If A Christmas Tree Falls On Your Kid, And You Don’t Film It, Did It Happen?

December 13, 2010

I’m not a professional photographer. Nor am I professional filmmaker or documentarian. But I do tell stories, and a lot of those stories are about my kids, and telling stories about my kids involves using photographs and video. So I am, if you will, a Semi-Amateur Multimedia Documentary Artist and Chronicler Of Family Narratives, and I do an acceptably decent job of it, if I do say so myself.

But it’s a job that has had a somewhat steep learning curve. Capturing the most narratively interesting moments of family life is only slightly less complicated than filming meerkats, not least because small children are less predictable than meerkats. Capturing the movements of children on film during the holidays is considerably more complicated than filming meerkats,  because during the holidays children tend to be jacked up on candy canes and Santa, and meerkats, to the best of my knowledge, don’t get all that excited about either of those things. But it’s not impossible, and well worth the effort, because although meerkats are awesome, they are not nearly as funny and adorable and documentary-worthy as your own children. You can make an awesome photo collage or montage or video that captures the awesomeness of your family during the holidays, and you should.

So, herewith, and humbly, some tips from me on how get adequately amazing footage of your family, whether on digital film or video or sketchpad, and use it to craft some remarkable holiday memories. (Or, Tips For Being An Awesome Documentary Filmmaker/Photographer/Auteur And Creating The Best Family Holiday Video/Photo Album/Virtual –Slideshow-For-Your-Mom-Blog EVER, Even If You Have No Idea What You’re Doing At All, Really. Or, Failing That, How To Get Just Enough On Film So That You Don’t Forget What Your Kids Look Like.) (Read all the way to the bottom! There is music! And PRIZES! And other feel-good things!)

1. Have your equipment ready.

How many times has your toddler stumbled into the room wearing a diaper, a Santa hat and a pair of your heels? Just once? Did you have a camera or video device ready to capture the moment? Nope? You must be me. I try to keep my camera fully charged and in a central location in our house over the holidays, so that I can reach it quickly when the kids do something that seems worthy of the front of a Christmas card. Same goes for my video camera, and my iPhone (which substitutes for camera and video equipment in a pinch, and which actually stays tucked in a pocket or – yes – in my bra at all times.) I also keep my camera set to my preferred indoor setting – even though I prefer to shoot manually whenever possible, if I’ve only got a forty second window to capture Jasper in high heels, I’m perfectly happy to use the most efficient automatic setting rather than have him disappear while I fiddle with the f-stop. (If you are like me, and forget where your real camera is, just pull the iPhone out of your bra and get whatever footage you can. You can always fiddle with it later – as I did, in the picture at right, which is heavily LoMobbed and Pikniked.)

2. Spend some time reflecting on who your children are and what it means to ‘capture’ them.

If you were a photographer of horses, you wouldn’t approach taking pictures of horses from the standpoint of getting horses to pose for horse portraits. Not that that couldn’t be awesome, but still: you’d follow horses into the field and snap them trotting and cantering and loitering by fences. You’d try to get pictures of horses being horses, not Sears Portrait Studio models. (Meerkats, on the other hand, will sit for Sears Portraits, but that’s only tangentially relevant here.) You want to bring the same spirit to taking pictures or video of your children: you want to capture them as the children that they are. Are they happiest frolicking in snow? Baking and eating cookies? Snuggling by the fire? Wielding chainsaws? All of the above? Aim to get photographs and video of those things, as opposed to stiff portraits by the mantle or the Christmas tree.

3. Talk to your children about the kinds of pictures they’d like to be in, or the videos they’d like to make. Like, just ask them.

Yes, really. You should try this. I promise you that you will get some weird and wonderful suggestions – my children suggest things like ‘Emilia’s Super Happy Music Show’ and ‘Jasper The Tutu Dancer With Superpowers’ –  and that your children will participate enthusiastically. And that the results will be amazing, or, at least, really, really funny.

And loud.

4. Think beyond conventional holiday images and scenes.

If you follow the two tips above, you’re already well on your way to doing this, but it bears underlining: anybody can get a picture of their kids in front of the Christmas tree, or take a video of the school holiday pageant. It’s almost a certainty that you will shoot those things. But unless the tree catches fire as you’re snapping the photo, or your child falls off the stage at the pageant while the camera is rolling, these are unlikely to be the images and clips that you will pull out every year and marvel (and/or laugh) at. Look for other, different opportunities to get really interesting photos and video footage: bring your camera along as you and the kids deliver holiday cookies to the folks at the seniors’ home; take some video while the build a snowman (and if you have to toss a surreptitious snowball into the mix to get them scuffling, then don’t hesitate to do so, because scuffling makes for good video); take pictures of them wrapping gifts (you might consider urging them to wrap each other) (this is what happened in the photo at right) or creating a very ugly gingerbread house. Ugly gingerbread houses are funny.

