And how to have fun with your digital camera, tripod, cable release (optional), standard zoom lens (e.g. 24-70mm), flashlight, Christmas tree, Christmas lights and the usual ornaments. Add to the mix some classical music and a glass of red wine.
Start by setting your camera on a tripod and attach the cable release. If shooting in Raw you needn’t worry about setting the white balance. You will have the opportunity to change it at post-processing time. Just leave it on Auto. Get the setup close to the tree in such manner that the lens is able to focus on a tree ornament. If it cannot, you are too close. Set both your camera and lens in manual mode.
- Adjust the shutter speed to around 20-30 sec (try multiple shutter speeds and observe the effects when shooting)
- Set the ISO to the lowest setting, either 100 or 50 ISO
- Set the aperture to the minimum setting e.g. 22
- Try first a vertical camera orientation. Ensure that camera is stable on the tripod. Fewer vibrations will the camera record during the 20-30 seconds frame, better the image will be
Turn on the tree Christmas lights and turn off the lights in the room. Take a test frame. Here is my test shot:
- Zoom in to the maximum focal length. For example 70mm
- Focus the lens manually on a tree ornament. Remember, you are at 70mm focal length
Keep gently one hand on the lens zoom ring and with the other press the shutter. Immediately start rotating the lens toward the wide focal range, in our case towards 24mm. Rotate slowly and continuously at the same speed. If you reach 24mm, start rotating in the opposite direction, towards where you came from, 70mm. Keep rotating until you hear the shutter closing. Verify the image on the camera screen. You should see something like this:
The interrupted trails of light are due to my tree light program that simply turns off, turns on at regular intervals. By rotating in a continuous manner and at the same speed, you record these interruptions. By having your camera on tripod, you record straight trails of light. Very psychedelic isn’t it?
You can then combine various movements, still with the camera on a tripod, but enabling a little bit of vertical movement. Continue zooming in and out, but try a slight and gentle vertical movement (in one direction) in the last 5 seconds or so of the exposure. You will achieve something similar to this. Note the vertical trail of lights simulating candle sticks. This looks melting hot:
All images are 16.7 Megapixels full frames. Imagine how will these look on a 13 by 19 inch print. Or even larger. Nice play of light and colours to hang on your walls, throughout the year.
Let us experiment with a hand-held shot. Carefully remove the camera from the tripod. Turn on the lights in your room if necessary.
Maintaining the same distance from the tree, we will draw circular light trails in the vertical plane, parallel with the tree. Keep the distance between your camera and the tree the same at all times during the movement. Try the maximum focal length (70mm) first, and focus on a particular ornament or light. The same rules and settings as above will apply. Press the shutter and slowly rotate your camera, in a circular movement and in a continuous and gentle manner. You’ll capture something similar to the one below:
You can find your own combinations of light and colours. I like the simplistic composition in this case. Note there were just 3-4 lights in this area, the rest was dark, and hence the minimal light trails.
Or, you can zoom wider and move slowly your hands in a variety of ways. Just try to maintain the camera always on the same vertical plane as the tree. You’ll get a richer play of light trails such as this:
You can even try more advanced light combinations. If you were wondering why do you need a flashlight at the beginning of the article, here’s the answer. During the exposure you can turn on the flashlight and point at one of the ornaments. Press the shutter and start zooming. Stop zooming in or out for a couple of seconds and leave the lens at your maximum focal length. The lens should be focused on the ornament. Point the flashlight for 2-3 seconds (from a distance) to add more light to the ornament. Get somebody to help you with the flashlight if necessary. Try multiple distances and time intervals until you reach a satisfactory exposure. You’ll record something like the one below:
Select a different ornament and try again. Here’s the house tree ornament I planned to capture in more detail. Notice the beautiful trails of light coming out of the windows. The ornament had a tree light inside, and as a result, the image recorded the rays “leaving” the ornament:
You can use the images you capture for a variety of greeting cards. You can send them next year to your family and friends.
Well, I hope you will have as much fun as I had setting a Christmas photo shooting.
I would like to thank you for visiting www.MikePhoto.com and wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Here’s my greeting card for next year:
Mike Lascut Photography
Onto the next assignment™