digital photography tips with Digital Photo Mentor Darlene Hildebrandt

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Holiday Tips – Photography Challenge

Last month your challenge was to play with light. Did you do it? Did you share your results in the comments? I hope you did, and that you got a lot of trying that out. You can continue to practice playing with light any time.

And the winner is . . .

From all the qualifying entries from the Playing with Light Challenge, one name was randomly selected. Congratulations go to – Shannon! Here are two of her images that she made using her phone as the camera and the light from another phone. Now that's making use of what you have, well done.

Images by Shannon

She'll be receiving her prize shortly (Shannon, if you're reading this please get in touch with me here).

Now, on to the next challenge!

New Photography Challenge

Since it's holiday time for many of us, so your challenge this month should you choose to accept it is to create some unique and interesting holiday photos.

So wherever you live, or wherever you are spending the holiday season – see what you can come up with that's a bit different. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Play with bokeh

Canon 5D Mark III, 85mm lens, f/1.4, 1/4 second, ISO 200. A tripod was used here.

Bokeh, that ever-elusive thing all photographers seem to desire. Some are even willing to spend the big bucks to get f/1.2 or 1.4 lenses to get it. But you don't have to break the bank to create bokeh.

Try these tips:

  • Select your lens that has the largest maximum aperture. That might be f/2.8, 1.8 or even f/3.5 or greater (like a kit lens), but one your already own.
  • Use a lens that is longer than normal if possible, meaning 50mm or greater as the focal length. Notice I used an 85mm f/1.8 for the image above. I bought that lens used for about $200!
  • Choose a subject that is a long distance away from the background, or set it up.
  • Find a background with holiday lights – or set it up! You can buy sparkly fairy lights that are battery operated for under $20, and put them anywhere.
  • Get creative with your subject, background and the composition. See below for an example.
This is a plastic tree ornament from the dollar store with fairy lights really far away in the background. Canon 5D3, 85mm, f/1.8, 1/200th, ISO 800, handheld.

Photograph a local festival or celebration

Depending on your location, there may be snow and ice – or palm trees! But most places have some kind of holiday celebration or ritual. Check local listing for festivals, parades, or light displays and go photograph it.

Christmas on the island of Curacao. It was indeed a white Christmas for us last year, this was taken on one of our ports of call on the cruise of the Caribbean my husband I did over the holidays. I loved the combination of the lights, palm trees, and typical local buildings in the background.
In Granada, Nicaragua where we spent Christmas in 2014, they take the statue of the Virgin Mary out and parade her down a different street every afternoon. Complete with a marching band and some bombas (fireworks).
Then at night, they take it up a notch! Full parades with floats, food stalls, candy, music, the works! Every night for 10 nights! This was on our own street corner so we parked our chairs on the stoop and watched it all go by, with a glass of our favorite Nicaraguan rum in hand!
Another image from the parade.

Find a lighting display

See if your city has a street full of houses that get all decked out in lights for the holidays. Take your tripod and try some regular shots and some long exposures. Play with some intentional camera movement or creating a zoom burst during the exposure.

Original shot of some lights outside a local business. A bit boring right?
Second shot using some camera movement during the exposure. Click here for more on how to do this.
Another with a zoom during the exposure. Read more on that here.

Do a creative self-portrait

Another idea is to make a creative self-portrait. There are many interesting reflective surfaces in which you can see your own reflection. Think holiday themed like this one I did a few years ago into a tree ornament.

Can you see me? Notice there is more bokeh! Canon 5D3, 50mm f/1.8 at 1.8, 1/100th, ISO 800, handheld.

Photograph your food

If all else fails, play with your food! And by that I mean, photograph it, of course.

This is not the greatest food photo ever and stuffing really isn't that photogenic. But does it give you any ideas?

Do you or anyone else you know make holiday cookies? Photograph the process and the final results, and then enjoy eating it as your reward.

Here are some more food photos and tips if you want to give this one go. And even more food photography tips here.

So I hope that gives you some ideas to get started and have some photography fun over the holidays. Who knows, perhaps Santa will bring you some new toys (we can all hope right?!).

Participate and share your images

In order to participate in this challenge and be eligible for this prize you need to:

  1. Upload your favorite image (or 2-4) from your holiday photo experiments in the comments section below.
  2. Tell us how you shot it (what lens, lighting and camera settings).
  3. Tell us about your experience doing this challenge?  Did you learn anything? Find any cool techniques? Tell us about what you learned in as much detail as you can.
  4. Upload your photo, shooting info, and tell us what you learned by the cut-off date of January 31st, 2019. NOTE: please do NOT save your images as TIF (they will be too big to add in the comments, it must be under 2mb) and please do NOT email your images to me for critique. I cannot give personal critiques by email, leave your images below and I will comment there.

Please note: if you do NOT fulfill all the steps above your entry will not be valid. Just adding the photo will NOT be counted as an entry. I want to hear about it too, please. The point of these challenges is to help you learn something new – tell me about that.

You may post more than one photo, and do this as many times as you like over the month (you can comment as many times as you like, and share as many photos as you want – but it will be counted as one entry per person). The more you practice the better you’ll get at it, like anything – so share away. I also encourage you to share the link to this challenge with a friend, so you can do it together!

The Prize

This month the winner will have a choice of prizes between:

Holiday cheer to you!

So please have a Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and we'll see you on the other side in 2019!

Darlene Hildebrandt photographer DPM

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