5. But if you’re really attached to conventional holiday images, embrace that.

Take a ton pictures of the Christmas tree and make a cool montage (try Piknik for making great collages and slideshows out of pictures), or get creative with them in an editing suite (again, Piknik is great for this, and most of its applications are free). Take that video of the holiday pageant, but then run clips of it through an application like VintageMaker (an iPhone app that can turn your small people into little Buster Keatons), or edit in funny remarks in subtitles. Or just take your Santa-phobic baby to the mall and keep your camera handy. Creativity is easy with the right technology, and a willingness to take liberties with your children’s dignity.

6. Don’t be afraid of staging.

That random, rogue snowball toss that I mentioned above? I totally wasn’t joking. Set the scenes that you want to capture! Don’t just wait for your kids to start a snowball fight: initiate one yourself! And then back away and pull out the video camera and let the digital film roll. Later, after you’ve set the whole thing to Wagner’s Flight Of The Valkyries, you’ll thank me, and also congratulate yourself on your cinematic genius.

7. Be prepared to bribe your children.

Look, I’m not condoning bribery in general. I’m just saying that there will be some moments over the activity-dense holidays when you will want to get something on camera and your children will be resistant and – because that perfect snowfall isn’t going to last all day – you might need to offer them a little, you know, incentive to get them to agree to stand still or to speak into the video camera or whatever. I recommend candy canes, or cash. This is art. You do what is necessary.

Read more of my tips at Intel’s Get In To Win Facebook page at facebook.com/intelcanada. It’s a great promotion, with over $20,000 in prizes: there are prizes for the most inspiring/interesting/innovative photos or videos, which will be chosen from the top 10 submissions with the most votes, AND there are also 10 weekly prizes, and ALSO, just for voting, you could win a grand prize worth $4500. So post your photos or videos and share your story and tips and ask Santa to send you a WIN.  I’m going to be checking in daily to the facebook.com/intelcanada site, checking out entries, commenting on cool stuff that I see and answering questions and being all chit-chatty, so we can, like, hang out there.

And, in case you need more inspiration to enter, how about this: leave the entry link for the video or photo that you post at facebook.com/intelcanada in the comments right here, and I’ll give away a Sony Bloggie camera (I used one to make the video that you can see at this page) and 6 copies of downloadable versions of Sony’s Photo Go. You have till Dec. 21st to send me your link;  I’ll randomly draw the 7 winners and announce them on that date. (If you’re not Canadian, leave a comment telling me how you capture the moment; I’ll randomly draw winners to receive chocolate.) (Don’t say I never gave you anything.)

And because holiday awesome just shouldn’t be limited to those of us who already have laptops and cameras and whatnot, I’m also going to donate an Intel-powered notebook to a women’s shelter or another like organization – basically, get some computer/social media power into the hands of some women who don’t have access to itso leave suggestions/nominations for an organization in Canada that could benefit from such a donation, and I’ll select one from your suggestions and get it to them.

So, what do you do to capture the moment?

UPDATE: WINNERS! The Sony Bloggie goes to: Marilyn/A Lot Of Loves. The Sony Photo Go downloads go to: Liza, Amanda, Daniel, Jennifer H, Angella D, and Laura B. Congrats, you guys! Expect happy emails soon.

And the Intel-powered notebook? Will go, on Laura B’s suggestion, to the Stella Bury Foundation’s Naomi Centre.

Thanks, all. You are very awesome people.

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    Christine Lessard December 12, 2010 at 3:06 pm
    Catherine December 18, 2010 at 11:10 am

    @Christine Lessard, awesome, will check it out!

    Bryony Boxer December 13, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    Hey, bribes work! I all areas of child rearing actually. :)

    eliza December 13, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    I definitely keep the camera handy at all times! my daughter is light sensitive and the flashes get her a little bit so video is preferred, plus she has the sweetest little voice :) We’ve adapted the two battery method, we can totally wear out a battery just to get that perfect two minutes and then toss in the other battery!

