So the holidays are winding down and you’re starting to dismantle your christmas tree and remove all your decorations. Let me stop you before you do that though. There’s a lot of fun, creative photos to be had using those decorations and, specifically, lights. Now there’s millions of things you can do with things like christmas ornament reflections, macro shots and so on, but let's focus on using string lights. Of course, you can use these techniques all year round, but with that “festive” feeling still in the air and the lights conveniently at your disposal without needing to sort through countless holiday bins in your attic it’s the perfect excuse to try them out now.
Now this first photo here isn’t technically a portrait, but the same idea can easily be applied to portraits by replacing this tea cup with a person. You’ve probably seen something similar to the one above taken about a billion times, but it’s still a fun idea to try yourself. Seriously, if you truly enjoy photography even doing the cliché stuff every once in a while might end up surprising you with how fun they can be. There’s a couple of things to note before you try it out. First off, you’re going to need a lens with a wide aperture (the wider the better) at least a f2.8 would be ideal. The wider open the lens is (the smaller the number), the more out of focus and round the bokeh is going to appear. It’ll also help, especially if you can only shoot at f2.8 and above, to blow out the background more by positioning your subject, be it a person or what have you, as far away as you can from the light source. A couple of feet is fine, you don’t really need to be 40 feet away or anything ;). Using the most telephoto lens you have that has an aperture wide enough is also great if you have one. Now of course using something like a 50mm lens is fine (that photo was shot with a 50mm) and you don’t really need to whip out the big guns for this (hello 500mm lens), just note that using an ultra wide angle will most likely not give you your desired effect.
If you’ve been following me recently on here, Facebook or Instagram then you probably saw these photos I did of Jess using christmas lights to create some really cool, etherial kind of portraits. This was basically the same concept as above with using christmas string lights for the background, but there’s a twist. There’s also lights in foreground in these photos. Why would you do that? To add dimension to your photos, it adds another layer to your photo which can be used to draw you in towards your subject. There’s a certain amount of things in focus based on a couple of variables like what your focusing on (your subject), your focal length and aperture setting. So by placing lights directly in front of the camera, they become out of focus because your camera is focusing on a subject that’s standing far enough away from those lights in the foreground. I’ll save you from the technical jargon and summarize by saying all you need to do to make sure you’ll get that look is by positioning your subject far enough away from the lights in the foreground and background. Do that and follow the advice from the last photo and you’ll be good to go.
While that’s kind of the basics for getting bokeh out of your christmas lights, what about playing with some conceptual portraits by using the lights as a prop? After all, lights, much like anything really, can be props too. You can play around with a couple of different things, the only limit is your creativity (this isn’t an after school special I swear). The idea for the photo on the left kind of came to me after trying to untangle and set up lights for the first photo above with the tea cup. it was ridiculous how tangled up everything had gotten it made me feel like I was covered in them and tangled up myself. It’s just a fun photo and idea to mess around with. The photo to the right is basically how I feel about the holidays… A little darker, but if you follow anything I do, this shouldn’t really surprise you. These are all just a couple of things you could try and I hope you do. If you use, or have used, christmas lights in photos (portraits or otherwise) then I’d love to see what creative things you’ve come up with. Send me a link or put a photo in the comments below and I’ll check them out. As always, if you’ve got any tips that can help myself or others out, then feel free to leave a comment giving us your insight ^_^.
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