Sunday, December 4, 2011

Reflective Christmas Lights How To

I had a question about creating this photo. . .

Ask and ye shall receive :)

The bad news is you really do need to know how to shoot in manual mode to get this photo.  The good news is I'll try and finish up the manual mode series before Christmas so those of you following it can come back and try this out after we're done. 

But for those of you who already know how to shoot in manual, here we go. 

The reflective surface is just hardwood floor in my living room.  If you don't have any hardwood floor there are a couple things you can do.  The first is you can buy a pack of laminate floor from home depot for less than $20.  Snap it together in just a few minutes and you've got a little platform for your little one to sit on.  The other option is to buy a piece of plexiglass (also at Home Depot).  The plexiglass will look different, because it will only be as dark as your carpet, but it should still reflect the lights.  The lights I used have a green strand and were 100 light icicle lights, but I'm sure any lights would look good!

This photo needs to be taken in the evening or in a room where you can shut the blinds because you don't want much extra light.  You don't want it to be pitch dark, but you don't want any noticeable light coming from any one place and you want it to dark enough that the Christmas lights appear to be the only light source. 

You don't want your little one sitting too close to the wall because the farther away from the wall they are the darker and less noticeable the wall will be.

Set your white balance to incandescent.


Now before you get your little one in place you'll want to set your aperture setting and make a guess on ISO setting.  For aperture it's simple, you want it to be as wide open as your lens will let you go.  I was using pretty pricey lens that lets me open up to 1.4.  Although I took this picture at ISO 1400 I actually could have gone down to somewhere around 800 with such a wide open aperture.  If your lens opens to 2.8 you may want your ISO at 1600.  You may be able to go lower depending just how light your room is, how good you are at holding your camera steady, and how still your little one is. 

Most lenses that come with your camera only open up to around 3.5, and even that is only possible when you are zoomed out.  My advice is to zoom in only as far as you can without your lens closing in any more than that.  Then move yourself closer instead of zooming in.


To make things simpler I am going to advise you to set your ISO to 1600.  Now what you're going to do it is put your little one down and place the lights around him or her.  You'll now mess with shutter speed until you get the look you want.  The nice thing is your little one will likely be perfectly content to sit there and play with the lights for at least a few minutes while you work on getting the perfect shot. 

SAFETY NOTE:  I've seen a lot of photos where little ones have the lights in their mouth.  If you feel comfortable doing that, go for it, but I'm personally not going to recommend letting your little one put the lights in their mouth just to air on the side of caution.

Okay getting on with things. 

You will need to have your camera set to spot metering.  As always, if you don't know how to change that setting on your camera, I recommend looking it up on youtube. 

You'll want the photo to be taken when baby is looking down at the lights so their face is lit up, but you can feel free to practice even while they are looking up. 

Shutter Speed

For shutter speed I always start by adjusting it to where my camera's meter tells me to.  For this photo I wanted the lights to be exposed correctly and the rest of the photo to be kind of dark (which is why we need to be using spot metering).  I aimed my focus point at the lights and adjusted my shutter speed to where my camera directed me.  Once I got that set I aimed at my little one's eye (as always) and took a shot.

After you take that first shot it's just a matter of looking at the photo and deciding if you want it darker or lighter.  If you want the photo darker, make your shutter speed faster (larger number).  If you want to make your photo lighter, make your shutter speed slower (smaller number).  Remember that their face will only be lit up if they are looking down at the lights.  Keep adjusting and checking out the photo until it is just how you want it.  I took several photos until I got the exposure how I wanted it. 

If your shutter speed is below 30 you will need to keep cranking up the ISO until you can get a faster shutter speed.  If your shutter speed is 30 or above and you've still got a blurry photo you can do a couple things.  Try to hold your camera very steady (check out this tutorial for holding your camera properly) or use a tripod, chair, box, or anything you can sit your camera on.  You'll also want to push the trigger button very gingerly as that can shake the camera too.

Of course when your shutter speed is slow and your little one is moving the photo will still be blurry no matter how still you are.  You can either take a whole bunch and assume that he or she will be still in at least one of them, or you can keep cranking up the ISO until you can get a descent shutter speed.  The last option is to take the photo a little darker than you like and brighten it up a little in post-processing.

If you are lucky enough to have a lens that opens to a wide aperture setting you shouldn't have much problem here, but many people only have the lens that comes with their camera (and understandable so, those things are expensive).  If you are going to invest in a new lens don't be afraid of the generics or used lenses.  I have some Nikon lenses and some Tamron lenses, some used, some not used, and I haven't had any problems with any of them.

Post Processing

In post processing you will probably want to reduce the grain a little.  I think this photo looks good with some grain, but I always reduce grain a little.  You can also tweak your exposure, temperature, and anything else until you've got it just how you want it. 

I always recommend shooting in RAW because editing is a beautiful thing when you shoot in RAW!  I love Adobe RAW (which automatically launches when you open a RAW image with Photoshop).  If you don't have a program that can open RAW images then of course you wouldn't want to shoot in RAW.  Although I'm pretty sure there are some free ones out there, if anyone knows of any please share with everyone else in a comment here!

Once you've got your images edited to your liking it's time to convert it to a black and white.  You can do this really simply in any photo editing program.  If you have Lightroom, I like this tutorial for getting great black and white images.  If you don't have Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, I love because it's very user friendly and has tons of options for editing. 

And there you have it!  Comment if you have any questions.


  1. Hi this news is exactly what I search. I share to your website to my facebook. Thank you update daily this blog will go to peak thanks bye…

  2. I'm so glad I could be of help! Thanks for the compliments :)


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