Christmas is almost here! Trees are being decorated, wreaths are being hung and don’t forget about the lights! Christmas lights have to be one of my favorite parts about the holiday. From the soft glow of a Christmas tree, to wild and crazy light shows and installations in the yards of suburbia, it’s amazing to see homes and buildings strung with an array of light strings. Though not everyone decorates their houses in this electrifying tradition, I am sure most have enjoyed viewing their fair share of lights during the holiday season. Here are a few tips on getting great photos of Christmas lights this year!
Firsts Things First
Exposure, White Balance, and Stabilization:
If you want to capture the structure and the lights you have a small window of time and balancing the exposure without post production help
is extremely hard to do. There is usually a 15 minute window within twilight hours to accomplish this, but also depends on the amount of lights and their brightness. Never fear! If you shoot in RAW, just a few simple tweaks to your images will make them shine. To start, you will want to have stabilization for your camera – this can be a tripod, beanbag or even a monopod (if you are really careful). If you are caught without one, just learn to be resourceful by bracing yourself. Also, try shooting your photos with a Tungsten white balance. This will deepen your blues and balance out the whites in the string lights.
The Right Angle
The Lens and The Angle. For these types of shots, you will want a wide angle to lens to provide plenty of scenery to complete the image. If all you have is the kit lens, than use the wider end of the spectrum. My images were shot with a 14mm on a full frame sensor, just so you have a reference. 18mm-24mm on crop or full frame body should be just fine. Make sure to get low in your composition, the sky is so beautiful this time of night so take full advantage of it! Remember to take plenty of shots, the subject isn’t moving but your settings should be. If all you images are the same and you find out later they didnt work, they are all useless. Try a few different things like exposing for your highlights, midtones and shadows. That way, you could even do HDR image in post processing.
Editing Christmas Lights.
Here is where the magic happens. You can see here that the HDR I tried did not work with this specific set of images; the lights are too bright. The reason why was in two of the three, the lights were completely over exposed and threw the balance off. So what I did was take my underexposed image in Lightroom, boosted the shadows and dropped the highlights and then found a nice balancing point with the exposure slider. If your image then looks a little too contrasty or too flat adjust your blacks slider. MCP’s Enlighten Presets for Lightroom
can accomplish this in just a few clicks for you. All of this is also possible in Adobe Camera Raw.
I hope you have enjoyed this and it gives you some insight on how you can better your Christmas lights photography this year! Always remember to take some time without the camera in your hands to enjoy your surroundings. In a season that is so packed full of things to do, take some time to relax. Merry Christmas! Want a fun, abstract way to photograph Christmas lights – read this article on Bokeh Christmas Lights
What are your best tips on how to photograph Christmas light displays? Come share your images in the comments below.
Jarrett Hucks is a portrait and wedding photographer based in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. His revealing journalistic story-telling has helped him find his voice in a saturated market. He is very active on his Blog and his Facebook Page sharing his commissioned work, personal work and street photography!
Want a Shiny New iPad Air?
YouProof is teaming up with MCP Actions to give away an iPad Air with retina display + a free download of YouProof to one lucky winner.
Switching from online proofing to in-person proofing usually doubles or even triples a photographer’s sales average. This difference can make or break a business.
Ann Bennett, a high school senior photographer, created this all-new iPad app for photographers, called YouProof. What once was an impractical and costly upfront investment for photographers without a studio is now affordable, portable and fun!
With YouProof, you will not have to waste money on printed proofs or an expensive proofing software program. Using the vivid display and sleek design of an iPad, you can present beautiful, professional proofs to your client for a fraction of the cost.
For a limited time, YouProof is on sale for a one-time-only introductory price of only $29.99!
Open for entries until December 8th at 9pm EST. One winner will be selected. Valid only where permitted by law. Winner will receive a 16GB Wi-Fi Apple iPad Air and free download of the YouProof app. If the winner has already downloaded the YouProof app, they will be refunded their purchase price.
