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Say Cheese!

One of the things I plan to do is work with more photographers. There's nothing better to have on a website than photos of Santa in action, especially with wide-eyed smiling children. But as a Santa from a small town where everyone and their uncle thinks they're a photographer because they own a fancy shmancy camera, I hardly got any photos I'm proud to have. Conversely, many took great photos at events on cell phones, but that means a very low-quality file. So much for making things a bit more professional.

Now in Texas, I have the opportunity to work with more photographers! Except there's that thing going around that's kept us at bay for more than a year. So no photos from this past season either (but did get a good headstart on a bunch of Santa videos). What do I do in the meantime?

I resulted back to working with the most difficult photographer I know: me.

See, I'm not just a point and shoot kind of guy. I want to get the lights a certain way to portray a certain mood. I want the smiling eyes to look like they are smiling, and not Santa squinting or looking like he's taken some of that magic snow you ingest up your nostril. There are so many things that I know need to get done right as someone who is in charge of their own brand.

As the talent and photographer (and editor/publisher of the media, etc.) there are a LOT of variables that have to line up to make a photo a good photo (in my opinion). There's a lot of taking photos out of costume, to ensure that the lighting looks good before I put on my winter wardrobe in the middle of summer. Then I have to adjust once in full regalia, and pose while taking photos with one hand or even my toe (as was today's adventure).

There's only so much one can do with a photo to make it better. If there isn't much to work with, there's little that can be done ("garbage in, garbage out" or as my college professor who I soon discovered was a cousin by way of a chain of two marriages used to say "you can't polish a turd!"). With that in mind, my approach to photography is less point and snap, and more staring at a canvas to determine how I should paint with light and what I plan to do in the edit that will highlight some things and hide others.

It all starts with a mood board or reference photo collection. On Pinterest I have several boards, or digital scrapbooks if it's easier for you to picture it that way, that I continuously add things to that provide the mood, lighting, technique, staging, color, (ALL the aspects) that I want. Not every photo has exactly what I want, but I can take the staging of one and use the lighting of another. It's very mix and match and leads to surprising results, even when I go ahead and plan to replicate something more strongly than usual just to challenge myself.

From there it's capture, review, and revise. If that means (in my case) brushing up the beard and ensuring it looks fresh, choosing and retrieving wardrobe pieces, building and arranging a set, I do it before rushing in and taking photos (again, "garbage in, garbage out").

The most time consuming portion of producing these photos is the edit. Erasing stray hairs, smoothing out wrinkles on fabric, and enhancing color and lighting to ensure everything mixes together to become the viewing experience you want to put out there. I'm at an advantage because I have a camera and lights that allow me to capture mid-grade professional photos, obtained an education which taught me how to do these tasks, and have a very strong opinion of what Santa Claus should look like. There's no second guessing.

I took 58 photos today. From those, only 7 were good enough to edit, and only maybe 3 will ever be published. My editing isn't just about color, it's about photo and mood manipulation to make things as professional and magical as they can be. This is why I'm not a photographer. I consider these pieces more artwork than photos.

I encourage those of you who want better photos to consider those who record themselves practicing so they know how their performance will look. Take photos of yourself. Practice in the mirror. Grab a camera (and an intervalometer if needed) and practice lighting with your expressions. You can be a part of lifting the image of Santa Claus around the world. It's difficult, it takes time and dedication, but these images are here to last and the memory of the visits you were a part of will live on in the minds of many.

Yours as always,

Santa Stuart

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