    I dont live in Canada so I’m totally going for the chocolate here, turns out bribery works for adults too

    Her Bad Mother December 14, 2010 at 11:34 am

    chocolate bribery, especially ;)

    Serena Debolt December 13, 2010 at 3:49 pm

    I would love to leave my link to my video on the Intel Canada contest! Thanks! Its called “Husband Almost Blew Up Our Camcorder”


    Catherine December 18, 2010 at 11:11 am

    @Serena Debolt, I saw your entry; it’s great!

    Alexander December 13, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    I’m looking for a bunk bed for my kids can you recommend a good one?

    Laura B. December 14, 2010 at 11:46 am

    I’ll see about putting up a link later, but I absolutely have to warn you immediately about carrying electronics in your bra… I used to, ALL THE TIME, until the salt from my sweat killed my Phone dead in about 4 months.

    Forewarned is forearmed and all that. Or maybe I just sweat a lot?

    However, in cold Canadian weather, when you work for a small-town newspaper and you’re tasked with covering eighteen hundred Santa Claus parades – one in each town in your district – it is absolutely imperative that you DO keep spare batteries in your bra, where they stay toasty warm and fully charged. Swap them out between floats and you’ll never miss a Scared-of-Santa shot again!

    Okay, back to trimming the tree.

    Catherine December 15, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    @Laura B., okay, WOW. boob-sweat can kill a phone?


    Melody December 14, 2010 at 11:49 am

    I was just trying to catch video of my little one playing peek-a-boo to send to her Dad while he was away on business and I actually caught her sitting up for the first time on her own! I guess because she is my first and so little that posing is impossible anyway I just have gotten used to randomly filming inane stuff to see if I can get her doing something awesome :) Great tips though!! Not entering the contest, but wanted to let you know I appreciated your post.
    .-= Melody´s last blog ..On Baking and Being Neighborly =-.

    Catherine December 20, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    @Melody, thanks ;)

    I actually think that consistent filming – just keeping the digital video rolling, frequently – is a great strategy with small children and babies. They’re so unpredictable, and they don’t do second takes. And you love even the most boring footage, so what the heck ;)

    monstergirlee December 14, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    I now have an iPod Touch that I carry with me everywhere that takes photos and video – LOVE IT. And my camera has two batteries that I rotate and (attempt to) keep charged.
    Thanks for a chance to win some chocolate.
    .-= monstergirlee´s last blog ..More Camera Fun =-.

    Amy T December 14, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    Check out my video for the contest! My tip- always be ready! http://bit.ly/hu1g0m

    Catherine December 18, 2010 at 11:12 am

    @Amy T, checking it out now. (and eyes: the Boy Scouts credo applies perfectly to capturing the moment. BE PREPARED.)

    Kim December 14, 2010 at 2:35 pm

    I would love the opportunity to leave my link for the Intel Canada contest. I am trying very hard to win a Sony Bloggie for my husband. I know it was on his wish list for Christmas! Hopefully the link works. My entry is called Tranquil Morning. Thank you!

    I am a total novice at photography and have a not so great camera, my photo can show you, sometimes beauty just captures itself.


    Catherine December 18, 2010 at 11:12 am

    @Kim, “sometimes beauty just captures itself.”

    Indeed. :)

    The Lady December 18, 2010 at 11:22 am

    PERFECTLY said

    Kim December 19, 2010 at 6:31 am

    @The Lady, Thank you :)

    Katrina December 14, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    It’s always great to have a camera handy – some of the best shots can’t be planned!


    Kristy-Ann December 15, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    You asked us Canadians on twitter who you should donate the laptop to – donate it to a local Boys and Girls Club clubhouse! :)
    .-= Kristy-Ann´s last blog .. =-.

    Catherine December 15, 2010 at 8:15 pm

    @Kristy-Ann, thank you for the suggestion!

    Liza December 15, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    My entry in Intel’s contest talks about not me taking photo’s of my kids but one taking photo’s of the other…soooo cute…please check it out and VOTE!! Just imagining what i can capture if I had a Sony Bloggie!! it is called My budding Photographer.. http://apps.facebook.com/intelcanadacontest/Vote-and-Win?entry_sort=V

    Catherine December 15, 2010 at 8:16 pm

    @Liza, what an awesome idea – I’ve never tried it, but I might have to, now ;)

    Liza December 15, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    Arghhh..i think this must be the direct link LOL!

    Amanda December 15, 2010 at 10:26 pm

    My contest entry is the one titled “Jump”

    I really love your site and all you have done on here cheers!

