Tag: Custom Shadow Box

Photographing a picture frame

We’re taking a brief break from my mommy-blogging to take a look at some Photoshop finagling that I did this morning.

I just completed a Custom Shadow Box project and wanted to get a photo of the box that was relatively presentable to email to the client (and perhaps use it in a future update to my gallery).

The big challenge for me was getting a good photo of the shadow box without catching my reflection of me taking the photo. First, I tried leaning the shadow box back against a fabric background, angled against the ceiling. My initial thought was that since the ceiling was white and lacked objects on it, that there wouldn’t be weird object reflections. Unfortunately, what I really ended up with was a white sheen over the glass which wouldn’t go away despite many attempts in Photoshop.

While Photoshop can do wonders, it unfortunately can’t compensate for some “bad photography.” Back to the drawing board… er… camera.

So what I really needed was a black background that wouldn’t reflect light back onto the glass. Unfortunately, large swathes of black fabric are a scarce item at our place. Next best – a black sweatshirt, which I forced Steve to hold at awkward angles to try to get the right coverage. The sweatshirt wasn’t quite big enough, so I took two pictures with him holding the sweatshirt at different heights while I tried to keep the camera still (too lazy to set up a tripod):

You can see Steve’s fingers, over the edge of the sweatshirt, in the right top corner reflection of this photo below:

I did some Photoshop magic to overlap the two pictures. Laying one photo directly over the other in two separate layers, I set the top layer to “Difference” mode, then moved the layers until the whole thing was almost black. For each pixel in a photo, difference mode takes the RGB value of one layer and subtracts it from the second layer – so if the pixels are the same, you end with R:0 G:0 B:0,” aka black.

After lining up the layers, I added a layer mask to the top layer and painted out the reflections.

The next step was using Photoshop’s Lens Distortion filter to straighten out the photo. Given the angle of the original photos, above, I was pretty impressed that Photoshop could twist my shadow box so that it looked like I’d taken the photo almost head-on. It’s not perfect, of course, but you’d probably never know at first-glance!

A few Levels and Hue/Saturation adjustment layers added to lighten things up and make the flowers more true to their actual colors (my camera tends to oversaturate reds), a few passes at sharpening the photo using the unsharp mask filter, and I ended up with a fairly presentable photo of the shadow box:

Homemade Christmas presents

This year for Christmas with Steve’s family, we drew names of individuals (children, even unborn children, included) for Christmas gifts. For some reason someone then had the bright idea of adding the further restriction that gifts had to be homemade/handmade.

Steve and I were in charge of three gifts: Steve drew his aunt, I drew Steve’s nephew, and “the baby” drew his future uncle. We ended up doing quite a bit of teamwork on all the presents.

Steve’s nephew is seven years old. I forget whether Steve or I had the idea first, but we came up with building a wooden treasure chest. I looked online and found some cool kits, but shipping was prohibitive, so we decided to build our own!

Treasure Chest plan I sketched out a rough plan with dimensions and we went shopping for wood and materials. Our good friends who live a few doors down have all kinds of tools including a table saw, jigsaw, etc., so we went over and spent two weekends cutting the wood, putting it together with wood screws (main frame) and nails (top slats), staining it, and adding hinges, a chain on the inside to keep the lid from opening too far, and a latch and small padlock. We read some stuff on making real wood joins but it seemed too complicated for the short timeframe we were working with (plus the fact that neither of us had any experience making wood joins!), and let’s face it, we didn’t think a seven-year-old would care! Steve and I pretty much worked equally on the chest together even though it was technically “my” project.

Given that this was my first real experience using power tools and building a “real” item out of wood and that we made up our own plans, I thought the chest turned out really great! Here are a few photos, you can see the rest on Flickr:

Open treasure chest Treasure chest Treasure chest closeup

Next, we attempted to make wooden pens for Steve’s aunt and brother-in-law. My sister’s husband has a lathe and other tools necessary for making wooden pens in addition to a lot of the wooden blocks (called “blanks”), so I went online and bought two pen kits — the metal pieces that make up the rest of the pen. We then spent three weekends driving out to their house to use his tools. Unfortunately, I had apparently picked a style of pen kit that was complicated to work with, and my brother in law didn’t have any experience with that type and couldn’t help us. After using up about 5 different blanks and being generally unsuccessful, we got frustrated with the whole thing and decided to think of alternative homemade presents to give!

