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:
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.
Here is an example of why you should place your subject away from your backdrop.
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.
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 can add such a beautiful backdrop to any picture. With a little creativity, you will develop some lasting holiday images!
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.