Creating Festive Images (Evening)

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By Emily Quinton

in Creativity

I know the festive season is a little way off but you know how quickly time flies and I think it's so good to be organised ahead of time, so that you can really enjoy this special season and do all the things that you want to do. If you are anything like me you have more creative projects and ideas than can ever be achieved, so this is where doing some research and practise beforehand can really help.

Carly asked a great question in the Facebook Group this week and I thought it would be really useful for everyone if I answered it here.

"I’m planning some winter/Christmas photography and I’d really like to take some portraits out in the evening when it’s dark with Christmas lights/shop fronts etc.; as well as some fireside/evening party themed pictures. Can you advise on the sorts of camera settings/lens etc I would need? I typically don’t use a flash but wondering if this would be an occasion to use one?"

Evening photography is tricky but not impossible, so here are my top tips.

1. You want to shoot with your lens open wide, to let in as much as light as possible. This means that you need to use a small aperture number and the fastest lens that you have. This would ideally be F2.8 or lower. Anything higher than that is going to blurry in the evening. I usually shoot F1.4 in the evening.

2. If you want to shoot portraits then, depending on the location, a tripod will be really useful. You want the camera it let in as much light as possible and you will be much more likely to get camera shake at night, so a tripod will really help.

3. The iPhone is actually pretty great in the dark. It always amazes me what it can achieve. When I am shooting in evening with me phone I usually have to pull the exposure down ( with the sunshine when you tap the screen), which might feel counter intuitive but otherwise the phone's camera tries to brighten everything and takes away the nighttime feel you are after.

4. Experiment with the ISO on your camera in the evening now. All cameras have different levels with the grain kicks in. You want to do your best to avoid a grainy photograph, so practising with this ahead of time will be really useful. You need to use the lowest ISO that you can manage to prevent the grain. However, I personally think that grain is better than camera shake, so up the ISO if it means a sharper image with grain. Definitely worth experimenting with your camera and the ISO ahead of time and seeing how you feel about the grain. It's subjective after all. There are grain filters on many editing apps, including Photoshop, so, it's really not a bad thing.

5. Practise before the festive season kicks in. If you have time to photograph places in advance of wanting to do portraits there, it can really help you with the portraits. You can test things out and see what works. This isn't always possible but use what you can before December to help you be and feel more prepared.

6. Light painting can be a fun thing to do during the festive season, and during the Winter in general. Stef created a lesson all about it in the Night Photography mini course. This course will also be useful to do again in advance of your festive photography.

7. Using flash is such an art when you want to use it to create nighttime images. You want them to look like nighttime and simply using the flash on your camera can result it too much light and the image looking like it's the day time! Off-camera flash could work well for you but I am not an expert in this at all. I haven't taken this course but it looks good, especially Part Two for outdoor, off camera flash.

8. Jars of fairy lights work so well for festive photography portraits, both during the day and in the evening. Remember to bring down the exposure when you are photographing fairy lights. You can read more about that in this lesson from the Makelight Advent.

9. Have fun with this project and don't get stressed when experiments don't work. Write a list of things, people, activities and places that you would like to capture this festive season. This is something that always helps me, especially at this busy time of year. I also record what went well, so I can repeat it again the following year.

10. Share what works in the Facebook Group, so that it can inspire other people in the group.

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Tips for creating festive images in the evening.

I'm Emily Quinton, photographer, writer, teacher and mother of four. Along with my husband Stef I run Makelight – a membership community for creators, makers and doers.

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