Four Photo Gift Ideas for Valentine's Day

If you're in any sort of romantic relationship, you are surely aware that Valentine's Day is coming soon. No matter what you think of it--a sweet way to affirm your affection for a significant other or a cynical ploy to sell greeting cards--there's a way to celebrate the day without spending money on a cheesy card or impersonal gift. You can create a personal gift with some of your favorite digital photos. A few weeks ago, I rounded up some tricks and tips for improving your photo editing techniques in general; this week, let's take a look at some ideas designed especially to help you express your affection to loved ones.

Make Your Own Valentine's Day Card

That's right: Make your own card. Sure, you could go to the corner store and shop for a mass produced, homogenized greeting to convey your feelings--but you can do better. Just open up your favorite photo editing program like Adobe Photoshop Elements or Corel Paintshop Pro, and design your own. I explain the process in "Make Your Own Christmas Cards and Photo Gifts."

Heck, you don't even need a photo editor. Microsoft has a video that explains how to make your own card using Paint, which comes with every copy of Windows.

Put Your Beloved on a Magazine

I wouldn't exactly say that I became a photographer to impress a girl, but I will admit that as a teenager, I used my camera to get one's attention. Our first "date," in fact, was a photo session in which I got her to model for me for a college photography course. These days, I still occasionally try to be romantic with my camera. For a cute Valentine's project, for example, you can create a mock magazine cover and put the object of your affection on the cover.

It's easy to do. In fact, you can do it more or less automatically at MagMyPic. Just upload a photo and choose one of the available magazine styles.

If you prefer to customize your magazine cover, you can do it in a photo editor instead. It's really just a matter of selecting a portrait-style photo (rather than landscape), adding a colored border, and typing in text until it looks like the magazine in your mind's eye. I explained how to do this in Corel Paint Shop Pro in "Put Your Loved One on a Magazine Cover," but the steps are basically the same in Photoshop Elements.

Make a Portrait

Perhaps you can do what I tried doing all those years ago: Take a portrait for your Valentine's gift. How do you take a good portrait? There are a few key things to keep in mind. For starters, you'll want to blur the background by using your camera's Aperture Priority mode and a small f-number. Keep an eye on the lighting; use a fill flash or bounce the light off the ceiling. And zoom in to a medium telephoto range (if the lens is too wide, it'll distort facial features).

Once you've got the basics down, you might also want to add some Orton Effect to give your subject a nice, ethereal glow. Perhaps even frame the scene with a vignette. Want to learn more? Read "How to Take Special-Occasion Portraits" for more tips.

Turn Photos Into Gifts

Finally, don't forget that you can take a few photos of your significant other and turn them into a wide variety of photo gifts with almost no effort. Sites like Shutterfly and Snapfish have all manner of creative gifts just waiting to be emblazoned with your photos. Choose from usual fare like cards and books or more unusual presents, like keepsake boxes, jewelry, and magnets. I recently rounded up a bunch of cool photo gifts you can buy online.

Hot Pic of the Week

Get published, get famous! Each week, we select our favorite reader-submitted photo based on creativity, originality, and technique.

Here's how to enter: Send us your photograph in JPEG format, at a resolution no higher than 640 by 480 pixels. Entries at higher resolutions will be immediately disqualified. If necessary, use an image editing program to reduce the file size of your image before e-mailing it to us. Include the title of your photo along with a short description and how you photographed it. Don't forget to send your name, e-mail address, and postal address. Before entering, please read the full description of the contest rules and regulations.

This week's Hot Pic: "Black Swallowtail Sharing a Purple Coneflower with a Bumble Bee" by Dwayne A. Taylor, Salem, Massachusetts

Dwayne writes: "I was in my backyard butterfly garden trying to capture a black swallowtail, which are generally a bit timid, when one began to relax after some nectaring. Just as I was snapping away, this bee settled in nearby to get some nectar as well."

Dwayne used a Fuji Finepix S5700.

This week's runner-up: "Fall Morning" by Juris Zars, Bloomfield, Connecticut

Juris shot this from his front walk with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50, using a tripod.

To see the January winners, visit our Hot Pics slide show. Visit the Hot Pics Flickr gallery to browse past winners.

Have a digital photo question? E-mail me your comments, questions, and suggestions about the newsletter itself. And be sure to sign up to have Digital Focus e-mailed to you each week.

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