Like many other people, Christmas has always been one of my favorite times of the year. There’s so much to enjoy including a couple of days off from work, family and friends, Christmas church services, food, and of course presents. With all of the celebration, you or someone you know is bound to have a camera around. This short guide will show you how to take better Christmas pictures by discussing a two basic elements of photography – separating the subject from the background and using a wide aperture.
Separate Your Subject From The Background
First, put your camera down and try this trick. Hold your finger up about one foot from your face and focus your eyes on your finger. What happens to the background? It should get blurry. Now, without moving your hand, focus your eyes on the background instead. Your finger is now blurry. This trick should work as long as you are not standing too close to whatever is behind your hand. This very simple explanation is almost all you need to know how to create better Christmas pictures. Keep reading and you’ll see what I mean.
A camera and your eyes have a lot in common. If you place your subject (a person, pet, object, etc.) really close to the background, there is no separation, and they are both going to be in focus. This may be what you want to accomplish, and that is fine. However, take a look at the following Christmas picture I created of my Puggle, Mac, and look at what can happen when you place some distance in between your subject and the background. In the photo below, I had Mac sit on a stool that I placed about 6-7 feet in front of our Christmas tree.
Use A Wide Aperture (Low F-Stop)
I then set my camera to a wide aperture (a low number like f/2.8 or lower), which lets in more light and creates a shallow depth of field (the portion of an image that is in focus). In the photo above, I focused on Mac’s eyes, which you’ll notice are sharp, but everything behind his neck is blurry because the depth of field is so shallow. The less you want in focus (shallow depth of field), the lower your f-stop should be.
It’s a combination of the separation between the subject and background with the camera’s wide aperture that throws the Christmas tree so out of focus that the lights look like orbs.
Below is a diagram that might help you visualize this a little better. You will also notice that I used an off camera flash in a softbox with a reflector to control the amount of light that was falling on Mac. You can learn more about these flash modifiers if you’d like, but for now, just pay attention to the separation between Mac and the Christmas tree. Thanks to lightingdiagrams.com for the awesome diagram creator!
More Examples of Christmas Portraits
Here’s a few more examples of what happens when you separate your subject from the background and use a large aperture (smaller number). These cool looking kids are my nieces and nephew.
And just for fun, here is a Christmas self portrait.
Try this technique when taking Christmas pictures of your children, friends and family. In fact, this is something you can use all year long to improve your photography. If you’ve tried this out, I’d love for you to share your results in the comments below. What are your tips on how to take better Christmas photos?