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Tips for Creative Holiday Photos

December 17, 2014 by Marie Joabar

Holiday decorations give us some of the best opportunities to capture festive, colorful and creative photos, so grab your camera and find some holiday magic to fill your frame.

The easiest thing to start with is the decorated Christmas tree. Indoors or out, in daylight or at night, there are so many options for shooting it - from the “as you see it” shot to the creative and abstract.

Try the zoom or rotate technique.
Set your aperture to f22, your ISO to 100 and you shutter speed to 1 or 2 seconds depending on how bright the scene is. Then, take the picture while rotating your camera or zooming your lens. Also try a vertical or horizontal swipe. If the image is too bright try a slightly faster speed, use a circular polarizing filter or Neutral Density filter to darken it, or try again at night or when there is less light.  If it is too dark, use a longer shutter speed or raise the ISO a little.
The shot below demonstrates the fun we can have zooming our lens while shooting the holiday lights on a neighbor’s cherry tree.

How about some fun with Bokeh?
Defined as “the aesthetic quality of the blur produced in the out-of-focus parts of an image produced by a lens.” Or “the way the lens renders out-of-focus points of light.”
Find a colorful strand of lights and capture them softly out of focus. The possibilities for creative shots are endless. Fill the frame with these “light balls” or focus on a subject with the blurred lights behind it.  Using a wider aperture like f1.4 to 2.8 can give you the best results but if you are filling the frame with only the lights, you can use a smaller aperture like 3.5 or 5.6 and just purposely throw the scene out-of-focus.

Right: Picture #1 is the source and is rather unexciting until we throw it out of focus as in Picture 2, and then get close as in Picture #3.

Blend holiday decorations in a night cityscape together with moving cars and you’ll be hooked.
Look for locations with plenty of moving traffic, time it so you can capture more red taillights than white headlights, and position yourself to take advantage of the best shooting spot. Scope out the area in daylight if possible and return later to capture the scene framed against the royal blue sky of civil twilight. Using a slow shutter speed of 4 seconds and longer will give the best results for a smooth continuous line from the taillights. Set the ISO to 200-400 and the aperture to f16 to get the star burst in the street lights. If the scene is too bright, try lowering the ISO or closing down the aperture a bit. If it’s too dark, try raising the ISO.
Main Street is colorfully decorated but the fun is to make it come alive in the camera by capturing the traffic in motion and filling the frame with color.

The best shots will be had when using a sturdy tripod. The longer exposure times needed for rotating the camera, zooming the lens and capturing moving traffic will all work better on a tripod.

Don’t forget to catch a few shots with your iPhone.
Use some of the creative apps to take a rural scene and give it a “Courier and Ives” painterly look (try PhotoCopier), or frame loved ones in a festive holiday mat and frame and share it online (try Crop N Frame).

We hope these tips help you tap in to the creative side of your brain and move your holiday shots from ordinary to extraordinary.