Behind the Scenes - Christmas Card 2017


Hello and Season's Greetings!

If you have hit this page it's most likely because you have received one the Best family Christmas cards this year.

For those interested, I thought I might jot down a couple notes about how it was made.  A few people asked if I disassembled our oven for the shoot.  I can reassure you that we did not - a lot of the image was 'fixed in post' as they say.  Read on to find out how.

Christmas Card - ©  Mike Best 2017

The setup.

The first stage was to get the family portrait, looking into an oven.  As I didn't have a spare oven that we could take apart and use for the shoot, I needed to do a little improvising.  I figured it would be easiest to create a green-screen setup, similar to what is used in films to get the family in the shot, with the foreground masked out.

Christmas card - lighting setup ©  Mike Best 2017

Two strobe lights provided the main lighting.  The color of these lights is balanced to match the natural light coming in from the windows.

Christmas card - ring flash ©  Mike Best 2017

An additional 'ring light' was attached to the camera.  This provides a very direct fill light to help light up our faces and mimic the light coming from inside the oven.  These lights are also great for adding distinct sparkle to people's eyes.

The whole setup was triggered by my laptop so I should shoot the pictures while seeing what was it looked like on screen.

The starting image.

Christmas Card - greenscreen shot ©  Mike Best 2017

We took a number of images, trying to get everyone with the faces in the right spot, looking down at the imaginary cookies.

Add the stock oven.

Christmas Card - composite start - ©  Mike Best 2017

Next step was to use the green-screen to create a mask area in Photoshop and then drop in a stock image of the inside of an oven.  I also touched the cookie tray to get rid of my color balance reference chart, and add a shadow underneath the tray.

Match the oven to the background.

Christmas Card - color adjust - ©  Mike Best 2017

The change here is more subtle, involving matching the color tone on the oven more closely with the background, and adding a bit of vignetting around the edges to make it feel a little more realistic and soften things up.

Don't forget the reflections.

Christmas Card - adding reflections - ©  Mike Best 2017

Adding the reflections was done by making copies of ourselves, flipping them and then layering them over top of the sides of the oven in Photoshop.  I also tidied up the cookie tray some more and added some highlights to define its edges.

Another adjustment filter over the whole image helped to balance it all out and make it feel it was all taken as a single shot.

Add the cookies.

I know its scandalous, particularly living with a 'star baker' such as my wife, but the cookies were in fact entirely created in a 3D package.

Christmas Card - cgi cookies - ©  Mike Best 2017

These things I do because I am always looking for a way to overcomplicate things!

In truth, I knew I could create the cookies pretty quickly in CGI - and that would allow for a degree of changing them around and adjusting them for the composition.

Add some glamour.

Christmas Card - model retouching - ©  Mike Best 2017

Hey, why should the supermodels have all the fun?   A little classic photo-retouching to make eyes pop, define highlights and soften features.  Oh yeah, also knocked back the colors on the oven mitts which match thematically with the image (you try finding Christmas themed oven mitts in September).

Bloom and final tweaks.

Christmas Card - final tweaks - ©  Mike Best 2017

Finally, I added some 'bloom' effect, which is a technique for blurring and boosting the contrast of the highlight areas of the image.   This is a favorite technique of wedding and boudoir photo studios and was also used to great effect on early episodes of Star Trek.  It gives images that warm dreamy feel.

I made few more tweaks to the color and contrast, added the Christmas font and it was time to send it off to the printers.

Thanks and Merry Christmas!

I hope you enjoyed reading, and Margot, Sasha and I wish you all the very best over the holiday season!