I have really been enjoying the new MCP Inspire action set. This time of year is the busiest and I used this recipe on all of my outdoor fall portrait sessions. Give it a try and see how it works for you!
In the screenshots below, hopefully you can read it, you can see how I used used the actions and adjusted the layers to taste by using the masks and lowing the opacities. Anytime you run a action you should adjust the layer opacity and use the mask to paint off the effect in areas you don’t want. If you don’t know how to use layer masks check out this MCP post. I do a lot of selective editing, so using layer masks is a big part of my workflow.
MCP Inspire: Brilliant Base, Sun-Drenched, Epic, Multi-Matte, Light Painting, Classic Vignette and Shallow DOF.
Hand Edits: Went into quick mask mode to do selective editing and adjusted the selected areas based on the histogram in the levels layer, hue/sat to reduce red in the orange flower and overall levels layer.
Amanda Johnson, the photographer of this image and guest writer of this blog post, is the owner of Amanda Johnson Photography out of Knoxville, TN. She’s a full time photographer and mentor that specializes in Baby’s First Year, children and family portraits. To see more of her work, check out her website and like her on Facebook Page.
After posting the 5 Steps to a Successful Photography Business, there were so many questions on pricing collections and workflow, so today I’ll dive into those two topics.
Pricing is a critical component of your photography business, because pricing yourself too low is just as bad, if not worse than pricing yourself too high. In the “5 Steps” article, everyone asked what my pricing looks like, but what I quickly realized is that the wrong question was being asked. Sending you my pricing doesn’t help you figure out what your pricing should be. Please do some research and determine what your cost of doing business is, as this is how I structured my pricing. If you are serious about running your own business, you need to do the work. Working for yourself is hard work, and if you want to see the fruits of your labor, you need to put forth the effort.
The MCP Blog has many articles to get you started on pricing. Here’s a few of the most popular:
I currently offer four collections to clients as well as a Baby’s First Year package:
- The smallest package includes a few small prints and a handful of watermarked low resolution digital images. I think I’ve only ever had one person actually purchase this package.
- The second package includes the same prints as the previous package as well as one enlargement and three high resolution digital images.
- The third package includes the same prints as the previous package, a few mounted enlargements and five high resolution digital images. This package is the most popular for family sessions and cake smashes.
- The largest package includes the same prints as the previous package, but has all of the digital images from the session included as well. This package is purchased 99% of the time by my newborn clients. It also includes 25 custom cards or birth announcements.
Hopefully that helps you structure your Collections. Pricing for the packages will depend on how you’re priced, which is unique to every photographer. Collections are always a better value than my a la carte pricing. In fact, very few clients purchase items a la carte!
Several people asked about my workflow and how I manage a client from start to finish. This can and should very from person to person and photographer to photographer. For example, many higher end portrait photographers don’t even offer pre-consultation. They consider it to be a waste of time. Others do it by phone or Skype, but I prefer to meet with potential clients in person, usually at Starbucks (because I am iced coffee obsessed. Yes, even in the dead of winter).
1. Initial meeting. Meeting your clients before they sign on the dotted line makes sure we are a good fit for each other. I have turned clients down before based on fit and they have always appreciated it. For this reason, I have a number of local photographers who I can refer clients to if we just don’t seem to click.
If our meeting goes well, I schedule their shoot, take deposits, and have them sign their contract. Once I’m back at the office, clients are entered into my database, and confirmation email is sent to the client. I help with planning outfits, or with newborns, identifying themes. Unless it is a newborn session, location scouting is done a week before the shoot and session reminders go out three days before the shoot. Pro tip: I have four large parks with very different looking landscapes. I am comfortable with the light there, know what the light looks like at different times of day, and you’d never be able to tell that multiple sessions were shot in the same location. Do yourself a favor and find some gorgeous, diverse outdoor settings!
2. Next in the work flow is the actual session. Shoot times vary from one hour (family, cake smash, maternity) to three hours (newborn) and after the shoot, photos get pulled off the cards for editing.
