How To Create A Christmas Lights Backdrop

December 4, 2012

in Holiday Photography Tips, Photography Session Tips, Photography Tutorials

How To Create a Christmas Lights Backdrop | Photography Tutorial via iHeartFaces.com


We’ve seen so many beautiful images entered into our photo challenges that use Christmas lights as a backdrop.  Today we are thrilled to welcome back Amy Boyd of Amy Elisabeth Photography.  Follow along as she shares just how easy it is to create your own Christmas Lights Backdrop.

One of my favorite parts about the holiday season is seeing all of the beautiful Christmas lights everywhere. For me, nothing says Christmas more than when trees, wreaths and garland are lit up with white or multi-colored lights. There is something so very peaceful about the glow and twinkle of Chirstmas lights. I love the holiday season!

When I was asked by a friend of mine to do her daughter’s one year old pictures and with the holidays drawing near, I opted to set up a simple Christmas theme for her. And with that I knew using strands of lights were high on my list for setting up a backdrop. I saw this idea of using strands of Christmas lights behind your subject last year. By shooting with a shallow depth of field, some beautiful bokeh can be achieved, also known as those pretty “bubbles of light”. I am a complete bokeh fanatic when it comes to taking pictures! Using this light set up makes for such a beautiful backdrop, is so easy to create, and keeps your images simple yet beautiful with the glow of lights behind your subject.

My studio set up is fairly simple. I am currently using the space in an apartment that sits above my husband’s veterinary practice. I soon realized using my home was becoming a bit overwhelming for studio work, and I of course needed more room. However, for this holiday light set up, you really only need a small area to make this work for one or two subjects. And you don’t need fancy light stands or a roll of backdrop paper in order to make this work. For me and my current photography business, this is where I am and how I rock ‘n roll. And I love my husband to pieces for letting me use this available space and not charging me rent, just yet.

Christmas Light Backdrop Set-Up:

Christmas Lights Backdrop Tutorial via iHeartFaces.com

I used a cream colored backdrop with support stands, an Alien Bee strobe with a 30 x 60 softbox and a large reflector. Again, you can create a set-up similar to mine without using a strobe light. You can use an area within your home with large amounts of natural light.  You can easily create a simple set-up by using a shower curtain rod, prop it over two kitchen chairs, hang a blanket over the rod and drape your lights over it. I have also seen Christmas lights taped and hung from a wall which works amazingly well.

The key to achieving this beautiful bokeh glow, you will need to create a shallow depth of field. To do this, your subject should be approximately 6-8 feet away from your backdrop of lights. Any closer to the lights, you will see the ugly wires that connect each light. Not pretty! I also used white lights with white wire casing instead of green wire casing. The white wires blend into my backdrop much nicer. For the pictures of the little girl, I hung a few larger Christmas balls from the ceiling for some added pop of color and holiday bliss.

Setting your camera’s aperture to its lowest number is key. For me, I was using a 24-70mm lens and its aperture only goes down to 2.8. I chose this lens because my little red haired subject is a busy girl and it was easier to be able to adjust my focal lengths while she moved around. This smaller number allows your camera to focus solely on your subject and blur your background thus creating those beautiful bubbles of lights. If you have a prime lens that goes down to 1.8 or 1.4, that is even better! My settings on my camera were ISO 250, 2.8 aperture, shutter speed was 1/160th of a second using spot metering.
Christmas Lights Backdrop Tutorial via iHeartFaces.com
Here is an example of why you should place your subject away from your backdrop.

Christmas Lights Backdrop Tutorial via iHeartFaces.com

You will notice how the lights look, well, just plain awful! Can we say a twisted mess of wires and lights? This is where you do not want to place your subject, which happens to be my studio bear modeling.

With this next picture I moved the chair away from my backdrop a few feet and snapped another shot. I am getting closer to the look I want, but I can still see the wires of the lights and not the pretty bubbles of lights I am striving for.

Christmas Lights Backdrop Tutorial via iHeartFaces.com

One last time I moved the chair even further away from the backdrop. I checked my camera’s settings which were ISO 160, shutter speed was 1/160th of a sec, aperture was 2.8 with a 70mm focal length using spot metering snapped another picture and checked my camera’s LCD viewing area and loved what I saw. Cute little bear. Pretty bubbles of Christmas lights in the background. Happy me!
Christmas Lights Backdrop Tutorial via iHeartFaces.com

Perfect!

Christmas lights can add such a beautiful backdrop to any picture. With a little creativity, you will develop some lasting holiday images!
Christmas Lights Backdrop Tutorial via iHeartFaces.com

Profile Photo Amy Boyd Amy Boyd is a self-taught photographer living on the sunrise shore of Lake Huron in Michigan. She shares her life with her two rockstar kids, her amazingly brave husband and knows her cats rule the house despite a watchful eye by her beloved Pembroke Corgi dog. She thinks photographing high school seniors is way, way cool. And pets, children as well as families make her feel warm and fuzzy all over. She feels blessed and thankful for each and every photographic day of her life. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

 

 

 

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Melissa Lile October 21, 2014

Do you have any suggestions for doing this technique with groups of up to 6 people? I’m trying this for an event this weekend, and I think I have it, but suggestions are welcomed!

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Erica October 29, 2014

Melissa, I’m curious how your pictures turned out – did it work? If so what aperture did you end up using?

Reply

Melissa Lile October 21, 2014

Any suggestions for using this technique with groups of up to 6 people? Can’t use that f2.8 for a group.

Reply

Rachel December 11, 2013

How many strands of light do you have connected here?

Reply

Berts December 4, 2012

How To Create A Christmas Lights Backdrop http://t.co/ldDi1F1n via @zite

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Declan Mc Glone December 4, 2012

How To Create A Christmas Lights Backdrop #photography http://t.co/RJaTYPSo

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Damien Franco December 4, 2012

How To Create A Christmas Lights Backdrop http://t.co/Tkah1Q2I

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Angie December 4, 2012

My friend, @AmyEBphoto, wrote this fabulous tutorial! —>RT @iheartfaces: How To Create A Christmas Lights Backdrop http://t.co/6g8UBnbb

Reply

Amy Elisabeth Photography December 4, 2012

My strobe settings were quite low using an Alien Bee, b800, with my flash duration at just below 1/16th of power. Lower light kept the Christmas lights from washing out. My softbox was positioned at a 45 degree angle and nearly 4 feet away from my subject. The backdrop and lights were 8 feet from my light. I hope that helps answer your question!

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Kristen November 4, 2013

THANK YOU! This was awesome.

Reply

lynn December 4, 2012

Im interested as well in what your strobe settings were. very pretty photos:)

Reply

Robin Hagy December 4, 2012

I’ve tried using Christmas lights with my strobes, and made it look like they weren’t on? Any suggestions for your strobe setting?

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