Photographing Christmas and Other Celebrations
|May 19, 2011||Posted by admin under Photography|
Most of us will be celebrating something in the next couple of weeks – whether it’s New Year or Christmas (assuming we’re with the other 99% of people celebrating a year early – but then we can have another party next year too!)
Probably if you are intending to record these events seriously, or to take advantage of them to generate some possibly salable pictures you will have done some planning already, but for those of us who leave things until the last minute some of the hints here should come in useful. Of course some well known Christmas events start well before the day itself, so you may already be too late for this year. The first thing is to find out what is going on. There may be special local events or customs that you know about – such as the Christmas Ships in the Portland area, or using farolitos (luminarias) in New Mexico or the Parade in Montreal. Of course there are likely to be some events of a family nature, and you shouldn’t overlook the opportunities these can provide.
If you shoot for a picture library they may well have lists of subjects in which they are interested; otherwise you can make up your own; some possibilities include:
- table settings for festive meals
- decorations in home and elsewhere
- decorations in streets at night
- families at meal times
- children receiving presents
- children’s parties
- religious and other processions and events
- streets with shoppers
How to photograph Christmas lights
Daily Herald night photo editor Patrick Kunzer details how to take the best possible photos of Christmas lights with a basic digital camera.
Almost certainly you will think of things I’ve overlooked, and you will need in any case to think about the treatment you will give to these. What do you want to say about them and how are you going to do this in visual terms? You might find looking at be published stock gives you some ideas – and it should be easier to do better than this. It’s also interesting to look at other people’s records of Christmas, and among the examples on the web are some fine pictures from a century ago in Minnesota by Edward A. Fairbrother and some more recent enthusiastic if amateur examples. Anther site of historical interest shows Christmas on Ellis Island, ca 1908.
Whatever you do, don’t forget that the main purpose is to celebrate. You need to have a good time and not to let your work interfere with or hold up the enjoyment of others
Almost certainly a large percentage of the pictures you’ll take will involve using flash, and you need to be sure to be familiar with your equipment and the techniques for using it. Direct flash on camera – particularly with built in flash – seldom gives the best results, though there are times when you want to give the impression of a snapshot and would use it. At times it may be the only feasible approach.
For pictures in the home I’d suggest installing a studio flash unit if you have one, either bounced off a white ceiling or wall, or using a large umbrella or other diffuser. Often you can set this up out of the way in one corner of a room and then more or less forget it, using a low output flash on camera to set it off as a slave unit. If your camera has a built in flash you can usually reduce its output if necessary by a layer or two of tissue taped over it – this is useful with digital cameras also. You will need to use your flash meter to check exposures – and if you want to retain the quality of existing lighting will probably need to set the flash on a very low power setting. One drawback with this method is that if anyone else is taking pictures their flash will also set off your slave.
The Photographer’s Eye Field Guide: The essential handbook for traveling with your digital SLR camera
Whether on a weekend city break or a month-long trekking vacation, this handy litle guide will be your indispensable companion. Taking photos that really capture the essence of your time away is a real skill, and swamped with a multitude of choices, it can be hard to organise your time and focus on the shots that really matter. Written by Michael Freeman, one of the world’s leading travel photographers, this portable mine of information takes a hands-on approach to travel photography, offering a comprehensive guide to planning and executing your trip. Advice covers everything and includes: choosing what to photograph and how to do it, coping with challenging lighting conditions, and negotiating customs and security issues. The subjects section covers a diverse array of settings, including: safaris, deserts, diving, cycling, mountains and water. This ensures that, whatever situation you encounter, you have the information you need to take stunning shots right at your fingertips.
Some dedicated flash units for SLR systems can also give excellent results, usually bounced off a ceiling or used with a diffuser. Some of the best work I did in similar circumstances was done with a simple manual flash unit fitted with a home-made diffuser made from the bottom of a translucent bottle and some card and aluminum foil before similar but more professional-looking devices became widely available.
Simple advice meant for amateurs often stresses that you will get better results with subjects such as Christmas trees by using long exposures without flash. In practice in almost every situation you will improve on these results by using flash as well as the long exposure, but only so long as the flash is carefully controlled to give some detail without overpowering the subject. Even with subjects such as large outdoor lighting displays you will more often than not want to use flash to add some foreground interest. At times the combination of a moving subject sharply imaged by flash can add substance and interest to the blurred images from moving subjects.
I’d like to leave you with a link to one of my favorite authors, Richard Brautigan with a seasonal story.
Have a good time and take some great pictures!