Tag Archives: christmas

Christmas Photography Tips

Its soon time to end shooting the Christmas lights for the season. So get out for the next week and grab a few shots of your favorite lights to enjoy over the next year. Do not settle for the average under blacked out pictures or the really over -exposed shots where the Christmas lights are burned out blobs. With a few simple tricks, you can nail some pretty good images. Now, with as much of a fan I am about shooting with my iPhone, this is one time I would recommend a DSLR or micro-four-thirds for the best results. You can beat the smartphone into submission but you really need to be able to adjust all aspects plus be able to use a real flash with some gels. I use Rosco for my gels and you can use other brands but that is who I stick with.

Here are a few tips and tricks for getting the “Oh WOW” shots during the holidays:

  1.  So unless you have a full frame (FX) rig, embrace the grain and shoot at a high ISO. These images were shot at ISO 2000 or higher and I used Noiseware afterwards in post to clean them up.
  2. Read the manual and learn how to shoot on a custom white balance. My D300 shoots nicely at 3000K and while this worked for the normal light bulbs, the LEDs were all over the map as are some of the small lights. So be prepared in post to work it out.
  3. Gel your flash. I cannot stress this enough. You need to color balance the “daylight” flash to something closer to the Christmas lights or you WILL get that vampire look. I used a 1/4 cut CTO (color Temperature Orange) but I should have used 1/2 cut CTO. The 1/4 cut and 1/2 cut refers to the density of the color on the gel sheet. 1/4 is lighter than 1/2.
  4. Shoot with a stablized lens or use a Pentex with a stablized body ūüôā I shoot Nikon so it’s VR lenses for my. The new Olympus for example, has 5 axis stabilization. It’s pretty amazing what you can do with it at night by hand.
  5. You want to drag the shutter a bit when using the flash to get the pretty background lighting.
  6. Dont forget to shoot wide and get some details. Some folks really put in the effort on their lights and it shows in the details.
  7. Be ready for the unexpected shot. I had “Santa” come cruising by on his motorcycle as part of the visiting crowd.
  8. Shooting manual is where it’s at to get the best shots. Very little about shooting Christmas lights at night is considered a “normal” photography so most camera automatic settings are wrong. For much of the time I will shooting at ISO 2000, 1/40 second and 5.6 aperture. The flash power would vary from 1/128 to 1/32. This strikes a nice balance between depth of field, shallow depth of field, higher shutter speed to combat shake and noise at the higher ISOs. Newer camera or FX cameras can shoot from ISO 6400 to 50,000 without much noise now.
  9. Get pictures of the faces. The expressions on the kids faces are priceless and are the money shots from something like this.
  10. I dont have to contend with snow but snow works like a giant reflector. You will need to really pay attention to your settings when popping off the flash to avoid blowing out the image.

I have some shots here from around my own neighborhood. Enjoy the holiday and Merry Christmas from us to you.

Lights, Lights and more Lights

We dont need no stink'n snow

Adoration

Window Lights

Impromtu Carolers

Blue Lights

Posted in musings Also tagged , , , , |

A California White Christmas or A Snowglobe

When you live in part of a state that has a well deserved reputation for 75 and sunny, you need to get creative to enjoy a “white christmas”. In my case, what started as a bit of a joke went significantly further than I had anticipated. Last year I had seen what purported to be a “photoshop template” of a snow globe and I was intrigued. I could not understand how such a thing could be made into a template with layers. So I paid an obscene amount of money (four lattes) and was promptly disappointed. I had been snookered. The “template” was nothing more than a JPEG file in the PSD format. As it turned out, bad karma followed the individual selling this thing and it became quite the broo-haw on the internet. I missed all of that and found out about much later.

This was the basic so-called template. No, I won’t link to the source because of the outrageous price of a JPEG file.
Snow Globe Template

So roll the clock forward a year and I took the family’s Christmas portrait. It was sort of plain this year and on a lark, I decided to drop us into the snow globe and send it to my wife as a joke. Turns out she liked it.. a lot.. and gave me marching orders to fix up as she saw it should be. I had to get the right type of snow and I decided I needed a stereotypical SoCal background which meant sand and sun.

I found a cool picture of Huntington Pier at sunset which fit perfectly in my vision. According to the copyright posted, free to use for personal use such as this. Please don’t steal someone’s work. There is plenty available for your personal use like this.

I had this family portrait from my shoot this year.
Sweeney Family Portrait

And here is the cool sunset I found

beach sunset

And I found a good tutorial on making “snow” in photoshop plus I used some snow from another snow globe picture for around the bottom.

I ended up compositing everything together for this final image along with a free font from DaFont.com. While this composite didn’t take magical skills, it did take some patience and subtle work to blend everything together well. The biggest trick was to use the “average blur” filter to even out the tones of all the bits and pieces I stuck together. I also paid close attention to the background by blurring it as if I had taken it with a shallow depth of field and that it showed up correctly in the blur of the glass globe. It did take a few tries to get everything the way I wanted it but I think it ended up pretty successful.
Final Snow Globe of Sweeneys

Posted in composites, editing, photography, technique Also tagged |

Controlling your light

They say that shooing portraits in broad daylight such as high noon is nuts, that it cant be done and that anyone with sense will avoid it like the plague. Most times these experts are correct but one of the things that a professional photographer has to learn is to adapt and make things work out the way they need to. So with that in mind, let me tell you about my weekend of shooting Santa Claus.

I got an email from a acquaintance asking if I would possibly be able to shoot a session involving Santa Claus, families and a public park with four days notice. I had to juggle things but I replied yes, for a small fee and the list of names of the families with their email addresses. Now shooting this event was going to be a royal b**ch since it was going to be a  public park and starting at 11AM then running till 1PM. No tent, no cover of any kind. The last four years showed snapshots taken with on camera flash blasting the families to overpower the sun. Last years was pretty underexposed since it had been a grey day and the camera didnt get the settings right.

