It is my firm belief that family photos can not only be stylish and beautiful but are actually necessary to making a house feel like a home – regardless of who your ‘family’ is and what it looks like (friends and pets obviously count as ‘family’). I didn’t always have a lot of photos around, but as I get older, BOY DO I WANT THEM. But where, when and how they are taken and framed and hung is something I am pickier about. While there are no rules and you should do whatever makes you happy, I have some new tricks that are making my family photo taking, editing, hanging and framing work more seamlessly into my house, so they can even be in such dominant areas as the entry (shown here) and our bedroom (later in the post).
So today I’m going to show you TWO different ways you can bring amateur iPhone family snapshots into your house, in a chic and easy way. I’ve been excited to do this post for a long time, so when our favorite online framing company Framebridge reached out I said ‘yes, it’s time the people know how we do it.’ – thus this post came to fruition. They also have passed along a discount code: EHD15 for new users which will get you 15% off your first framing order. So let’s chat through how we did it and how you can recreate in your own home.
First up – our ‘grid of laughter and energy’ that welcomes you into the house.
We used to get our family photos shot professionally, but the last couple years I’ve been way more drawn to casual pictures that we shoot with our phones, without the set up of a photographer – but here’s my secret, they come from videos. WHAT? That’s right. All of these photos were taken with an iPhone, and almost all of them came from home movies on our phone’s camera. There is definitely an energy that you can capture in a video that you can’t in a still photo without it being blurry – especially when laughter and mayhem are involved. So my secret is screenshotting the specific frame of the video that I love, and editing that screenshot like a photo.
For the above collection, I wanted them all to be in black and white to be neutral enough to work with our decor and the location they are specifically in, but color might be better for your space. I love how quiet they are but still full of energy, plus, black and white hides a multitude of sins – i.e., so many of these were poorly lit and obviously looked really amateur (nothing wrong with that, but for my entry they needed a little bit of tweaking). So by putting them into greyscale, you can make them feel brighter without blowing them out as much. It depends on how loud you want your family photos to scream ‘I’M HERE, LOOK AT ME.’ I love having them around, but I don’t need them to get all the attention.
To help walk you through how I actually do it, we created a step-by-step guide so you can really understand our process:
Step 1: Screenshot Your Frame – Now, the way that you screenshot might be different on your smartphone, as I have an iPhone. When you watch a video on your iPhone, the timeline of that video shows up on the bottom of the screen. You can scrub that timeline until you find the frame you want, and keep your finger in that spot while using two OTHER fingers to take a screenshot (by pressing the power button and the big center button at the same time – or if you have an iPhone X, by pressing the + volume button and the power button at the same time). But you have to keep your first fingers on the little frames on the bottom so that the big ‘PLAY’ triangle will disappear. That means three fingers are involved and it’s complicated. Here’s the easier way – open your video in the iPhoto app on your phone, click ‘edit’ and then scroll to the exact frame that you like and take a screenshot (same two buttons), without a third finger involved. I use the latter now.
The problem with this is that it becomes low res. NO BIG DEAL. As we edit we embrace the graininess and even add to it.
Step 2: Open in an Editing App – I use iPhoto, Afterlight, A Beautiful Mess app, or sometimes just open directly in Instagram. Afterlight used to be my favorite until it kept crashing. ABM app lets you put on a ton of fun filters, light leaks, sun flares, etc. And their filters are GREAT – including black and white.
Step 3: Crop and Straighten – This is pretty straightforward. We chose all squares for this. In the above photo, you don’t really need to see from my chest down because the focus of the photo is Birdie and me laughing, so to enhance that focus, we crop out the unnecessary (sometimes leaving negative space is a good thing, but in this case it wasn’t ‘negative’ more than it was just distracting. Also, be sure to crop out the excess screen around your photo from your screenshot if you don’t want to crop into a square).
Step 4: Desaturate the Color or Apply a Filter – I tend to use a black-and-white filter but one that feels ‘happier’ with higher contrast (brighter whites, darker darks, and less mid-tone grays). You can also just take out all color by going to the saturation filter and turning it all the way down.
