Monday, 24 December 2012

Christmas Photography


by Diane Bohlen


·      When you go to photograph a Christmas Party remember a spare battery and card.
·      If it is your party you should designate someone to take the photos.
·      Take note of the light source and the background. You may need to make a special place for group photos with a plain background like a curtain.


·      The reason we adjust white balance is to get the colours as accurate as possible. Sometimes images look orange, blue, or yellow. The naked eye can adjust to the different light automatically but a camera can’t.
·      Different digital cameras have different ways of adjusting white balance so ultimately you’ll need to get out your camera’s manual out to work out the specifics of how to make changes. Having said this – many digital cameras have automatic and semi-automatic modes to help you make the adjustments.
·      Here are some of the basic White Balance settings you’ll find on cameras:
       Auto – this is where the camera makes a best guess on a shot by shot basis. You’ll find it works in many situations but it’s worth venturing out of it for trickier lighting.
       Tungsten – this mode is usually symbolized with a little bulb and is for shooting indoors, especially under tungsten (incandescent) lighting (such as bulb lighting). It generally cools down the colors in photos.
       Fluorescent – this compensates for the ‘cool’ light of fluorescent light and will warm up your shots.
       Daylight/Sunny – not all cameras have this setting because it sets things as fairly ‘normal’ white balance settings.
       Cloudy – this setting generally warms things up a touch more than ‘daylight’ mode.
       Flash – the flash of a camera can be quite a cool light so in Flash WB mode you’ll find it warms up your shots a touch.
       Shade – the light in shade is generally cooler (bluer) than shooting in direct sunlight so this mode will warm things up.
·      It is usually advisable to use Tungsten but Auto may work okay too.


·      Be careful using a flash it tends to give people the “rabbits in a spotlight” look.
·      If you must use a flash diffuse it by covering it with a tissue or a proper diffuser. Another way is to reflect the flash off a wall or ceiling or by placing a white card under the flashlight.
·      A good trick is to try these settings: 
Put you camera onto M for manual.
       Set you aperture to as big as it will go e.g. F4.0 or F2.8.
       Set your shutter speed to around 1/60. It is hard to shoot handheld with anything below 1/60. As a rule of thumb you should never shoot lower than your focal distance while handheld. eg on a 50mm lens you should never shoot lower than 1/50 sec.
       You will then need to use you external flash, if you can bounce your flash do this, if you have a catch light reflector built into your flash even better.
       Take a few shots and see what they look like.
       If they are not bright enough try bumping up your ISO to 200 then 400 and so on until you achieve an acceptable result.
·      Another trick for point and shoot cameras is to set the camera to ‘night’ mode but sill use a flash, this will lighten the whole room. You can get some whacky shots doing this.


·      Either use the macro setting or use a macro lens to capture smaller things like tree ornaments, table decorations, bowl of sweets or a nativity scene.


·      The actual Christmas meal or party is obviously the best part of the day, but there are other photographic opportunities, particularly in the preparations stages of the day.
       Food preparation
       Putting up decorations
       Wrapping gifts
       Kids throwing a tantrum while getting dressed in their Christmas outfits
       Setting the table
·      The shots before the event starts properly are often great because they show everything at it’s best before everyone descends on your party zone.
·      Speaking of shots before the party starts, why not set up some before and after shots both of the place you’re holding your party and what it looks like afterwards. Make sure you take the shots from the same position.
·      Time lapse shots are fun idea too. Set up your computer with webcam to take shots at 5 min intervals. An iPad will do it too.


·      Every good shot needs a point of interest or a focal point to hold the viewers interest. This is difficult at a Christmas party as there is so much going on. Try hard to declutter your shots.
·      Either move the clutter, the subject or yourself.
·      Zoom in on the subject and fill the frame.


·      If possible use AF (aperture mode). Get used to changing the aperture to suit the scene.
·      For close ups use a large aperture to throw the background out of focus.
·      For a group at a table use a small aperture F8 to F11 to get a longer depth of field and everyone in focus.


·      Try to get fresh group shots early before everyone is looking their worst. Christmas is a time for family group shots.
·      You can use traditional ways of tallest at the back in the middle or more unusual methods like looking down on the group or scatter the group.
·      Take multiple shots so that one will have everyone with the right expression and everyone looking in the same direction.
·      Get up close to the group as possible so that every face can be seen and in focus.



·      Use burst/continuous shooting when people are opening gifts to get that perfect expression of joy (or disappointment)
·      Shoot the expressions of the giver as well as the receiver.


·      Most people wait too long. After dark you will either get the lights or the surrounds properly exposed but not both.
·      You don’t need a high end camera any will do.
·      The trick is to find the sweet spot, where the ambient light and Christmas lights balance.
·      Shoot before it gets totally dark.
·      Compose to include as much sky as possible.
·      Set White Balance to Tungsten although these days some Christmas lights are LED and you may need to play with WB to find the right colours. Daylight setting can be used too.
·      Light in the foreground helps, like water, a car bonnet or snow.(hee hee not in Brisbane)
·      Turn off flash.
·      Increase ISO. Keep checking in the play back to see which ISO looks best.
·      Use a tripod or a bean bag to steady the camera as the shutter speed will be very slow. ¼ of a second to 1 second. Use the timer to avoid touching the camera.
·       Keep shooting in the time between dusk and dark. The light is changing all the time when the Christmas lights and the ambient light balance you will get the top shot.


·      Bokeh is the term to describe the circular shapes that appear in an out of focus background. With Christmas lights the background becomes coloured balls.
·      It will take a bit of practice but it is simple to do.
·      Shoot with the largest aperture, F2.8 (Macro for point and shoot cameras) This blurs the background and the foreground.
·      It is a good idea to have something in focus, like an ornament, pet or person in front of the lights.
·      The balls get larger the bigger the distance between the focus subject and the lights.
·      It is possible to have the subject in focus behind the lights.
·      You can get different shaped bokeh by cutting out masks for your lens. See this video:


·      Technically it is when the light diffraction over the aperture boundaries creates a star effect. 
·      It is when the light source in an image looks like a star.
·      To create this effect you need to use a small aperture (f16/f18) and a slow shutter speed.
·      Use a tripod or beanbag and a timer.
·      It is most effective at night but can be used for the sun but take care not to look at the sun or damage the sensor in your camera.
·      It is best to have the sun partially covered by trees, a post or building.
·      During the day the shutter speed doesn’t need to be slow so you don’t need a tripod.
·      Early morning or late afternoon sun is best.


·      Explore your neighbourhood for:
·      Houses decorated in Christmas lights
·      Carol services
·      Decorated shopping malls
·      Christmas tree lights
·      Have fun experimenting.
These notes have been compiled with information taken from Darren Rowse at Digital Photography School.