that live far away. “We want to share an image with our family and friends that captures us at the end of another year. Plus it is a way to show off our good-looking family!” she maintained. Tarbox was more than happy to share her tips and experience as a photographer for Christmas photos with the readers of CityView.  

The best time to start thinking about Christmas card photos is around the time children return to school, generally in late August. According to Tarbox, the typical photographer’s marketing schedule and social media play a big role when scheduling appointments. Photographers usually start promoting their Holiday Sessions on social media (i.e. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) months in advance. Spreading the message earlier gets more clients thinking about scheduling an appointment. Bookings can get very busy in the months of October and November so don’t wait until the last minute. 

 Although there are still many families who value professional photography, most are taking their holiday photos with an iPad or iPhone. In recent years, a quick snap of a silly family moment at Myrtle Beach has contested the traditional Christmas sweater-clad family photo. That being said, the idea of conventional family portraits is still relevant. There have been many changes over the years concerning holiday cards, but many families still hold professional photography in high regard. 

Half of the photographer’s job is the camera handiwork and the other half is editing the pictures. Nowadays, Christmas cards can be embellished with anything from fake snow and fake backgrounds to digital boarders of photos. This is a large jump from only being able to choose one photo and a red and green backdrop during the 1990’s. As for the behind-the-scenes of digitally enhancing the photos, there are some funny requests made by parents. “The biggest Photoshop requests are typical from the parents who jokingly love to ask if we can make them look better,” laughed Tarbox.

Over the past 10 years Tarbox has seen a few developments in Christmas card photography. She explained, “Just like everything else, photography grows and changes with the times.” In the early the 2000s, parents wanted the classic studio portrait where everyone in the family wears the same color against a plain background.  “Back then clothing was still ‘matchy-matchy,’ something that many modern photographers strongly advise clients to stay away from.”

Plenty of families still request those types of homogenous images, but today more people want a natural setting with a variety of clothing options. “It gives the photos a much more ‘lifestyle’ kind of feel,” Tarbox stated. Clients are interested in shooting ‘on-location,’ which means using the outdoors as their backdrop. Typically this includes outfit and scenic changes. 

According to Tarbox, there aren’t many different themes arising or trending at the moment, but clients are coming to photographers with more specific ideas of what they want in their holiday photos. “What used to be left up to the photographer is now being left up to a handful of images printed off from Pinterest.”  The client expects the photographer to duplicate Pinterest-perfect moments for their holiday cards.  Families are becoming much more creative with their ideas and making the photo shoot about bringing out personality and fun.  

Along with creative ideas for families comes creative freedom for the photographer and his or her camera. Back in the day, circa 1940, families would have to spend hours in front of a film camera just to get a couple of good shots since the shutter speed was so slow. Thankfully we have progressed a lot since then. Faster and more reliable technology creates more opportunities for capturing the right moment. Digital photography has helped photographers capture wonderful moments that can be reviewed immediately, which makes the outcome of a session much more reliable. With that said, Tarbox explains that “it is not the camera that takes a great picture, it is the photographer. Without our knowledge and skills the images would not be as great.” 

As far as slow shutter speeds and 1940s technology, America has come a long way from emotionless portraits and awkward body language. Surprisingly, it is still likely to see serious Christmas photos requested. There are many different styles and tastes out there. What one family may cherish, another family may scorn. Even though technology and styles change, there will always be people who admire a pensive ambiance as opposed to laughs, dimples and smiles. Tarbox explained the need for a mix of styles stating, “The classic look will never fully go away and there is still a huge market for it. Just like clothing, everything comes back full circle.” 

A serious portrait is a lot different than a posed smile. Between the two, candid photos are often preferred because they capture the natural character of a person since they are more relaxed in front of the camera. Candid photos are the most popular style of photos in modern Christmas card photography. As for professional photographers, candid photos are not taken by accident. Tarbox loves capturing a family’s impromptu moments because she feels that candid-style images can sometimes truly be the best and most natural image. Candid pictures are part of her photography process and as a result she makes it a point to be ready with her camera at all times. 

 Whether it is a serious photo, a uniformed photo or a silly-faced photo – professional family portraits are still a common practice throughout the United States. America is truly a melting pot and it’s quite obvious that many households can practice more than one belief. In the past Tarbox has been asked to do a photo shoot for a mixed-religion holiday card. She is part of her sister’s annual “Chrismahankawanzaka” card along with her family and friends. Being part of the fun is one thing, but being able to capture those kinds of memories that archive history is truly inspiring.