Tips on taking great holiday photos both inside and out of home

By Jennifer Tonetti-Spellman / 10.09.14

The time is once again here.

You can almost FEEL the stress.

It’s… holiday picture time.

Every year, we put enormous stress on ourselves to get the ‘perfect’ holiday greeting. What usually happens is as follows: dress the children up, kids don’t cooperate, we end up screaming, and it’s far from having a holly jolly ANYTHING.

Here are some tips to help ease into this year’s holiday greeting.  Whether you are a photographer or Mom/Dad just trying to get a good shot these suggestions can lesson the pain and have you experiment with some new ideas this holiday season.

At home.

I’m a true believer in snapping your holiday card or your client’s holiday card at home.

Home is, after all, where the heart is. But instead of all piling up in front of the tree here are a few other spots that can make your holiday card more of your own:

1. In front of the house. Super welcoming. Home for the holidays kind of vibe.


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014

2. Using window light (for backlight or even light). Pile the kiddos all on a piece of furniture and start snapping.

This image uses backlighting…


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014

This image uses light from a front door coming into the hallway while the second from a window.


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014


This backlit image was shot at golden hour. As the sun dips down outside and filters through the window, you can get some magical shots.


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014

3. Go to bed!

Whether it’s just the kids (or you too!) bed shots are really a fun way to get everyone in the frame with less pain.  If you want to go for more of an action shot, have the kids doing something they love to do, like jumping or reading to a younger sibling.

Don’t fall into the trap that everyone must always be looking and smiling at the camera. Let your card tell a story.


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014


4. Film them doing something festive.

Whether it’s making a ginger bread home, decorating, etc. these fun candids can also be used on the interior or back of the card.


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014


If outdoors is more your thing, head right outside your home or to a local park. The key here is to film during the most flattering light. Golden hour never disappoints as the sun drops in the sky and casts a beautiful, warm glow.

1. Find some trees the setting sun can filter through and you will have that beautiful ‘glow’ to your image:


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014


2. Any festive store windows in your town? The reaction when children see them for the first time screams HOLIDAY!


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014

3. Scout your backyard for the best light, set up your self timer and go! And don’t feel everyone always has to be looking and smiling at the camera. Add a little more candid to your image to represent the ‘real’ of these moments.


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014

4, Use that first snowfall (if it occurs in time!) to your advantage for a truly seasonal card greeting.


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014


And finally, do not forget the opportunity to end on a high note: the back of the card.

I love putting images of children running away from the camera, backs turned or a shot of a child looking out of the window back turned onto my client’s holiday cards. It almost signals ‘the end’ of the holiday greeting.


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014

Just remember, EVERYONE loves to receive holiday greeting cards. They put instant smiles on faces all around the world.

So don’t overthink it, or stress too much about it.

Have FUN with it, channel your inner child and best of luck capturing shot for the happiest time of year.


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Curate and Install a Perfectly Imperfect Gallery Wall

By Kim Vargo / 09.22.14

It’s no secret that the gallery wall has picked up in popularity with a vengeance over the last several years. What began as a simple way to show off your family photographs along the staircase has now become a staple in any area of the home – from a colorful display around the television, above the bed or your cozy kitchen nook, gallery walls are here to stay. Some of my favorites feature an eclectic and collected look; they’re seemingly effortless, and yet, do you find yourself struggling to find that same balance? With a little bit of prep, you can put together that perfectly imperfect wall in just a few simple steps!


Set yourself up with the proper tools. Are you looking for streamlined or varied? This is something to keep in mind from the beginning, as it will help you determine your overall look. In my case, I wanted my gallery wall to feel gathered and inspiring, while also pulling double duty to conceal the television in my home studio. To start, I grabbed from my stash of thrift store and store bought frames and set them to the side. I also rounded up the tools to complete the project:


  • Hammer and nails for lightweight frames
  • Drill and anchors for heavier frames
  • Tape measure
  • Blue tape
  • My “magic tool” (a paint stirrer plus screw!)