I decided to raise the bar and execute this event better than anyone there had seen before. I have a very cool Christmas themed muslin backdrop that is pretty decent quality and I have several 20lb sand bags. I also have reflectors but no portable strobes yet. I was bummed but I could not find a battery pack to run my Photogenics or get a small generator on such short notice. So I ended up using my SB800s instead.

I put up the backdrop, doubled it over to keep light from leaking through the back and had the back facing the sun directly to get the most shade I could. I put 25lbs of sand on each leg (ended up with 50lbs before the shoot was over) plus two 10 lb bags clipped to the bottom of the shortened backdrop to keep it from flapping around. I did not care about lighting it¬†separately¬†as there was so much ambient light, I didnt need to. On the SB800, I used a 1/2 cut CTO gell to squash the bluewhite “daylight” look of the flash. I prepped two more flashes with batteries ready to go. I had a spare body prepped and ready to go.

I put Santa in his chair and metered him using my older but reliable Minolta meter, the camera meter gets very confused with this type of shooting so I dont trust the brains of the camera. I then put everything on manual, dialed it in and shot off several images with my 17-55mmF2.8. I ended up going with my 1.4 50mm at F10 and ISO 200. The shadow was just long enough to keep me in shade without too much flare in the lens. The images did need their black points pushed way up as they were flat. I knew that from the first few pictures. I used a gold reflector to throw a dash of golden light on Santa Claus and the clients. The SB800 was dialed down -1/2 exposure compensation to avoid blowing out skin tones knowing that by shooting raw, I can easily dial it in.

You can see here the extreme differences between the sun and shade of the backdrop. I took this with my iPhone to avoid screwing with my numbering sequence on my shooting body.

Park shooting set up

Park shooting set up

So I ended up shooting about 40¬†families¬†over three hours. Everyone had a lot of fun and everyone was blown away by the backdrop. But when I showed off the images, jaw dropped. The images really looked good and nobody believed that they were shot at noon and in a park. The grass was not a problem because 99% of the shots were “head shots” style.

Santa Claus with vintage treatment

Santa Claus with vintage treatment

Final Santa Claus image in park

Final Santa Claus image in park

Now that we had the shots, I used BayPhoto’s ROES software to make up the Christmas cards. My client was giving away a free Christmas card and we settled on the 4×8 photo card. I used Bay’s templates and treatments to make a simple card with a place for my friend to sign his name.

Christmas Card from Belmont shoot

Christmas Card from Belmont shoot

So in the end, with about 400 dollars in studio stuff that I already had from past shoots and 30 minutes of set up time, I was able to produce killer event shots of Santa Claus in a public park at high noon. I did this by using quality parts, by knowing how my equipment works and most importantly, how to work around problems on the fly. Were the images perfect out of the camera? No, they were not. They were flat and washed out even though they were correctly exposed based on the histogram. Thats partial due to the 50mm lens I shot with it. Partial from having to be very careful shooting into the light even though I had shade, there was still some spillover from the top of the background. But with shooting RAW, a few simple adjustments applied to each image and they all snapped into place.

So dont take the common wisdom as gospel like “you cannot shoot portraits at noon” or you can not use onboard flash effectively and so on. When you know your equipment and you know how light works, you can do amazing things when others say you can’t. ¬†I have a happy client and 50 new possible clients who saw me shoot under difficult circumstances and still nail the shots.

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Posted in event photography, Hardware, photography, portraits, technique, training Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Christmas Neighborhood Remembered by Pictures

Its soon time to end shooting the Christmas lights for the season. So get out for the next week and grab a few shots of your favorite lights to enjoy over the next year. I know my kids love to see slide shows we make with Smilebox and send out to friends and family. If you have not played with Smilebox, you should try it at least once. It is one of the better slideshow services for free. Not perfect by far but certainly usable.

A few tips for getting the nice shots are to shoot:

1: Unless you have a full frame rig, embrace the grain and shoot at a high ISO. These images were shot at ISO 2000 or higher and I used Noiseware afterwards in post to clean them up.

2: Shoot on a custom white balance. My D300 shot nicely at 3000K and while this worked for the normal light bulbs, the LEDs were all over the map as are some of the small lights. So be prepared in post to work it out.

3: Gel your flash. I used a 1/4 cut CTO but I should have used 1/2 cut CTO. This will keep you or at least help you from getting pretty lights in the background with pasty white faces.

4: Shoot with a stablized lens or use a Pentex with a stablized body ūüôā I shoot Nikon so it’s VR lenses for my.

5: Drag the shutter a bit when using the flash to get the pretty background lighting.

6: Dont forget to shoot wide and get some details. Some folks really put in the effort on their lights and it shows in the details.

7: Be ready for the unexpected shot. I had “Santa” come cruising by on his motorcycle as part of the visiting crowd.

8: Shooting manual is where it’s at to get the best shots. Nothing about shooting Christmas lights at night is considered a “normal” shot so most camera settings are wrong. Most of the time I was shooting at ISO 2000, 1/40 second and 5.6 aperture. The flash power would vary from 1/128 to 1/32.

9: Shoot the faces. The expressions on the kids faces are priceless and are the money shots from something like this.

10: I dont have to contend with snow but snow works like a giant reflector. You will need to really pay attention to your settings when popping off the flash to avoid blowing out the image.

I have some shots here from around my own neighborhood. Enjoy the holiday and Merry Christmas from us to you.

We dont need no stink'n snow

Adoration

Window Lights

Impromtu Carolers

Blue Lights

Posted in photography Also tagged , , , , , , |