Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Quick tips to shoot holiday lights

This post was written to go with a newspaper story about holiday lights (see the slideshow with examples). Pro shooters may prefer to read How to shoot holiday lights.

These tips are for casual point-and-shoot photographers:

  • Be patient. The display isn't going anywhere.

  • Use a tripod or brace the camera on a post or tree.

  • Turn off or cover the flash.

  • Use 800 ISO film or digital settings.

  • Set color balance to tungsten.

  • Carefully select only what you want to shoot.

  • Get close enough to entirely fill the frame.

  • Exclude bright lights (street lamps and most spotlights).

  • Isolate displays or combinations of lights.

  • Turn the camera sideways for some shots.

  • Shoot different angles such as high (on a step stool) and low (on the ground).

  • If possible, set the camera to bracket exposures or +1 exposure compensation.

  • If possible, use the self-timer to avoid camera shake.

  • These tips are for advanced amateur photographers:

    Advanced amateurs should follow the general advice above. However, use the lowest possible ISO setting, the most depth-of-field and manually meter the exposure. Use an electronic or manual shutter release cord to avoid camera shake.

  • The base exposure for most holiday lights is f/5.6 at 1/4th second on 200 ISO. This is also f/22 at 4 seconds on 200 ISO (6 seconds is preferred due to reciprocity failure). This is the same as f/2.8 at 1/60th second on 800 ISO.

  • Film shooters need to use an 80A tungsten color-correction filter and compensate for light lost (about two stops) or use T-type (tungsten-balanced) film.

  • Creative effects
    Advanced amateurs can introduce additional creative effects to make images shine.

  • Using the maximum depth-of-field produces a natural streaking of light from point-source lights.

  • Selective focus when combined with a shallow depth-of-field and close focus creates a stunning effect with a sharp subject and soft circles of light in the background.

  • Fog refracts point-source lights and adds a nice "glow" to the light. In cold, dry climates, fog can be replicated by breathing on the camera lens immediately before shooting.

  • Zooming during an exposure creates a Superman-type effect. However, don't zoom more than 1/3rd of the total exposure duration to keep the base image recognizable.

  • If a camera is equipped for double exposures, many creative options are available.
    A popular option is to make one out-of-focus exposure and sharply focus for the second exposure. This creates wide glows around the primary lights. Repetition of pattern can also be accomplished with double exposures. Experiment with them all.

  • Some photographers have special lenses, which produce unusual images. A rare catadioptric lens uses mirrors to increase focal length. It also creates fun donut shapes with out-of focus lights. Popular and inexpensive Lens Babies allow for focal plane adjustments and very interesting light patterns.

  • Special effects filters, also called "trick" or "gimmick" filters, change light in various ways. The most popular are starlight filters, which refract and channel point-source light to create long projections from the light. Radiant and multi-parallel filters also work well with lights.

  • A popular professional technique is using flash with blur. This technique is most often used for portraits. Focus and rear-sync flash exposure are predetermined. A long exposure is selected and the camera is moved until the flash fires. A similar technique is to use a front-curtain flash sync and zoom. Both create unusual images when combined with holiday lights.

  • Enough for now,

    1 comment:

    Marie said...

    Sometimes I like to shoot when the sky is a deep blue after dusk. Not only does the sky have color, but a bit more architechural detail is seen.