Stage your space. My gallery wall was going on a 4’ x 6’ space above my filing cabinet, so I measured and laid out my work area on our floor using blue painter’s tape. In my experience, this method is much more effective (not to mention, quicker!) than making paper templates of your frames.


Play with arrangement. Within the “stage,” I began laying out my frames, swapping them in, out and around. (This included my television, which was a non-negotiable within the installation.) At this point, not all of my frames had their final artwork or photographs in place, so I marked with blue tape which frames still needed prints made or mats cut. If your frames are already filled with what you love, keep this in mind as you curate your arrangement, but don’t force something to fit if it simply will not. Some of your frames might not make the cut, but that’s okay! Don’t worry about frame finishes at this point, as they can always be spray painted to your liking, if you wish.


Take a photo with your phone. Once you’re happy with your frame layout, snap a phone photo. You’ll use this for reference throughout the installation.


Now, hang your gallery! Because all of the frames have different hanging hardware, I used a paint stirrer with a screw to find that perfect placement – no measuring required! With the frame wire on the screw, I gently push the frame against the wall, leaving a small mark where my nail should go (as my husband so graciously demonstrates). A gallery wall has a purposeful gathered look, so I encourage you to use just your eyes and your phone photo as needed. If you have a non-negotiable within your gallery (in my case, the television), I’d recommend starting there and working outwards. Remember to use anchors for heavier frames!

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If at this point you still need to order prints, photographs or any artwork, you’ll already have the majority of the work done! I find that it’s better to curate the aesthetic look of your gallery first, rather than hope, for example, a horizontal print will fit in a vertical space. My collection includes memories and artwork that I adore – from vintage photographs to friend’s art, to a Pinhole framed photo of my husband and me in Paris and even an antique print we purchased while there.

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Perhaps my favorite photo is a small shot of our home’s renovation journey, taken in the same room as the gallery wall!

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Curating your own gallery wall doesn’t need to be difficult, rather, it should reflect your personality and display pieces close to your heart. Whether you’re going for inspirational, quirky or humorous, remember to – what is it that I always say? – have fun with it!


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How to not be Annoying when Taking Pictures of your Family

By Jennifer Tonetti-Spellman / 09.10.14

One of the hardest things about being a photographer with children is this incessant need to film them. Itʼs like the itch that can never fully be scratched.

I will admit, I’ve overdone it at times. I’ve let the desire to get the shot overtake me, make me angry if I didn’t get it, and just basically ruin the very moment I was trying to capture.

This side of me came out big-time when I was doing my 365 in 2013. I drove the whole house crazy – including our dog – to make sure I got the shot of the day. But that all changed this year when I decided to put down the camera, and realized that I was potentially hurting relationships in my home with my daughter and even husband {though he isnʼt the main focus of the images}.

Allow me to share with you some ways on how to keep snapping, but lessen the irritating factor when taking pictures of your family.



God bless the self timer. It has given us photographers the option to get in the frame rather than always being the one in charge of the shot. I find the minute I ask my husband and daughter ʻcan we all get in a pictureʼ it isnʼt met with much resistance. And I also try and limit the attempts – 2 max. Otherwise, well, it can get annoying.

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© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014



A little reminder never hurt anyone. My 6 year old doesn’t really get it when I say this but my husband does and whenever I pull out old shots of her as a baby and milestones in our lives, he gets it. It pains me when I read about people not having any images of their mom or dad growing up or at times even themselves. Pictures are all we have once someone is gone. One of the most important mantras in life my life that I tell my clients as well is ʻmemories fail, pictures donʼt.ʼ

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© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014



This is a fairly new one for me coming off that year of the 365. I think we forget at times that kids are really just little people. They have their good/bad days, they are in the mood to do things sometimes, and other times, not so much. So I started the practice of asking my daughter if itʼs ʻokʼ if I bring my camera to take some shots when we have outings. She has seen me reach for the big guns before and let out a sigh. Not a great way to start a fun day out, right? Since I started doing it, I get more yesʼs than noʼs. A new dress? ʻHey do you want to test out the spin factor on it?ʼ Iʼd say. And sheʼd give it a whirl. Anything where she is occupied is also usually cool with her: carnivals, play dates, visiting… 9/10 times I think she knows she will be too distracted to even care!