Step 5: Brighten Your Photo – The level of brightness is up to you, but I’d say brighter is better until you start to lose detail and it ‘blows out’ – a technical term that means, well, ‘you’ve gotten a little greedy with your need to look like the sun is literally in your kitchen’…and no detail remains in that particular area.
Step 6: Up the Contrast on Your Photo – This makes the colors a little deeper – the darker tones are darker, the whites are whiter, and it’s really crucial to making a photo (even in black and white) POP.
Step 7: Play With Other Settings – Sometimes we sharpen. Very often we saturate the colors which make the green grass greener (although for this one we didn’t, as it was in black and white).
Step 8: Add a Little Bit of Grain – Caution: Don’t do this to all of your photos. Since most of my ‘video frame to still’ images were already grainy, we added some more so it looked even more intentional. It can also give photos a little more texture, but if your photo is sharp and you like it that way, by all means, skip this step. This just adds a little ‘film’ quality should you like that look (or your photo needs it).
Here is the final product in a before-and-after GIF so that you can see what the original looked like side-by-side to the finished product:
That photo honestly popped a lot in the red already, and on its own, I prefer that color, but in my house, to have the most flexibility of location, I prefer the black-and-white version. I like a quieter, more calm color palette in the main areas, so for our family and home, the black and white works best for us.
To hit this home, we chose a few other photos that mean a lot to me, but the colors and poor lighting detract from me visually loving the photo enough to display it. Listen, in my priority list of life, my family is first, but I sure do care about visual aesthetics.
To me, it really feels like you see the energy more (not the mess or the bad lighting) in black and white.
Once you have your photos all ready, it is time to let Framebridge do the work. Their site takes all the guesswork out of it for you and the process is very easy and straightforward. I ordered 8×8 frames (5×5 photo), in their simple white Irvine Slim frame with a float mount. Once you have selected your frame, you can upload your photo directly through their system and then select any features that you want to customize it further, like matting, float mounting or full bleed (meaning no mat). Their site allows you to not only see what it will look like when it is fully framed but also lets you easily toggle through the other frames so that you can find something that works best for your own home. If you are uploading a digital photo like we did, then the cost of the digital print is included in the framing (yay!), but you can also send in just about anything to be framed, from old notes, to scrapbook pages, to team jerseys to something small and sentimental.
If you’re wondering how that last part works, once you place your order online, they send you a box with insurance up to $300 (for art exceeding $300 and up to $5,000, you will need to provide Framebridge with proof of value) for you to send your piece in. They then manage everything from there and reach out directly with questions. I have had them frame so much stuff over the years and I am not only impressed with how easy they make the process but also the quality of the frames and prints.
The turnaround time for digital uploads that they print and frame runs anywhere from 4 to 12 business days (including shipping time), and the framing can start as low as $59 per frame.
They also recently introduced a new Framebridge gallery wall option which has preselected frames that are arranged in a gallery wall set up so they take all the guesswork out of sizing, arranging and hanging for you. They have a handful of gallery wall setups that you can select from and all you have to do is upload your photos and then the rest is handled for you. They will get them all framed and then send them back once it is all finished. They even send you a template that you tape up to your wall which shows you where each frame goes and where you should place the nail. Bye bye swiss cheese walls, hello beautifully framed gallery walls. I am personally a big fan of their new triptych options as well as the full gallery wall options, but if the specific sizes don’t work for you then you can create your own like we did.
Because of their vast selection of frames and styles they can pretty much go anywhere and with anything in any home.
