Guest post by Justin McKee
It’s nearly Christmas and I’m sure you’ve all put up your trees for the season.
If not, hurry up because this post is going to put those shining Christmas lights to good use.
I love Christmas lights. Always have, always will. My grandmother used to put up Christmas lights in her front yard every year (upwards of 7 or 8 fully grown trees covered in lights) just for me. Now that’s love.
For the most part, Christmas trees are stationary — unless you have overzealous pets, or are harboring a newly regenerated Doctor (lookin’ at you, “Doctor Who” fans) — but if you want to add some movement to your tree this year, there is something you can do photographically to accomplish just that.
That’s right, folks: Light trails.
You’re going to need a camera with manual control of shutter speed, aperture and ISO; preferably a DSLR (Digital Single Lens reflex) camera, but some point-and-shoots allow for this too. You’ll also need a sturdy tripod. The emphasis on sturdy is because you’ll be doing more than just clicking the shutter button for these photos.
There are a lot of ways to play around with the lighting on the tree, and don’t worry, you won’t be getting your fingers pricked by needles (if you have a real tree) because all of these shooting techniques don’t involve you actually touching the tree; just the camera. Be sure to turn down all the lights other than the tree’s.
Setting your shot up is easy. Put your camera on your tripod and move the camera far enough away to fit the tree into the shot. You can either take a portrait or landscape shot — whatever fits your fancy and looks the best. Raise your tripod up to a height that looks good. Having a shot that’s lower to the ground works, but eye level is also adequate.
On your camera, you’ll want to set your shutter speed anywhere between 1 and 4 seconds.
Your ISO should be set to 100 for a nice and crisp image; no noise.
Finally, take a few test shots and use your aperture to make the image darker or brighter depending on how the shots turn out.
Lastly, make sure your shot will be in focus and turn off autofocus and image stabilization for these shots.
All set? Cool.
ZOOMING IN AND OUT
Here’s the first thing to experiment with.
Once you hit your shutter release button, zoom in on the tree smoothly and carefully during the entirety of the exposure. Once the camera clicks and the photo is done, check out the results.
It’s kind of like going light speed in “Star Wars.” Zooming out should yield similar results.
Alternatively, if you do not zoom in or out during the entire exposure, wherever you pause will still be exposed like a ghost image. Play around with this. It’s a ton of fun.
PLAYING WITH FOCUS
Just like zooming in and out during the process of exposure, you also can shift the lens’ focus during the shot to create some really neat bokeh (background blur) effects. Try doing this while also zooming in and out for some nice visual effects.
Here’s a fun one. Keep the camera still for most of the exposure, and once there’s barely any time left, move the handle that controls the tripod’s vertical movement downwards or upwards.
The photo will turn out looking like rays of light are flying out from the Christmas lights.
For those without boundaries, go tripod-less and move the camera all over. The lights will make cool swirling designs and abstract shapes.
Have fun with it!
These aren’t the only things you can do either. Experiment and have fun as you bring some extra fun to the holiday season.
Justin McKee is a small-town photographer with big ideas living in Michigan. In addition to portraits, wedding photography and video, he also enjoys wildlife photography. He always seeks to learn more about his craft.