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© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014



This may be my covert side that adores street shooting, but I adore shooting somewhat blind and undercover. I do this a ton with my Leica P+S because itʼs so less obvious than the big honking dslr. One of my most favorite shots ever came from shooting from the hip {this is where you hold the camera down to waist/hip level and fire away}. I was going to my daughterʼs school for an event and knew sheʼd be happy to see me. I was in no way, shape or form going to miss out on us locking eyes by having a big olʼ camera in my face. Connection is so vital to me with her. So I just held the camera down and as she ran to me I just fired off a bunch of shots. Is it technically perfect? No. But IS it a perfect moment? Yes.

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© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014



As with any client, the same goes for your family! Pass the camera around. Have each family member take a shot of the other. Set the timer as previously mentioned and have a race as a family towards the camera. Look for fun ways to film your kids, like in the rearview mirror. Just make it anything but a chore.

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© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014

Hopefully with these tips you can lesson the annoying factor and up the fun so you can gather images of your family to cherish forever.

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5 Ways to Host an Effortless Picnic with Friends

By Kim Vargo / 08.25.14

Over the course of this summer, Scott and I have hustled to make our front porch a place we love to hang out; a second living room, if you will. The patio was a huge selling point for us, and what started as a drab and poorly constructed space was slowly transformed into a welcoming, bright and cheery lounge. But what’s the perfect space for an afternoon drink if you can’t share it with your friends? We knew we’d want to host a lot more gatherings with our most recent project, and at the same time, our crew has voted our front porch as the official gathering spot as the summer winds down. Hosting a casual dinner – whether it’s for 4 or 10! – shouldn’t be stressful, so we put that to the test and came up with 5 ways to host an effortless picnic with friends.




Challenge yourself to use items you already have on hand.

Most recently, we invited over two of our close friends for an intimate dinner and evening fiesta. We kept things minimal by using decorative gold chargers we had stashed away for special occasions, but we pulled them out for a bit of flair. Our outdoor coffee table served for dining as well, and we folded a larger tablecloth on top of that to kick things up a notch. Grocery store flowers tucked into vases and small unscented tea lights dropped into mason jars provided gorgeous ambient lighting throughout the evening. Better yet, we rummaged through our Christmas bins to pull out a string of lights for the patio railing!

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Since we were dining al fresco, we allowed the outdoor scenery and prepared dishes bring in most of the color, but our little flea market lantern was a fun touch and conversation piece. We did pick up a citronella candle to keep the bugs at bay, but if you must shop for a few supplies to set the mood, I encourage you to stick to an under $20 budget. Peruse the dollar spot at Target, and don’t forget about the more décor-centric stores such as Pier 1 and World Market! It can be done, especially as the season winds down and the clearance bins become full.



Divide and conquer.

For any low-stress gathering, it will lighten your load to delegate a manageable job to each guest. As the hosts, we supplied the main dish, but your friends will always be more than willing to bring along the sides or a dessert to share. If you feel that you’re happiest to take on the majority of the responsibility, ask your company to lend a hand! We were in the mood for margaritas, and our friend is an excellent maker of the limey drink, so he volunteered to make them first thing. (And they were delicious!)



Nix the barbecue for foods that can be prepared ahead of time.

We all love a good barbecue, but that typically leaves one person manning the grill for the entire evening. Step outside the box and plan the menu around fare that’s low stress – think: a pasta or casserole party, or in our case, a taco bar! Scott and I spent 30 minutes in the morning whipping up this slow cooker recipe, and by the time our guests arrived, all we had to do was lay out the toppings. For our sweet tooth, we picked up a few slices of key lime pie from a favorite local bakery.

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Let the good tunes roll.