For our small grid gallery wall, I did go with a theme – almost all of these were high-emotion action shots and I remember the moment they happened. When Birdie and Charlie are wrestling and laughing, when Brian is holding Birdie upside down and she’s screaming with giggles, when both kids attack me with tickles, we take videos like any parent to capture the good stuff. But you can’t stare at a video on your walls year round. The still version of the video makes me so incredibly happy and obviously reminds me of that moment in time where we only heard laughter in our house. It’s important to the world that you don’t pretend your life is without chaos, tantrums, mess and fighting, but I generally want to remember the good stuff. And this is the good stuff. Although I do have some hilarious videos of Birdie crying for pancakes, tears dripping off her chin, so high pitched as if we were burning her blankie while cutting off her feet, WHEN WE WERE LITERALLY IN THE MIDDLE OF ACTUALLY MAKING THE PANCAKES. Brian and I could barely hold it together not laughing because the level of irrationality was remarkable.
Originally, I was going to put them in the playroom in a huge grid (I ordered 12), but when I saw them I wanted them somewhere far more visible and way more important as they turned out so well. I love them so much. I realized that the entry has always needed some love. We already have a mirror on the right wall when you walk in, and I’ve never found art that I think works here perfectly. Now we have it.
I LOVE THESE HERE. It’s like the second I get home, regardless of the various moods I’m about to deal with or the energy level that I need to navigate, I’m greeted with the best moments of my life. TRULY.
So that’s my ‘video to still’ method. For the second look, I wanted a large family photo for above our dresser. We actually went out and shot some photos with my iPhone – but with Sara shooting it so that we could all four be in a photo. Though she might be a professional, remember it was just with a phone. If you have a friend (or ask a stranger), you can do most of this yourself.
For this photo, since it’s going to be in the bedroom, we wanted one that didn’t scream ‘FAMILY PHOTO’ but instead felt more like a fine art photograph that has us in it, reminds me of a great day, but is quiet.
Sara first went out to scout locations – the general direction was something iconic to LA, fun for the kids to go to and had a lot of negative space without a ton of people. In case you live in LA, here are some good ideas: The Griffith Observatory, La Brea Tar Pit Park (near LACMA), LACMA outdoor areas, and Echo Lake Park. These are some of the scouting shots from the mentioned locations (we knew we probably wanted this photo to be black and white as well, so she edited them so we could get a good idea of how a finished photo might feel):
I loved all of these for different reasons, but because our kids are so young, we felt that going on the boats in Echo Park was going to be the most fun for us (and if/when they are part of my job, I always want to make it super fun for them or I feel like a terrible stage mom).
We got into the boats at Echo Park and Sara shot from a few different angles.
Once we had our shots, we narrowed our favorites down to these four (which Sara also turned black and white so we could envision the final piece better):
Turns out that the wind that day was making it very hard for us to stay profile to Sara, and the second we got out there, Birdie (who is newly potty trained) said she had to pee. The huge fountains may have had something to do with it.
Ultimately, we chose this photo:
So how did we get from the original photo to the final one? Well, I had help from Sara who is proficient at Photoshop (she works in it almost every day). Some of these steps you can definitely replicate on your phone or in a simple editing program but some (toward the end) you might need help with. We ultimately decided to tweak this in Photoshop as it was going to be large and on the wall whereas the other smaller photos were not going to be blown up to this scale. Here is how we got to the final photo:
We loved the energy and composition of the original photo, above, but as visual perfectionists who take photography (even family photos) very seriously, we made some tweaks to improve it.
It never hurts to have a cleaner photo without elements that will distract your eye. So we cropped some lines on the bottom and the 1/4 of a boat on the side, while also straightening the photo.
When I first saw the photos, I thought that maybe just desaturating them a bit and going in more of a green sepia tone would be better, but that ended up looking super try hard (ironic, I know because obviously we are trying hard here to make a photo look like fine art, but there is a difference between something that looks really cheesy and trendy, and something more classic – like a black-and-white photo). We didn’t really want a ton of bright colors in our bedroom, that big at least, and just taking down the saturation actually made it look sad, but turning it black and white and tweaking it slightly worked.
But yeah, you need to brighten it. While I love gray, I love a lot of white in black-and-white photos which creates negative space. This is just a personal preference.
But to get all the dark spots out we needed to Photoshop them specifically as just continuing to up the ‘brightness’ overall would have blown out the rest of the details.
