Christmas is full of great photo opportunities, there’s lots of light, vibrant colours, exciting food and beautiful displays but if you don’t know how to shoot these festive scenes skilfully, your images can look dull, boring and uninspired.
Last month, I was invited to attend a photography workshop with Elouisa, photography God, hosted by Vikings. The event was all about how to create unique photos using a variety of simple camera techniques.
The decor in Birmingham’s Dirty Martini is already pretty awesome but for the occasion, it had been decorated with a dazzling Christmas tree and beautifully laid tables. The whole night was themed around how to capture unique photos for the festive season – yes this event was in November, but it was ideal timing for Christmas enthusiasts like myself who start decorating 1st December.
One of the first things Elouisa said to us all was “the best tip I can give you for digital photography is to get out of P/Auto mode and shoot manual”. To me that’s like saying don’t wear a LBD to a fancy evening event, it’s safe, it’s a guaranteed win, it’s easy! But now I realise she meant you don’t wear a LBD to a fancy evening event when you’ve got a knock out red Valentino dress that fits perfectly!
It’s not so scary when you know you’ve got something better readily available, and once you’ve mastered manual camera operations – I’m not going to say you’ll never go back, but you’ll stop feeling like you’ve got no other choice.
1. Experiment with different coloured light.
Most people, even amateur photographers know that natural light is best, but that doesn’t mean you can’t play around with different colours. Light sticks are a fabulous and fun way to jazz up a photo and often have different colour settings to experiment with. If you don’t feel like you’re quite ready to purchase one, why not try using multi-coloured Christmas lights or utilise those Quality Street wrappers by sticking them to the front of the camera lens.
2. Go “old school” with prisms and mirrors
Light, reflection and refraction are like the Destiny’s Child of photography, they work amazingly together but reflection and refraction are nothing without light.
A prism (yes like ones you used in science to make rainbows) are a cheap and effective way to create wonderfully creative photos. Christmas is the perfect time to experiment with prisms as there are lights everywhere! If you’re not 15 or a teacher and don’t have prisms handy, try taking pictures through empty bottles or with the reflection on your phone’s screen.
3. Use shutter speed and aperture correctly
When I first bought my camera, a Nikon J5 (which I now love by the way), I read all of the instructions and was utterly lost – 1/250, 1/8… What the hell is that? Is it only going to take 1/8th of a photo? It was things like that which drove me to become an auto user, but it’s really quite simple…
The lower the second number (e.g. 1/8) the longer the shutter takes to shut, capturing lots of light and motion which creates that cool motion blur often used to depict busy city life (see below). The higher the second number (e.g. 1/250) the quicker the shutter will close and therefore taking in less light, so it’s not going to work well in the dark.
Aperture (f-stop) brings the background in and out of focus, like portrait mode on iPhone. A wide aperture (a low number) will create a soft background – great for that priceless moment the kids are opening their presents. A narrow aperture (high number) brings the background into focus, a better choice for photos of the whole family.
4. Use the space… or don’t.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a definitive guidebook out there for how to compose the perfect picture, like all art forms it’s entirely subjective and trends are forever changing. Try centring your subject in the middle of the shot, off to the side, or half in the frame and half out, it’s up to you to decide what looks good, so make like university and experiment a little!
Remember: A Christmas tree doesn’t have to be shown in its entirety to know what it is. Focus on what you’re trying to capture rather than the bigger picture.
5. Explore new angles
I’ve been terrible at this for years because I was too self-conscious of being that weirdo at a café standing on a stool taking a photo of their coffee and smashed avocado on toast. I would take a lot of unflattering, off skew images, taken all from the same angle which I then never used.
My camera has this handy little feature where I can move the back screen around so that I can play around with different angles and see precisely what I’m shooting without having to stand on anything! My new favourite angle is 45 degrees, looking up. It’s so dramatic!
If you’ve recently discovered how to manually operate your camera, I’d love to see some of your shots – please leave your links below, and I’ll be sure to check them out!