As I write this, it’s December here in Florida and it doesn’t seem to have quite the same ring as it did when I was up north. It may have something with the fact that the temperature gauge is almost pegging 90°! When I was a kid, part of my “chores” were to haul all of the Christmas crap up from the basement and sort out the lights. It was a real Griswold event, testing every bulb, as many of you know, back then, if one bulb didn’t work, they all didn’t work. I was trusted with a staple gun at the age of six and told to string up the lights on our home. In the beginning it was all work and I didn’t enjoy it too much. However, after most of the boxes were emptied and put in their appropriate place, we were glad we did the work. After moving to Florida, I never really got into decorating for Christmas. Now that I’m married and have a four pawed daughter, the wife and I decided not to go crazy decorating. This really has to do with the fact that we are both business owners and really don’t have the time to decorate. Also, we are the only house on the street. I guess the bobcats, bunnies, panthers, turtles and birds might like something different to look at. I’m a child of the 80’s and I love Charlie Brown. When we found a Charlie Brown Christmas Tree in a box, complete with the red bulb and blue tree skirt, we fell in love with it. This is what we decorate our home with now. Angie found a string of 20 lights to add to the arrangement and it looks stunning sitting on our TV. On a side note, when I had the opportunity to photograph some of these computerized displays with music, I did come home and looked these up. I stayed far, far away as I could see myself going over board with this.
Recently, I did a photography class at Fisherman’s Village in Punta Gorda, Florida. This is a quaint little place with restaurants and retail stores. I was told that a hundred years ago, this is how product was sent up Charlotte Harbor and out to the gulf, hence the name. Since it’s the holidays, they have it all decorated up for the tourists that come. It was interesting to see Christmas trees in a variety of colors, like orange, purple and blue?! Since this was a photography class, I told the students to try and make some of the decorations interesting. This really was teaching composition and taking the time to look differently at the scene. We were off to see what we could find, I didn’t make it five feet and I decided that I should take a self-portrait, oh excuse me, they are now called “selfies”.
Here you can see my reflection, also there is a disgruntled student giving me the finger, just kidding! I think he’s waving! As for equipment, I used my trusty 50mm f/1.4. It was an overcast day and the light was lower than usual. This allowed me to open up the f-stop to f/2.8 at a reasonable ISO such as ISO 400 to get a decent shutter speed to hand hold as tripods are looked down at this location.
I was discussing with some of the students, the subject, as a whole may be overwhelming or boring. In this case, there was so much going on that I choose to focus on the ribbons under the bulbs. I used the silver ribbon as a leading line to draw the viewer’s attention through the photo.
There were some decorations that I had never seen before, including the one shown above. These were a string of balls that were made out of sequins. They were in a straight line and were all the same size. As you can see, it looks as if they are all different sizes, that’s a visual effect that you get by pitching the camera. In this case, I got right on top of it and shot down towards the floor. I also rotated the camera to have the ornament go from one corner of the frame to another. After I processed this, I thought it looked like a Z with the balls on the top and bottom of the frame completing the letter.
I know that Florida is a little different, but now we have starfish as part of the scene. I guess this is how we decorate near the water. Again, this storefront had put on quite a display and it was overload with color. I decided to separate one part of the display and have it stand on itself. This also creates a new challenge, how not to get yourself in every photo. It’s all about the bank shot. Sometimes I would move to one side or another to get the shot, but hide my reflection.
I really liked how this handrail was decorated with wreathes. This is actually a repeating pattern and makes this composition come together. The vertical lines counter the horizontal wreaths to add some dimension to the photograph. Anytime there are lights in the scene and you want to actually see them, you need a slower shutter speed. Depending on what kinds of lights they are and how bright, I would recommend a speed of 1/60 – 1/200. If you go any faster, they may not render in the finished photo. I have a post that I did a couple of years ago on this: Draggin’ The Christmas Tree.
This isn’t something that you see everyday, a giraffe wearing a Christmas ball ensemble. He posed steady for me and allowed me to take his picture. I set my aperture to f/1.4 to really blur the background. I gave him a sugar cube as I moved on and he was happy.
OK, the typical shots were taken and now I had to try and come up with something “creative”. I’m usually in the camp that I like to shoot and process my photos as I saw them or improve them, but keep the integrity of the scene. However, once in awhile, you have to break down the barriers and go back to your roots. I took a class a long time ago and the goal of the class was not to keep the camera steady. In my stroke of genius thinking, I decided to do a 70’s disco dance move during the exposure, most of you have seen me, and it wasn’t pretty. However, there weren’t any animals harmed in the making of the following images. OK, so how was this done? This is a combination of slow shutter speed and movement. I shot this in manual as I usually do, however I had to slow the light down coming into the camera due to the slower shutter speed that I would be using. I set my ISO to 100, f/16 at 1”. That is one second. Now it was time to look like the Village People on stage. I started to wiggle the camera and myself in an “S” shape down the tree as the camera was exposing. The decorations and lights smeared across the sensor to create what you see above. No Photoshop, no post processing tricks, this was all done in camera.
This was a red Christmas tree with different lights. The same process was used. You might be thinking, “What in the world am I going to do with this?” Have you ever needed a background for a slide show or wanted a graphic for a greeting card?
This is the last one that I tried. With the multicolored lights, this gave me a different kind of effect. It’s like Christmas, as you never know what you are going to get….like the pun?
Building on moving the camera to get interesting effects, I realized that there isn’t a rule that says the lens has to stay stationary either. In this example, I switched to my 18mm-200mm lens as this won’t work with a prime lens. This technique works best with on a tripod, but we have to do the best we can without one. For this example, I played with the exposure to get the look that I wanted; however with a beam me up Scotty blur. I set the camera to ISO 100, f/8 at 1/8 of a second. I kept the camera body still, when I pressed the shutter button, I rotated the lens barrel to wide angle. Since the camera acquires focus in the beginning at the center, this stays in focus the whole time. As you can see, I’m off a little as I didn’t have a tripod and I could have used another set of fingers.
This was a different shaped ornament, so it created a unique shape. With the same technique described above, I thought this looked like a heart. This takes some practice and patience. I probably took about 25 of these and I was happy with these two. I did this in the past with some money, you can read that post: It’s All Green To Me. As you will see, this worked out well as I was on a tripod.
I hope this fuels your creativity to go out and shoot some decorations during the holiday season. Just remember a few things, fill the frame on one object if the scene is too busy or boring, try tilting the camera to strange angles, and move the camera or lens during the exposure to get some creative effects. Now that it’s all digital, and when working with these types of creative effects, who cares if 99% of them don’t work out. All you need is that one photo to add to your collection and your education. I hope all of your holiday photos come out the way you want. Have a safe and happy, happy, happy holiday.
Until next time…
Keep Your Glass Clean