Back to the importance of high contrast. More contrast = the more it pops, but you want it to look realistic, too, so don’t go nuts.
This is the stuff that I think you might need help with. Sara adjusted the perspective in Photoshop to help the lines feel straighter by using the ‘transform’ tool to pull out the corners of the photo.
Next, we removed the little things that were distracting and not important. That sunspot is distracting and while I wouldn’t have noticed that bird, it bugged Sara so we took it out.
At this point, we felt that the column was distracting. Looking at it again, I think it actually helped it look more balanced – maybe? But the photo works either way.
It was still feeling a little sad to me so we brightened the reflection on the water by painting in some higher contrast onto just the water in Photoshop. It made a huge difference. In real life, it was super reflective but the camera didn’t pick up on that.
Now, here is where we took some creative liberties. Brady was super distracted by the apartment building, and had said ‘what if we take it out, as it is so modern in comparison to everything else?’ At first, it didn’t bother me, but I looked at the option to remove it and we all thought it looked cleaner.
Sara used another photo she took that day facing the same direction and plugged it in. I kinda miss the composition and movement of the mountain, but I don’t miss the darkness. Your eye definitely goes to us on the dock, in a good way. It gave us that iconic LA skyline with palm trees – of which we could have found had we know that was what we wanted.
The following stuff is far above my skill level – but for those of you who really want to know how Sara did it in Photoshop, here you go:
Sara used the ‘distort’ tool just on the new section of the photo to stretch and match the perspective to the original photo. Then she used individual brightness, levels and contrast masks to match the tones of the original photo. But you can still see the seam of where the two photos come together.
Finally, she made that seam disappear by using the ‘clone’ and ‘spot healing’ tools in Photoshop to blend the two photos together along the edge where they met.
It’s wizardry! Let me be clear – I’m not pro Photoshopping to the point of perfection when it comes to family photos (we leave wrinkles, but might remove distracting bruises). But if you have the skills (or if you know someone who does) then I think it’s perfectly fine to tweak elements of a photo to make it better (for example – if there is trash on the ground in your beach shot, just get rid of it).
This photo was taken with a phone and therefore it’s grainy and THAT’S OKAY.
I think it looks awesome this grainy. It has a vintage-y vibe (somewhat like the photo strip photos you take in the booth) and also reminds me that despite all the editing that went into it, it actually is just a casual day of our family that was captured.
To help you figure out how to photograph your family, here are some shooting tips that we stick to for a more casual/arty photo if that’s your vibe:
- Good use of negative space. Pull back on the scene and let the sky or ocean give the composition some negative space so the photo doesn’t feel crowded and busy.
- Don’t have your family be too big in the frame (i.e., not the main focus)…but don’t disappear either. Have enough negative space around your family that you stand out. You don’t want to be right in front of a bush or a group of other people. Keeping it clean but pulled back helps keep you the quiet focus of the photo. Now, this is only a tip IF you want this large-scale, pulled back look. For something smaller, you can certainly fill the screen.
- Mix up the body compositions. Charlie is sitting down facing forward, Brian and I are sitting but looking to the left, and Birdie is standing. All the heights differ. We aren’t just sitting side-by-side all staring forward. If you can get a kid on your shoulders, or even just lean a certain way while holding hands, the photo becomes more interesting.
- Have something graphic and iconic that makes your location memorable. I can’t see palm trees without thinking of LA, so having them in the skyline is perfect for what we were going for.
- Introduce interesting light. The reflection of the water and the fountain on the right of the photo make the photo feel really alive. Sun dapple is a good thing and having something to reflect the light (even if it’s just skyscrapers with glass windows) is also great (but not a must).
Having these family photos all around the house is something that makes me so happy, and I love that we were able to frame them all in such a simple, classic, and timeless way. Hopefully, our tips will help you with your own family photos, and to get you started, Framebridge has passed along a discount code: EHD15 for new users which will get you 15% off your first framing order.
So round up those family photos, tweak them a bit to fit your space, and you’ll love having them around just like I do every time I come home.