- Sneak peeks are only done for clients who have pre-purchased all of their digital images or for sessions where the client was a newborn model for a mentoring workshop. I do sneak peeks the day after the session and let clients know once they are up.
3. In-person proofing. When sessions are done being edited (3 weeks), I schedule an in-person proofing session with the client. This gives me an opportunity to control the conditions under which clients see their photos for the first time. It also gives me the opportunity to help clients plan what size enlargements or canvas will fit in their space. I rarely do online proofing galleries for clients. I find it highly impersonal for such a personal experience.
4. Ordering prints. Prints are ordered after I am back from the proofing session and I give clients a turnaround time of 1-2 weeks, so I can quality control the images once they’re delivered to me. They’re wrapped and packaged once I check them and I’ll send clients an email to let them know their images are ready for pickup.
5. Follow up. I always follow up with clients about a month after their session and stay in touch, sending cards for anniversaries and birthdays. This keeps me in pretty much constant contact with them. I have a referral program for clients which entitles them to a percentage discount and a complimentary enlargement for referral a client. Clients LOVE referral programs. Make sure you have one in place, because you’d be shocked at how much additional business it generates.
I hope I managed to answer everyone’s questions from the original article. Remember, dreams don’t work unless you do!
Veronica Gillas is a natural light photographer in Portland, Oregon, specializing in newborns, children, families and seniors. When she’s not with her amazing clients, she loves to knit, challenge her 8 year old to a high stakes game of Mario Kart, play dress up with her 5 year old, tickle her 7 month old’s feet and snuggle on a picnic blanket with her husband. Head on over to her website or Facebook page and say hello!
As the first snowflakes touched down here in Ontario, Canada I snuck outside to snap a few quick shots on my back deck. The snowflakes were big and fluffy and moving very slow, and didn’t last more than a minute or so once they landed. I have been playing around with macro free lensing and just recently received my macro reverse ring adapter . The adapter makes the process much easier (without the adapter you have to hold your lens up to the body, which can become tricky at times). Using my Canon Rebel T2i, the adapter and my Canon 50mm 1.8 lens I assembled them like so:
While in manual mode, I set my shutter speed to 400 and kept my ISO on auto (for this shot it was at 100). Once I found the snowflake that I liked, I simply moved in until it appeared sharp through my viewfinder and snapped away. The technique itself is very simple and with such a shallow depth of field it’s actually very easy to see what is in focus, it’s just a matter of holding still enough (if hand holding your camera) and using the right settings to get it right SOOC. This was my raw SOOC shot (not perfect, but it was good enough):
And here is the after image:
To edit I opened the RAW image in ACR and applied basic adjustments:
- Straightened and cropped, adjusted exposure value to +0.40, adjusted contrast value to +75, adjusted highlights value to -100, and adjusted blacks value to -36
I then opened in Photoshop CS CC and applied the following edits:
- I de-noised.
- Adjusted levels and curves for a rich matte finish (on blurred background only). You can use one of the many matte actions from the MCP Inspire Actions Set for Photoshop and Elements to get this look quickly.
- Using the white eyedropper in levels, sampled the snowflake and then reduced the layer opacity until the color looked correct (to 32%).
- Applied a grey gradient fill layer → created new fill layer → gradient → style: reflective → angle: 90° → scale: 40% → checked off “reverse” → then dragged the gradient until it was placed over the in focus strip of wood and snowflake correctly (sort of like a faux tilt shift effect) → masked any of the gradient off the snow flake and adjusted the layer opacity to taste (to 33%). MCP Inspire also has two powerful actions to accomplish this: the Shallow Depth of Field action and Custom Depth of Field action
- Ran the FREE MCP Touch of Light and using a large (2500 px) brush clicked on the snowflake area a couple times then decreased the layer opacity (to 25%) until it looked right
The last step was adding the faux sparkle that I created by hand. Want to use this on your images? Use the “share box” here. If you do not see it, please try another browser:
Carly Benjamin is a natural light photographer based out of the Toronto area. You can see more of her work on her website Carly Bee Photography and follow her on her Facebook page.