Photography Gift Idea for an Expecting Photographer

When it comes to gift giving for photographers why do we usually tend to at least think about giving our photography as a present? More often than not, giving the gift of our work is usually not received as well as we would hope it would be. Note I did say usually, there are times when it does go over well but I would venture a safe bet on that being the minority of the time. The reality is that not everyone appreciates photography like a photographer does and there in lies the root of the problem of giving our photography as a gift.

Ah, but what if the gift is for a photographer?

Last weekend a friend of ours was having her baby shower. Earlier, while we were out shopping for a gift for the shower, I came across a mobile at a store where they had clipped flash cards of the alphabet to the mobile and had it hanging above a crib. That was when my inspiration struck.

What if I created a mobile and used some general photography work as the objects to hang from the mobile? Then, later when the new mother had some free time she could print some 5×7 copies of her own work to hang from the mobile….brilliant!

Thus began the relatively quick baby mobile project. This project cost me between $20-$30 and took me less than 5 hours to complete (in retrospect this time could be shortened). The items needed for this project were:

  1. Wire Mobile. I purchase a pre-made one from Pottery Barn Baby for $10. You can also make one yourself with metal wire, fishing line, and alligator clips to hold the photos on the mobile.
  2. Some Subject for the Generic Photos. This one had me stumped for a while. I originally thought about some landscapes with big general shapes in them, but then I stumbled across the idea of using building blocks with letters on them to spell out simple opposite word pairs. Thus, as he mobile moved around, the opposite word would appear. When I went to my local Target to pick these up I was shocked to find that they didn’t carry anything like that! No building blocks of any kind and only one thing that consisted of letters (it’s been years since I had to buy baby toys for my nieces/nephews, but what is the toy world coming to!). So I ended up with some colorful plastic letters with magnets on their backs.

Since the words that I had chosen had duplicate letters in them and I only had one set of letters, this complicated the photography shoot. I couldn’t shoot the entire word at one time, so I had to shoot the individual letters and piece the words together. This is what added most of the time to my 5 hours; if I had been able to shoot the words rather than individual letters, I could have cut 60%+ off the time for the project.

Thus, I set up the studio to photograph the letters with a basic white background and a reflection beneath the letters to add some depth. The real trick was how to stand the letters up so that you couldn’t see anything supporting them. It is much easier to do this than try (and hope) that you can digitally remove your support in post processing. Anything I can do to minimize my post processing time…I spend enough time behind the computer already…

The trick was to use paper binders. They would attach to the magnet on the back of the letter and you could position the arms to support the letters. There were a few that were a bit more tricky, like the T and the O, and required patience to get them to balance correctly. There was also the P which required some additional creativity since it’s design doesn’t balance very well. After a few minutes of racking my brain to figure out how to get it to work, I remember a small L shaped allen wrench that I had lying nearby from the halogen light fixtures that we recently installed in the room. As luck would be, it fit perfectly inside the paper clamp and created a nice side brace to hold the letter up. Ok, so as a last resort, I will digitally remove the the brace from one photo…but one 1 out of 12 isn’t bad.

After a few hours of post production work to scale the letters to the right size, stitch the images together, clean up the images a bit and print them I was almost done. Since the plan was to have the opposite words back to back (i.e., sun/moon, mom/dad) I thought it might also be nice to have them laminated together. They would survive longer and look a bit better. What I hadn’t expected was the high temperature of the laminator that they have at Kinkos. It caused the ink to bleed at the edges of the letters and I essentially lost the detail in the photos…all my hard work for the reflection to add depth was lost. So, in the end I just taped the images together with a small piece of tape where the alligator clip grabbed the images.

Minus the struggles of trying to take a evenly lighted photo of my studio setup with my wife’s point and shoot camera and it’s built in flash, the only other difficulty was trying to photograph the finished project without casting any shadows…not easy with a mobile…so I eventually gave up and called the project finished.

I think it was a very creative yet adaptable gift for a fellow photographer. As I took it over to her house and had it hanging from the dinning room light, her and I both realized that there was one thing that might not work….

Her cats were circling the floor underneath it thinking they had a new play toy. Not the ideal situation considering it’s designed to be hanging over the baby’s crib! As the saying goes…it’s the thought that counts.

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