It’s that time of year once again, the time when cities and towns are brightly decorated in anticipation of the upcoming holidays. This is a perfect time for Christmas photography as everything is beautifully lit, usually with vibrant colors and wonderful details that really speak to the season. What better way to remember and share these experiences than through the lens of photography?
Living on the west coast of Canada would lead you to reasonably expect us to be buried ear-deep in snow on a pretty regular basis. The truth is, some years we don’t even get any snow. When it does come, it’s a special event for us all.
Last week we got hit with a pretty big storm, the same one I believe that has inundated the entire continent. Temperatures dropped like a lead balloon and we all hunkered in expecting the worst. We did get a light dusting, but it wasn’t really the “big event” us photographer types had hoped for. Never one to waste a good opportunity, however, I grabbed the lovely Mrs. Toad by the flipper and took her out on the hunt for snowy Christmas type shots. This little shop in the heart of our hometown, Duncan, BC, was the perfect subject for this. Adorned in twinkling lights and decorated with festive colors, the scene was absolutely perfect.
For those who are looking to capture these types of shots, let’s talk a little today about the “how-to” behind this photo. This picture was taken during “the blue hour” to really maximize the full effect of the scene. The building has great definition against the fading light in the sky, and all the lights that are on in the store really come to life. An instant classic in our books.
What you need:
- A camera with good low-light capabilities. We use a Canon 6D here at The Hollow and love it for it’s technical abilities.
- A good tripod. An expensive tripod does offer great features with controls that provide exact adjustments. If you are on a budget, a low-cost tripod will do the job just fine.
- A remote shutter release. Again, there are so many different models of these out there ranging in all sorts of prices, but if you are on a budget you can find good ones on sites like eBay for very reasonable prices. The ones we’ve bought like this come mostly from China so they take some time to arrive, but the great prices make the wait worthwhile. Eventually we are going to move up to the latest Promote Control, but it’s a costly item and has powerful features that not everyone needs in their particular practices.
- If you’re shooting in HDR, you will need tone mapping and merging software, and software to complete the image in post-processing. We use Photomatix Pro for all our HDR needs. If you are going to buy this powerful tool, use the code “ToadHollow” at checkout to save yourself 15% off the retail price.
For scenes like the one we’ve captured and shared here, the dynamic range dictated we capture 7 brackets in total, ranged -3, -2, -1, 0, 1, 2, 3 EV. If you’ve read our eBook “The f-stops Here” we go into detail about the entire bracketing process, but for our discussion here it’s important to note that we shoot in Aperture Priority mode to ensure a consistent focus and depth-of-focus between each bracket. This creates the sharpest looking images. This shot was captured using f/22. This gives a very deep and crisp result with any lights that are lit exhibiting a starburst effect, making them feel alive and like they are twinkling.
When bracketing with such a broad range of EV settings, each step doubles or halves the exposure time, depending which way you are going. For example, going from a -3 to a -2 EV would result in the shutter speed doubling in length. For low light photography like what we’ve done and shared here, this means that by the time you get up to the +3 EV bracket, you’re exposure times can be quite high. For our Canon 6D, anything over 30 seconds requires us to go into BULB mode and program our remote trigger for the time we need. If I recall, this photograph took 50 seconds for the +3 EV bracket.
The other thing to note, especially for applications in HDR, is that you really must shoot in the lowest ISO setting possible. A rule of thumb for us is that we always shoot in 100ISO unless circumstances dictate otherwise. HDR accents all the details and textures in a scene, and any noise that gets introduced into the equation gets amplified and shows much more than it would in conventional photography.
Many of our themed shots are used in the following years for things like Christmas Cards. That’s one of the best parts about photography, investments made in your portfolio can be used and enjoyed for years to come.
Please don’t hesitate to ask any questions you might have, or share any insights or stories, we always love to hear from all our visitors. Thanks for your kind visit today, we certainly appreciate it. Until next time, my friends!