On Assignment: Christmas!

by | Dec 1, 2023 | Assignments | 0 comments

Yay, it’s Christmastime again! After having photographed so many challenging assignments over the past 11 months, I wanted to close out the year with an assignment that was fun and easy for everyone. Plus, this assignment is only going to be live for two weeks because I wanted it to be done and forgotten by the time Christmas Week rolled around. This means there won’t be much time to photograph it! As you decorate for Christmas and prepare for the festivities soon to begin, pull out your camera and see what adjectives of Christmas you can capture with your creativity! Here’s how the assignment went for me. . .

This is first shot I took after getting everything all set up. It’s basically a raw image, the only tweaks I made to it were straightening it and and changing the White Balance.

231124_James Staddon_9560 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 183 mm, 2.0 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 100

In that first shot, I didn’t like how the second king’s head intersected with the eve of the stable. So I moved him.

231124_James Staddon_9561 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 183 mm, 2.0 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 100

When I moved the king, I moved Joseph, Mary, baby Jesus, and the donkey too. I wish, now that I hadn’t. I don’t like how Joseph’s head now intersects with the “hole” in the back of the stable, nor how the donkey is more hidden. They were in a good place before. The reason I moved them was because I thought the trio wasn’t central enough in the stable. However, shifting the camera ever so slightly to the right would have been a better solution. Oh well. I didn’t catch this at the time, and moved on to tweaking the lighting.

231124_James Staddon_9562 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 183 mm, 5.0 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 100

Dimming the lights in the church (not completely turning them off) did help make the background darker. But as you can see above, the two candles on either side of the stable weren’t enough light to make the manger scene bright enough. So I introduced the gelled “waving flashlight” light source!

231124_James Staddon_9565 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 183 mm, 2.5 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 100

The filter that I taped over the flashlight was a yellow-colored Rosco gel. I don’t know what color the strip is exactly, but I keep it in my camera bag for situations just like this. If I had not put the filter over the flashlight, then the light shining on the manger scene would have appeared too cool. If I then adjusted the white balance on the camera to compensate for that (making the entire photo warmer) then the manger scene might look good (not bluish any more), but the background would look unnaturally warm. Matching the color of light sources is very important to good photos!

The reason I waved the flashlight around was so that the shadows from the flashlight wouldn’t be harsh looking. In the photo above, you can hardly tell there’s an un-diffused light source being used to fill in. Dramatically moving the light source around during a long exposure is a good way to make a harsh light source look like it is diffused and soft.

With a better balance of light and dark between the foreground and background now, I was able to tweak the same photo to perfection in Lightroom:

231124_James Staddon_9565 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 183 mm, 2.5 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 100-2

My next photos were of the candles with Christmas lights behind. (All the following photos have been edited, and are not the raw photos.)

231124_James Staddon_9572 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 183 mm, 0.6 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 100

Here’s my first shot of the candles. Even though it’s taken in the dark, it’s still very high quality! That’s because I’m using ISO 100. To be able to use such a low ISO in a dimly lit room, I had to use a very slow shutter speed. In this case, 0.6sec. And in order to use a slow shutter speed, I had to be shooting from a perfectly solid surface.

Now, there are several things that I think I could do to make this shot better.

First, I want the foreground to be lit up. Not too much. But I don’t want it to look like the candles are in a completely dark room. I want to see some of the Christmassy texture in the advent wreath. So, I pulled out my flashlight and went to waving it around again!

231124_James Staddon_9583 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 200 mm, 0.6 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 100

Secondly, I feel like the bokeh-rendered Christmas lights in the background distract from the candles. In retrospect, I think the best thing to do would have been to simply move the two Christmas trees off to the right and left side, creating a sort of frame on the two edges.

However, instead, I decided to do two different things: move to only photographing two candles (placing one of them in between the the Christmas trees), and change my aperture to f/16, which would make the background Christmas lights smaller in size.

231124_James Staddon_9585 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 200 mm, 6.0 sec at f - 16, ISO 100

It’s ok, but I didn’t like having two candles, so I removed one of them. I also changed the aperture to f/8.

231124_James Staddon_9590 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 200 mm, 1.6 sec at f - 8.0, ISO 100

I really liked the above setup and aperture, so I decided to shoot it at wider apertures, just to experiment. The following are f/5.6 and f/4, the widest that my lens could go.

231124_James Staddon_9591 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 200 mm, 0.8 sec at f - 5.6, ISO 100

231124_James Staddon_9592 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 200 mm, 0.4 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 100

You can imagine how much rounder, softer, and larger the bokeh would be if I was using a lens that could open up to f/2.8 or f/1.8!

I was out of time. For my final shot, I went back to the aperture I thought looked best for the specular highlights (f/8), turned off one of the Christmas trees, and made a very simple scene that would allow room for a Scripture verse to be easily superimposed.

231124_James Staddon_9596 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 200 mm, 1.3 sec at f - 8.0, ISO 100

Now It’s Your Turn!

And now it’s your turn to photograph “Christmas!” Keep your camera close by as you decorate for the season. Or if you have already decorated, better yet! Pick a cozy time and take your time capturing the essence of Christmas in high quality. From gifts to snowscapes to red bows to Christmas-light closeups. . . shoot anything Christmassy! And if you want to have some wholesome Christmas music playing in the background, tune in to the Bennett Family’s annual Christmas concert tomorrow, live at 7pm (ET) on Saturday, December 2. Can’t wait to see your photos!

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