Many of you have asked questions here, on Flickr, and on Facebook about how the weekly photos that we’re taking to document Clara’s first year are really done. After answering a bunch of you individually, we figured the topic deserved a quickie “how to” post to collectively take care of anyone else out there who’s been pondering how we end up with images like this. You know we love a step by step tutorial. And documenting photos of your family can definitely fall under DIY art and decor – especially if they’re framed or even collected in a big coffee table book (which we eventually plan to do).
We’re not professional photographers, expert photoshoppers, or even seasoned baby wranglers… but after twelve weeks of taking shots of Clara on a fabric background and adding her age to her onesie “in post” we’ve developed a system that seems to work pretty well. So we made a video to share some of our basic pointers about the process. You can watch it below on Vimeo or click here to see it on YouTube.
Okay, admittedly the video is mostly gratuitous footage of our daughter with a few pointers tossed in, so if you can’t watch it because you’re at work (or you’re just opposed to seeing us move and talk) here’s a quick summary of what you missed:
- Clara wears a plain white onesie (so far the same one, although she’s about to outgrow it) and we use Photoshop to add the text later
- We’ve only need one yard of fabric for each shot at this point, which helps keep the cost of the project down
- We usually snag our fabric at discount stores like Hancock or JoAnn Fabrics and use 40% off coupons to further save money
- We’ve also used already-owned fabric (and on-hand blankets & pillow cases) as backgrounds that are 100% free
- We shoot them in the evening (around 5:30-6:30ish) because the light is indirect, which means no harsh shadows and no squinty baby
- We take the photos in our sunroom because it gets the most natural light (you might get a similar look by setting your baby on a blanket outside in the early evening).
- We use a Nikon D3000 (which we’re learning to use thanks to a lot of your advice). Note: the video was shot with a Flip Mino which isn’t as high quality, which is why the footage is darker/grainier than the still photos (which we didn’t retouch except for the final one- they come out that clear and bright thanks to the camera and the light filled location).
- To keep photos looking consistent from week-to-week we always white balance the camera against Clara’s onesie before we begin (most DLSR cameras have a setting for this)
- We usually take between 75-100 shots to get one final frame we both love (yeah, we’re a little obsessed with the beanette)
Now that we’re all caught up, I thought I’d breeze through what happens after we’ve snapped away at our tiny model and it’s time to finalizing our weekly image. First up is the sometimes long, often difficult process of selecting on our single favorite image. We use Apple’s iPhoto to sort through all of them, deleting the bad ones and flagging the good ones until we’ve narrowed it down to the one that not only represents Clara best at that age, but also isn’t too similar to past weeks’ photos (since we like them to feel as diverse as possible when it comes to composition).
Once selected, we pull the winning image into Photoshop. Again, we’re not experts, but we’ve honed a pretty good process for achieving the fairly convincing look of text printed on a onesie. First we do some basic touch-ups like cropping the photo or lightening it up a smidge if necessary, and occasionally we do a bit of virtually smoothing out if the fabric has any crazy wrinkles that the iron didn’t seem to take care of (with the Healing Brush and the Clone Stamper). As a comparison of sorts, here’s the original picture on top as it looked straight from the camera, and the slightly lightened and de-wrinkled version below it:
Then we add the text. At this point we usually just copy the text layer from the previous week’s file, but in case you’re starting from scratch we use a font call Fyra for the circled number and Otari for the word “weeks.” Both are free from the site FontSquirrel. Once dragged in we make sure the week is correct (in this case, we changed the week number to “12″) and we rotate the whole thing to line up with the angle of Clara’s body.
Then we select the color for the text. Usually we snag some color from the fabric itself (using the Color Picker tool) so the whole image coordinates, but sometimes we pick something complimentary to the fabric, like week one’s plum-magenta text that we liked against the green background.
The trick we came up with for making the text appear to be printed on the onesie is a combination of layer style and opacity. We set the text layer to “Multiply” and bring down the layer opacity to somewhere between 60% – 80% depending on how saturated the color is. Note: sometimes we have to adjust the color slightly after these steps to make sure it hasn’t gotten too light or washed out.
Here’s what the image looks likes before and after the “Multiply” and “Opacity” steps. You can see how it has subtly picked up the shading of the onesie behind it which tricks our eyes enough into thinking that it’s been there all along. Oh, and sometimes Miss Clara’s outfit is a bit wrinkled so I have to do some text chopping and skewing, but I haven’t gotten that process down enough that I’d feel comfortable advising others. Just trust me that it’s easier when her onesie is smooth (which is definitely the case lately since she’s outgrowing it)!
With that, we’re done!
Now that we’re nearly 1/4 of the way done with this year-long project we’re getting even more excited to amass all 52 images so we can get them printed in a nicely bound book for our coffee table (and the coffee tables of a few adoring grandparents). Plus we definitely think Clara herself will get a kick out of looking back at her weekly growth (and range of adorable expressions) when she gets a little older. Note: You can see bigger versions of the current dozen here on Flickr (we add the latest one every week there too).
Oh, and as for all of this fabric that we’re slowly collecting, the jury is still out on what we’ll do with it (make a quilt, sew some baby clothes, etc). Though our latest idea is that we’ll whip up an eclectic-looking banner or bunting that we can break out for birthday parties and even yearly growth pictures of Clara (sort of as an homage to her first year on Earth). At least until she gets too old and embarrassed to indulge us.
We hope this little picture play-by-play was helpful to anyone looking to adopt a similar method of documenting their child (or pooch, we could totally get behind that!). We’d also love to hear about any fun ways you guys have captured changes in your kids, family, or even your home – or if you’ve spotted someone else doing it in an interesting way (like the adorable Mila’s Daydreams project that we love). Spill those sentimental beans.
PS: If you’re looking to achieve a similar look but don’t want to bother with Photoshop, we learned of a company called Sticky Bellies that sells removable monthly milestone stickers that can be applied to any clothing.