A Fun Way To Shoot Portraits Using Strings Of Christmas Lights

Christmas Becky

I subscribe to Petapixel.  It’s an online magazine with all sorts of neat articles about the latest photography news (did you know Lensrentals.com and LensProToGo are merging?), cameras, camera gear, projects, etc.  The other day, I read an article that piqued my interest and I ended up sharing it to my Facebook photography page (Rebecca Latson Photography).  I thought I’d share it in a blog post too.  To read the actual article, click on this link.

After reading the article, I decided to do some experimenting with strings of multi-colored Christmas lights (since I had 5 strings of them and only 2 strings of the white lights), using the same settings that the photographer, Irene Rudnyk applied (ISO 500, f1.2, 1/250 shutter speed, 85mm lens).  Heaven knows, I didn’t have anything better to do, like laundry, dishes, or packing.  It was a fun little experiment and I gained some valuable insights.   Photography is about experimentation as well as about learning new techniques and ideas and stepping outside one’s own comfort zone to apply something new that they’ve learned.  That’s how a good photographer becomes a great photographer.

  1. Ignore the clutter in the room and concentrate on the camera/light/backdrop/light setup. Just as in Ms. Rudnyk’s room, this light project can be accomplished in a very small space.
    8001_View Of Setup8009_Setup View From Camera Angle8005_Looking At The Camera
  2. Yes, you can do this project with just one person (yourself), but it’s not as easy. Because I was both photographer and model, and because I was using a remote shutter release instead of being the one to look through the lens at the subject, I kept checking the images to ensure I was positioned correctly in front of the lens and that the string of lights did not get in the way of the lens.  You can see what happens when a colored light is in front of the subject and too close to a lens wide-open at f1.2.  You also may notice just how shallow the DOF is on a 85mm lens wide-open.  I didn’t mind that too much, as it added a teeny bit of dreamy quality to the shot.
    Christmas Becky Green BlobPink BlobChristmas Becky
  3. I carried out this project twice, over the course of 2 days. During my first attempt, I wasn’t using an 85mm lens, nor did I have the aperture wide-open to get the maximum bokeh.  I used different  settings as well, since I didn’t remember what Ms. Rudnyk’s settings were – I didn’t learn that until I actually watched her YouTube video embedded in the article.

    Christmas Becky - Day 1White Lights And A Christmas Tree

  4. Ms. Rudnyk used white lights in a light, neutral-toned room with a large picture window letting in natural blue/white side light. Her model was pale and wore light-colored clothing. I was in a cluttered spare bedroom, in the evening – so no natural light – using a black backdrop and strings of multi-colored lights. The strings were dark (as opposed to the white strings used in Ms. Rudnyk’s images, which is why I used the black backdrop).  I used a tall lamp near the camera for side-lighting.  Sometimes the strings still showed through, but I don’t consider them too distracting.
  5. Because of the darker atmosphere, I used Curves to lighten, and sometimes Levels to brighten the composition.  I also had to clone out a dark spot on my front tooth – I have a natural indentation on the tooth and it catches the shadow, so in some photos, it looks like a speck of food (sigh).
  6. I used my Canon 5DSR for this shoot. I love this camera, but it totally stinks regarding low-light, higher-ISO noise (what’s up with that Canon?).  So I applied some Imagenomic-brand  Noiseware noise-reduction software to the overall composition, which reduced/removed grain and helped my skin look a little more even (I’m definitely not as young as Ms. Rudnyk’s model).

All-in-all, it was a fun project and I like the results.  Plus, I learned a new technique for neat portrait shots.

Note:  If you are doing this all yourself:

  • Use a wireless remote rather than the timer on your camera.  Really, it is easier.
  • Make certain you have a sturdy step-ladder and/or a spotter to keep you steady while you hang the light strings from the ceiling.
  • Unless you want to put holes in your ceiling, I would suggest using something like duct tape.  Gorilla-brand tape works really well.  If you use any other kind of tape, it may be too weak to hold up the light strings for any length of time.  I noticed this morning that the tape and lights had fallen from the ceiling to the floor.
  • If you want light strings to lead to your lens, don’t use tape or anything else to secure the strings to the lens.  Simply wrap the string around the lens itself to keep the string in place.
  • Remember to stand in front of the light strings to get the nice bokeh.
  • Have fun!  Despite getting all sweaty and hot as I hung the lights up, set up the camera and ran back and forth to take a shot then look at the result, it was a neat, educational project.

Christmas Becky

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Filed under 5DSR, 85mm f1.2L, Canon, Canon Lens, Christmas, Equipment, Exposure, Photography, Portraits

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