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Wedding Photography Tips: Capturing the Scene Setters Read More

Wedding Photography Tips: Capturing the Scene Setters

When photographing a wedding, don't forget the details: the scene setters. Celebrity wedding photographer, Donna Newman, shares key tips to shooting these key non-portrait wedding shots.

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Sony a6300-First Impressions Read More

Sony a6300-First Impressions

When Sony's invitation to spend a couple of days shooting with the new a6300 in Miami arrived via email, I didn't have to think twice before sending my RSVP. Announced in February and shipping this...

christmas portraits

Buzz Krysinski , Dec 19, 2003; 04:32 p.m.

There have been some threads about Christmas portraits recently, however I would like to get some more input.

I will be visiting family over the hoilidays and will be taking pictures in front of the tree. My basic setup is Canon T-90,85 mm lens, Sunpak 555 handle mount flash(gn 160), and lumiquest softbox on the flash, shooting either realla or nps160@125.

Unlike typical portraits, I want to keep the background in focus (tree) with all of its lights and decorations. Requiring a greater dof, I am not sure of an ideal f-stop; 5.6, 8,11? Stopping down will mean more artificial light, and I am worried about over powering the lights on the tree, and also the flare from shiny decorations.

I will be doing a test roll over the weekend, but this is the first time doing this type of photo, so any direction would help.

I also have a wireless slave which I could mount to a vivitar flash to and use my flash meter to meter manually, instead of ttl flash, but I am not sure if I need another source of light.


Chris Ladoulis , Dec 19, 2003; 05:52 p.m.

You probably won't like the look of the tree with flash, so you'll want to expose for the tree with ambient light. I'd use a long shutter speed with very dim ambient light on your subjects (almost in silhouette from tree lights), then 'pop' the subjects with the flash - with as much distance as possible between the subjects and tree, and with the flash as *close* as possible to the subjects.

You want the light from the flash - which will light the subjects - to "fall-off" as dramatically as possible, so that it doesn't spill onto the tree. Take advantage of the inverse law and get more distance from subjects-to-tree than there is from subjects-to-flash.

Buzz Krysinski , Dec 19, 2003; 07:16 p.m.

Thanks for the response, I never would have thought of that.

Brooks Short - Tampa, Florida , Dec 19, 2003; 07:55 p.m.


I've shot a lot of Christmas trees for commercial shoots. Fortunately the technique for lighting a Christmas tree is also flattering for lighting people though showing the lights on the tree can complicate things just a little.

To fully render the detail in a tree you need to create a diffused highlight along the length of as many of the needles as possible. The way to accomplish that is to use a large diffused source such as a scrim or softbox.

A large diffused light source is also ideal for lighting people. To show the lights on the tree a longer exposure is required. To make the lights on the tree larger it's helpful to hold a diffusion filter in front of the lens during the ambient exposure for the tree lights.

Here's what I would do for lighting.

Place your strobe off camera to one side, behind a large scrim which could be a white sheet, white ripstop nylon etc. A white fill card on the other side for bounce into the shadows would be good as well. Use that strobe as your main exposure. Hopefully you can get a decent f-stop of around f-11. White Christmas tree lights will probably require an ambient exposure of 1-3 seconds at f 11 using 100 ISO film. Color lights will be a little different with yellow lights being the brightest and blue and green lights the darkest.

So....set up your people in front of the tree with the Christmas lights on.. turn off any strong ambient lights in the room.

Open your shutter for 3 seconds with a diffusion filter held over the lens. At the 2nd second of the 3 seconds, pull the diffusion filter away from the lens and pop the flash to record the people and tree with the flash exposure.

If this is too involved then you can always just use a flash on the camera and hope for the best. #8^)

Here's a sample Christmas ad for the US Post Office taken a long time ago, probably in the late eighties. This was shot in the studio with a fake fireplace. Can you guess how the fire effect was achieved ?

Post Office Christmas

Bob MacDonald , Dec 21, 2003; 02:05 p.m.

OK Brooks...I've been running several answers through my feebele mind, but; have not come up with an answer for the "Flames". Care to "fess up"?

Michael John Currie , Dec 22, 2003; 08:21 a.m.

Painting with light?

Brooks Short - Tampa, Florida , Dec 22, 2003; 09:35 a.m.


Good guess.

I tried everything I could think of to create a fire effect. Since this was shot in the studio with a fake fireplace I couldn't actually set a fire. I suppose, with enough planning and time I could have photographed a fire in a real fireplace and then placed a print of that image in the fake fireplace or even stripped it in to this image. But this was taken back in the eighties and stripping/retouching was very expensive back then.

I tried strips of cellophane, blown by a fan and lit by orange/yellow gels and it looked just like that, strips of cellophane.

Eventually I figured out that to look like fire it had to be fire. Using a long 3 second exposure I rolled a tube out of newspaper and lit the end, then held it in the fireplace opening.

But light painting is the closest technique because I found that by waving the burning newspaper left and right the flames recorded on film as if there was a larger fire in the fireplace.

So I guess it really was light painting. #8^)

A N , Dec 22, 2003; 04:27 p.m.

Hello, I'm also interested in learning how to take christmas portraits. I have a Nikon CP 5700 and I'm not an expert nor do I have a lot of equipment. I was wondering if you guys have any suggestions.

I truly appreciate your time and any advice you could give me.

Happy holidays!

Michael John Currie , Dec 22, 2003; 09:28 p.m.

Thank You!

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