Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Hi everyone! Beckie here with a special holiday edition of Focus on Photos! This week I have a few ideas to share for how to creatively capture beautiful photos to showcase your favorite lights and decorations. And what better place to start than with the evergreen beauty that becomes the focal point of many of our homes for several weeks each year? The Christmas tree!
O Christmas Tree….
Luckily, my neighbors know me well enough not to bat an eye when I knock on their door and ask to take photos of their Christmas tree :) I wanted to bring you two examples of a basic Christmas tree photo and illustrate some of the basics of capturing a good image.
1. Shoot in RAW. Even if you don’t normally shoot RAW, this is a great time to do so since you may want to tweak with the white balance of your image in your photo editing software. Most indoor lighting will show up rather yellow in your photos. Setting your WB to Tungsten will prevent this. Or, my preference, is to use the sliders in ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) after the fact to introduce more blue to the image while still leaving some of that gorgeous warmth that feels like the holidays to me. See more about ACR here.
2. Take your photo during the day, when there’s some daylight present in the room. You can also use lamps and other available lighting available in the room, but this can introduce unexpected shadows and complicate the white balance situation (especially if there are different types of lighting). I do not recommend a pop-up flash, as it will definitely introduce harsh shadows and unfortunate bright spots . Unless you have more advanced flash equipment (diffuser, off camera flash, or experience using “fill flash”), I recommend trying to make-do with other sources of light!
3. Consider shutter speed! The slower the shutter speed, the more blur you’ll get on the lights on the tree. This can have a beautiful effect and greatly contribute to the warmth and beauty of the photo! I highly recommend using a tripod – or resting the camera on some stable surface for the photo. This will allow you to drastically slow down your shutter speed without introducing blur. You should experiment with the results from various settings; I tried several, from 1/50 second all the way down to a 3 second shutter speed!
Here are two examples!
You can see that I left the lights in the photo on the left slightly warmer than with the tree on the right. It’s really a matter of personal preference! Also, note the very slow shutter speeds, which allowed me to capture a soft glow from each bulb, not the harsh outline of the glass itself. Here’s one more example below, which is another photo of the tree on the left above. I intentionally put the tree lights out of focus, resulting in a gorgeous bokeh effect. To do this, simply turn the focus ring on your lens until you achieve a nice, soft, out of focus blur!
Photographing a person in front of the tree is slightly different. The show shutter speeds that produce such gorgeous soft light in our previous photos will likely result in blurry portraits if we introduced people to the photos. The best alternative in these situations is to separate your subject from the tree (at least 2-3 feet) and then use an open aperture (low f-number) to help emphasize the bokeh effect in the image. You’ll also need additional lighting for your subject’s face. In this case, All I had to do was remove the shade from the table lamp in the living room! My normally reliable daughter was just not in the mood to be my model, but my wonderful mother in law was more than happy to stand in for a quick photo! (and yes, the glass of wine definitely helped, LOL!)
- If you have small children, this same technique works – but you’ll need a wide lens (like a 30mm). Put small kids on the floor in front of the tree – at least 3 feet away from the tree – and place a few plastic ornaments down to help attract their interest. Then, get down on the floor at their level and snap away!
- Try your favorite photo actions on these shots, too! A wonderful vintage look, or a soft color wash can help hide troublesome white balance issues and eliminate distracting colors. Check out Sarah’s actions at My Four Hens (she was our very first blog guest interview!)
Celebrate the bling!
I picked up a gently used 60mm f2.8 macro lens, which I’ve had a tremendous amount of fun experimenting with! A macro lens has a very tiny focal plane, which means only a very small portion of an object will be in focus. Here you can see that this 4″ ornament has parts that are clearly in focus as well as some that most definitely are not! I took this photo right on the floor in the light of the table lamp, bracing my camera against my body to minimize blur (another challenging aspect of macro photography!). Even if you don’t have a macro lens, take a moment to snap a photo of your most treasured ornaments so you can document their origins! I ran an action on the photo below to saturate the colors a bit more and give it a subtle artistic feel :)
The Great Outdoors
It’s likely you might want to try to capture some of the fun and excitement outdoors as well! I had a lot of fun walking around with my camera trying out various techniques and angles for capturing outdoor decorations – and, here are a few tips!
- Outdoor lights are best captured before it is fully dark outside. Much like the Christmas tree photos we discussed above, a little extra lighting to help expose the surrounding elements accentuate the appearance of the lights themselves. In this photo, you can still see a wonderful, warm glow from the lights, while still having enough light in the background to provide context for the image. This helicopter Santa is the newest addition to our yard, much to the delight of our three year old :)
- Get up close and personal! This is my favorite photo from my little holiday photo shoot. I LOVE the pattern from the lights and the cool texture from the glass bulbs. Look for repeating patterns like this, and don’t be afraid to get down on your knees – or even stomach – to capture things from a whole new perspective! To determine proper exposure, take a test shot and look at the result on your LCD screen. The bulbs will be blown and over exposed, but you need that in order to ensure that some of the surrounding details are visible. With a little trial and error you’ll achieve some fun, creative shots that will give you a fun new type of photo for your scrapbooks!
- Here are a few more fun lighting shots taken with my macro lens. I was able to get just one small bulb in focus and lots of great bokeh all around! You could create a similar effect just by taking a shot intentionally out of focus. This is such a fun effect with multi-colored lights!
And finally, be on the lookout for other gorgeous manifestations of light during the holiday season! I was retrieving my son from a neighbor’s house where he was playing when I realized that her tree lights played so beautifully through the textured glass of her front door. This entryway just looked so warm and inviting that I just had to snap a photo!
With just a little trial and error, you’ll have photos you love in no time! I can’t wait to see your layouts in the gallery that showcase your fabulous holiday lights. And feel free to share your favorite tips below in the comments section, too!
Thanks for stopping by today! Be sure to come back again tomorrow, you won’t want to miss a fun post from SP!