You know those warm, fuzzy feelings you get when you hear your favorite song on the radio? Not only does it take you back, but it’s also a sure way to spark conversation. For those fun-filled summer evenings, I encourage you to take the easy way out and set up a playlist using free streaming internet radio. Simply choose an artist you love, and your smart station will play the tunes all evening long! Our go to low-key favorites are The Supremes and Sam Cooke; the Motown genre never disappoints.

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And you know what pairs with good music? A lighthearted (yet rousing!) game.

For a larger gathering, Scott and I will leave a deck of cards or a domino set casually laying on a table. You’d be surprised how many people will pick them up and dive in! A current favorite is the iPhone app Heads Up!, and I give you my 100% guarantee that you’ll be rolling with laughter in no time.

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Most importantly, don’t let those tiny details get the best of you! Have fun, enjoy. Challenging yourself to get creative with items you have on hand will allow for a summertime picnic that’s so perfectly you, and what’s not to love in that?

Happy picnic-ing!


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3-Ingredient Cool-Down Summer Cocktails

By Erin Phraner / 08.21.14


Ignore those back-to-school ads on television! Don’t pack up your bikinis and picnic-gear quite yet! There’s still plenty of summer to savor and you’re entitled to loads more sunny afternoons with friends, refreshing cocktail in hand.

We all have our warm-weather favorites—I love a tall Gin & Tonic—and, let’s face it, some cocktail recipes have long (read: expensive) ingredient lists so its easy to find yourself in a drink rut. Not any more! I stirred up a whole collection of cool-down summer cocktails for you that only call for 3 ingredients each. They’re colorful, thirst-quenching, and easy on your wallet compared to other mixer-filled sips.

The key to any good cocktail is balance. In its simplest form, you need: 1 base spirit and 1 to 2 flavor-booster (like a liqueur, citrus juice, tea, etc.). You’ll want to add something a little tart, something a little sweet, maybe a little fizz…everyone’s taste is different.

I limited myself to just 3 base spirits in these recipes: Gin, tequila, or rum. That’s a smart thing to do if you’re mixing up cocktails for a party. By limiting your bases, it’s easy to stay on budget. Instead of having to stock up a full bar, you can just buy large-format bottles of 1 to 3 spirits and call it a day. Bonus: Many discount liqueur stores sell large-format bottles of good-quality spirits at great (cheap) prices.

For another layer of savings, I shied away from costly mixers and used great, flavor-packed grocery store finds instead, like pineapple soda, blood orange juice, English cucumbers and herbal tea. These items are a fraction of the cost of orange-liqueur, sour mix, etc. and (psst!) they’re kind of better for you too.

With all of this new knowledge in mind, take a look at this summer-ready collection of drinks, pick your favorites and get mixing! You don’t need to be a mixologist—or even a big cocktail drinker—to master these quick, easy recipes!





MAKES: 1 drink

Gently muddle 3 to 4 raspberries and 1 tablespoon Elderflower liqueur or syrup in the bottle of a champagne flute. Top with chilled prosecco. 

Note: One of my favorite proseccos, Mionetto, is great for this recipe and it only costs $10 per bottle! 





MAKES: 1 drink

Blend 1/2 unpeeled English cucumber,chopped, and a big splash of water in a blender until smooth; strain through fine-mesh sieve into a tall ice-filled glass. Add 1/4 cup gin and top with lemon-lime soda. 





MAKES: 1 drink

Pour 1/4 cup dark spiced rum or coconut-flavored rum into an ice-filled glass. Top with pineapple soda. Garnish with fresh mint. 





MAKES: 1 drink

Stir together 1/4 cup each cold chamomile tea, lemonade (regular or pink), and gin in an ice-filled glass. Add lime slice, if desired.





MAKES: 1 drink

Stir together 1/2 cup blood orange juice, 1/4 cup tequila and 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice in ice-filled glass. Add lime slice (or salted-rim), if desired.

NOTES: Want it sweeter? Trade in blood orange juice for blood-orange soda (or do 50/50)! 



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