Steve was stuck for a while on what to do for his aunt until his mom suggested that we make her a shadowbox. We couldn’t have done this without his mom, who spent some time pulling out old photos for us to use. Steve ended up focusing on photos of his mom and aunt. I pulled out various materials and arranged them in the box for him to pick from and he made executive decisions on what to include. I handled most of the assembly, although Steve trimmed the photos and bored the holes in the side of the cardboard frame for the clothesline. He also picked out the small picture frame and we used a more current photo. (I’m really into the frame-within-a-frame idea.)

Here’s the final result. It’s interesting how cameras differ from the human eye — the ribbon shows up much more “orangey” in this picture; in person, it looks like the same shade as the red dresses in the main photo.

Shadow box

Two down, one more to go. I was having some problems coming up with presents for the baby to give our brother-in-law. Thinking about our former success with wood, I thought about making a mancala game with a wooden board that could fold in half and latch to be “travel-friendly” and even bought some materials, but returned them all as I didn’t think it was that great of an idea and might just end up collecting dust in the long run!

As the day drew near, I finally decided to do a two-part present. I ordered a photo calendar through Costco, uploading family pictures and adding family birthdays and anniversaries. Then, I spent the weekend before Christmas making homemade chocolate-covered gummy bears, his favorite sweet snack. It was a little time-consuming but pretty easy to do — we slowly melted chocolate chips in the microwave, stabbed gummy bears with toothpicks, and swirled them around in the chocolate. I put them in a large Coke glass, found at a thrift store — our brother-in-law has some Coke paraphernalia that he’s collected over the years — and wrapped it all up with holiday-colored plastic wrap.

Chocolate covered gummy bears

While it was at times stressful and frustrating, we found that making presents for a few individuals was overall a very rewarding experience for both the giver and the receiver!

Two exciting new arrivals

First: Custom Shadow Box business cards, previously mentioned, but here’s the photo. I miscalculated and put the photos on the non-glossy side of the paper, so for the next printing I’ll reverse the card so that the photos end up on the glossy side.

Custom Shadow Box business cards

Second: My sister gave me a belated birthday present — a Circa PDA! She also had stacks of colored cards for herself and gave me ten of each color. Thanks, Angela!

The small size of the Circa PDA has me pulling it out instead of squeezing out my junior-size planner out of my purse for random braindumping while on the road, although I still use my planner almost exclusively while I’m at home. I haven’t really pulled together a “system” yet to combine both but will just see what I naturally use the PDA for.

If you use both a notebook and a PDA and have a system, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Circa PDA

Announcing Custom Shadow Box

I am very very very excited to announce that my new “side business” is finally opening its virtual doors. VERY.

Introducing Custom Shadow Box at www.customshadowbox.com!

Custom Shadow Box web site

Business plan? What business plan?

The [rather uncreatively named] business is meant to be a side project for me. I enjoy working with my hands, and this is an opportunity to try to get some additional income while doing something else I love. I’m not expecting a high volume of orders because of the price point, so I expect to show a loss at the end of this year (for the shadow box side business part, anyway). The startup costs weren’t high, but I did invest a nice chunk of change into professional photography in addition to fictitious name filing fees.

Nevertheless, this has been a great (albeit sometimes frustrating) way to learn about selling tangible product in California, which involves getting a reseller license, dealing with sales tax, and all that fun stuff. Making the web site was also a great learning opportunity. More about that in a bit.


First shadow box
It started with a wedding present given to my sister back when she got married. A friend had arranged the invitation artistically in a small shadow box with silk floral accents that matched the colors of the invitation. I always thought it was a cool idea, but it wasn’t until my coworker got married that I finally tried it out. Their invitations were wrapped in orange vellum with a gorgeous patterned ribbon. My coworker had gerbera daisies in her wedding, so I picked some silk flowers that matched the invitation and put it together.

Fast forward to sometime last year. I was brainstorming ways that I could develop alternative streams of income. By this time, I’d created some shadow boxes to display my own wedding photos and invitations and created a couple more for other friends, as several of my friends were conveniently getting married. I played with the idea of making custom shadow boxes for money and sketched out some pricing ideas. Come 2007, I decided that one of my main goals for the year would be to get this new business idea up and running.


