Lord and Taylor’s Christmas catalog is full of shiny, shimmery, sparkly things. Scattered throughout its pages are juniper boughs, sometimes with a eucalyptus leaf. It’s a nice concept; adds the contrast of an organic, Christmasy feel. Here it is bleeding off the edge…


…and here it is contained in a frame.


In the first example, the branch was separate from the perfume bottles, so the branch could be sized however the designer pleases—there is no visual relationship. In the second example, it was contained in the same frame as the jewelry and likely photographed together, so it was proportional.

But when backgrounds are knocked out, a designer might want to employ the effect for decoration. Rather than merely page decorations, however, these boughs of juniper subconsciously tell us the proportions of the objects around them. So this technique of placing objects together on a common field works best with everything in the same camera frame at the same time. Same proportions, same lighting. If the objects aren’t scaled proportionally and if the shadows don’t agree, the effect falls apart.

Here, a bough is placed on the same plane as the mini backpacks. Most people have an intuitive sense of a coniferous bough’s size; this photo of the bough looks reasonably life-sized. Yet, these backpacks are not to scale and therefore, not proportional to the bough. At a glance, they look impossibly tiny, like luxury backpacks for sophisticated city pigeons.


The description only tells us they are mini; they don’t say the bags are actually 7.5 inches tall, which I had too look up, as I would never have been able to guess this—according to the juniper branch, I would have estimated they are about 1.5 inches tall. The price ($248) hints that the bags aren’t merely mini decorations, but this requires detailed, thoughtful reading.


The problem reappears on this spread with boots and gloves. With these proportions, the juniper berries on the left would be the size of your big toenail and the ones on the right would be the size of chickpeas. (Actual juniper berries are much closer to being lentil-sized.) The silver dollar eucalyptus leaf would fill the palm of your hand—not impossible, but not common.


What’s worse, the shadows don’t agree (it’s more apparent with the catalog in hand). The clothing articles cast shadows downwards, while the juniper boughs cast shadows upwards. (How? What? InDesign, I’m guessing, is the how…and inattention might be the what.)


And now, with these wonky shadows and proportions, I’m too distracted to flip through this catalog normally. Do you think passenger pigeons would like luxury backpacks, perhaps as their “carry on” for flights?