Tag Archives: 85mm

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

The Trickiness of Christmas Lights and Portraiture

I like buying local when I can, and I like buying hand-made. So when my friend Sabyn of Simplysabyn crocheted an adorable little Santa holiday hat for a baby, I asked her if she made them for big people, too. Yes, she did. So I ordered one. After receiving it, I thought it would make for a great Facebook profile pic to get a portrait of me modeling the hat in front of my Christmas tree (yes, it’s not even Thanksgiving yet and I have the tree up, lights, ornaments and all).

My goal was to try and get a relatively well-lit shot of me but with all the color and brightness of the lit tree in a darkened room behind me.

Easier said than done.

My first experiment was a shot of me and the tree using only the ambient light given off by the tree. My Canon 5D Mk III was set up with my Canon 85mm f1.2L lens on a tripod. The ISO was set at 1600 with an f-stop of 5 and a shutter speed of 1/10 second. I used my $20 Pixel-brand wireless remote shutter release to get clear images of myself. Oh, and I used myself as the model because I not only like the way I look but I was also the only one around at the time. I wanted to do this experiment right then and there, and I don’t mind doing this over and over until I get it the way I want. I figure other models would get a little bored after awhile. Plus, I wanted to send the final result to my friend Sabyn so she could use them on her FB site if she wanted.

Christmas Becky - Ambient Light

After many takes, here is the resulting image using only the ambient light. The entire image was cast in a golden-red hue which was further emphasized by my red hat and red fleece top. Interesting, but not quite what I was aiming for.

So I brought out a single light stand and screwed in a 500 watt bulb in front of which I put a 24” white umbrella for diffusion since 500 watts at close range is pretty intense – particularly since I was still trying to get the color and glow of the tree lights behind me. The camera was set at ISO 320 with a f-stop of 4.5 and a shutter speed of 1/30.

Christmas Becky

As you can see, the light was great on me, but it totally eliminated the ambience of the tree lights and ornaments.

I’d been working on this for over an hour, was hot and sweaty and more or less done for the day. It wasn’t until the next day that I considered using my flash off-camera. The only problem with that was my focus issue. I couldn’t have my Canon dedicated flash remote trigger on the camera *and* a wireless shutter release (I probably could if I had a different setup). In the end, I relied on manual focus. That was tricky because the only light in the room was provided by the Christmas tree. So I had to set up one of my camera backpacks in the chair in front of the tree, then shine a flashlight on the backpack to help me get the focus correct. Eye roll. But it worked.

This little photo session took forever, because I just couldn’t get the whole lighting thing right. I set the flash to one side of the camera, then I set the flash to practically in front of me, then I set the flash directly behind the camera and raised the stand about a foot above the camera. Finally, just as I was about to give up, I decided to try something. Leaving the flash on the stand behind and above the camera, I deliberately set the camera shutter speed slower than the flash, so that the flash would trigger but the camera shutter would be open for just a bit longer after the flash went off. ISO was 160, the f-stop was 7.1, the shutter speed was ½ second, and the flash intensity was set to between 1/128 and 1/64 (with it being closer to the 1/64 mark).

Christmas Becky-Flash

Ultimately, I had to brighten my face up post-process, but by golly, I got what I was working for: a nicely-lit view of my face and the colorful, glowing ambience of the tree behind me.

Christmas Camera Becky-Flash

Christmas Camera Becky Ornament

Photography is all about practice, experiment, and climbing that learning curve.

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Filed under Canon Lens, Christsmas, Equipment, Flash Photography, Holidays, Photography, Portraits, Studio Lights