First, the logo. Below, you can see the logo evolution. I started with a simple 3D box shape created in Illustrator and eventually made the frame “thicker” to give it some depth. While I liked the inner shadow effect (large upper right), I eventually moved the shadow in front of the box so that I could do cool things with Jason Gaylor-inspired flowers. I liked my original wild tangle of flowers (third row left), but when reduced to logo size it was too hard to tell what they were (my sister Angela’s feedback), so I simplified the shapes for the actual logo itself. I didn’t want the time I spent on the crazy flowers to go to waste, however, so you’ll see that they show up in other parts of the site.

Custom Shadow Box logo evolution

My original logo and web site design color was teal, but my graphic designer sister said that I should pick more neutral colors so that the site wouldn’t clash with my product pictures. Above you can see my attempts at choosing other colors. Eventually I figured out that it would work best to have the shadow box mark in one color and the text and the rest of the site to be in another color. I also made the page titles green to add some additional oomph (that’s a technical term, by the way).

Web site colors

The web site design went very smoothly. I used my wild flower mass as a page background and already had in mind the kind of feel and style I wanted for the web site, which I’d describe as clean and web 2.0-ish.

The web site development, on the other hand, was a fun learning experience and challenge:

  • I tried to use as-clean-as-possible HTML for the markup. I generally suffer from divitis so this was my attempt to use as few divs as possible. (Note – I don’t think the site validates 100% quite yet. Still working out some of the kinks.)
  • I bought DOM Scripting by Jeremy Keith and then completely redid the gallery page to use better markup, with a fancy Javascript file controlling the application of classes.
  • I also used DOM scripting to get the order page more interactive, with prices highlighting as you select options and the bottom invoice amount automatically updating as you “build” your shadow box.
  • I got to experiment with a totally new illustration style. More below.

There are still some challenges with the order page that I haven’t figured out how to deal with. There’s something about my script that won’t allow me to automatically put the focus on a text field after selecting a radio button (such as Calligraphy Options). Also, if you leave the page and then go back to the order form, the radio buttons are selected but the Javascript stuff has all been reset so the prices aren’t highlighted and the order total is “$0.” Not sure what to do about that either. If you’re a Javascript expert and would like to provide some tips or want to monkey around with my code, please do!

Shadow box photo
The next step was to get some product photography. I had put in some temporary pictures into my gallery of older shadow boxes I had created and photographed. Some of the photographs were okay (such as the one used on the home page which had removable glass) but the photos of black frames were generally not usable because of reflections on the glass. I chose Bonnie Anglin from Anglin Art and Design because of her experience with product photography, although I think I offered her a new challenge with photographing glass-faced picture frames! You can see her great results on the gallery page; she took all the photos except the first one and the third one.

At about this point, I also decided that I wanted to put some illustrations on the how it works page, which was text-heavy and boring. I didn’t think my typical comic style would work, so I contacted Paige Pooler to see if she was available. Unfortunately, she wasn’t, but I was inspired to try out a different style of illustration and see how far I could take it. You may remember my first attempts; that specific portrait ended up on my about page. The other illustrations took a while to complete because of a bout of procrastination, but I’m very very pleased with how they turned out. Notice that I managed to incorporate the wild-flowers in the illustrations as well. See the other illustrations on the how it works page.

Custom shadow box illustration

Using code culled from other projects, I finished up the web site by getting the order form to work, then actually shipped shadow boxes (long-belated wedding presents) to test the shipping price. US Priority Mail ended up being the most cost-efficient way to ship. I ordered boxes from Uline although I still need to find a source for bubble wrap (Office Max will do for now).

And this morning, I went live!

Next steps, and how you can help!

Things I still need to do:

  • research bubble wrap costs and find a source
  • create business card and brochure
  • create invoice template
  • finish baby shadow boxes for friends (need to add baby photo) and take photographs for gallery

How you can help:

  • Kindly spread the word! Word of mouth, blogs, anything will help.
  • Provide feedback about the general business idea, site, and price point.
  • See a typo? Let me know!