    Amanda December 15, 2010 at 10:29 pm

    @Amanda, here is the direct link to it I think…sorry new at this


    Catherine December 18, 2010 at 11:23 am

    @Amanda, thanks ;)

    JustMom420zaks December 16, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    Whenever I try to photograph or film my kids, they stop what they are doing and come running. It doesn’t help I have a sony cybershot and it makes this obnoxious “blllling!” noise when it comes on.
    .-= JustMom420zaks´s last blog ..Good Moms Apparently Do Slap Bitches =-.

    Jacki (JackiYo) December 16, 2010 at 9:46 pm

    I would LOVE to see the notebook go to Anselma House in the KW region. Such an important place.

    Catherine December 18, 2010 at 11:23 am

    @Jacki (JackiYo), thanks!

    Liza December 18, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    I’m back…trying to rally some more votes because I could find so many fun things to tape if I had a video camera….please vote!!! http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fbit.ly%2FfXPXmx&h=9e12a

    Angella December 18, 2010 at 8:33 pm

    I entered yesterday! Does this link work?


    As for donations, anything child/women/family related is what I always go for. :)
    .-= Angella´s last blog ..‘Tis The Season =-.

    katie December 19, 2010 at 12:27 am
    Daniel Espina December 19, 2010 at 1:09 am

    Hey Catherine, here’s a link to my Intel Canada “Get In To Win” entry.


    Hope You Enjoy. And great tips by the way!

    You are Funnier than Stewad McLean:)) December 19, 2010 at 7:02 am

    Daily votes needed-My entry in the Intel contest
    “Sun Dog” (Please “like” pg and accept app.)

    Jenny N December 19, 2010 at 3:52 pm
    Jennifer H December 20, 2010 at 12:35 am

    I loved this article, you are so funny! I thought I was the only one that bribes my kid into making vlogs or posing for pics. It’s great to know that I’m not the only one that is willing to go the extra mile (or chocolate) for the perfect shot. I think I will start a snowball fight between her and her dad and film the ensuing chaos!

    Here’s my photo entry for the Intel contest, entitled My Last Gift. It’s one of the last photos of my mom and the story about my last gift to her. Thanks for reading!


    Marilyn @ A Lot of Loves December 20, 2010 at 12:37 am

    I went ahead and posted one of my favourite pictures for the contest.

    .-= Marilyn @ A Lot of Loves´s last blog ..So There Was a Fire… =-.

    Laura B. December 20, 2010 at 11:08 am

    A Christmas tree has never fallen on my kid, but an ornament did, just moments ago.

    Here’s my link!


    Catherine December 21, 2010 at 11:07 am

    @Laura B., ha! AWESOME.

    Laura B. December 20, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    Right! I’m not done yet! My top suggestion for a laptop donation would be the Stella Burry Foundation.

    The Foundation does wonderful work in and around St. John’s, NL. (Website here: http://www.stellaburry.ca), They have a lot of projects on the go, but their women’s shelter, the Naomi Centre, may well benefit from a notebook. (http://www.stellaburry.ca/real-homes/naomi-centre/ for more info).

    Stella Burry herself was a Newfoundland social worker in the 1930s, long before women dominated the profession. (You can also read more about her on the website). Bonus – she grew up on the same tiny island off the coast of Newfoundland as my mother, and where many of my relatives still live.

    However. St. John’s is the capital city and by rote residents there have plenty of resources at their disposal. The Eastern Regional Committee Against Violence (www.ercav.ca) has done some work identifying the need for a women’s shelter in my part of the province. St. John’s is a long way to go when you’re in danger, broke, and scared. Still nothing off the ground yet though.

    Some other shelters(without websites of their own) that reach more rural areas are The Grace Sparkes House in Marystown and The Cara House in Gander. I just did a quick search and Labrador seems fairly well serviced, but you could probably find a whole lot more at http://www.respectwomen.ca/wheregethelp.html

    Laura B. December 20, 2010 at 7:33 pm

    One last suggestion… The Association For New Canadians in St. John’s does great work welcoming immigrants and refugees who come to Newfoundland. (www.anc-nf.cc for more info). Their women’s group may be able to put a laptop to good use with social media!

    That’s all from me. Promise.

    Yahaira Chiodi December 21, 2010 at 5:48 am

    Random question: I started my blog to share my photography experience. Do you find it difficult or easy to put up consistently?

    Liza December 21, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    Just curious when the draw will take place……I am hoping I win LOL!!!!!

    Kermit Kleinfelder December 21, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    Just dropped by to say hello and wish happy holidays :)

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