Friday, November 28, 2008

Holiday Photography and Wireless Flash


With the Holidays here, the opportunities for some fun holiday photography are endless. One of my favorites is photographing all the colorful lights of the Holiday season. There are homes beautifully decorated, the Christmas tree, city buildings, yard displays, and of course, your imagination.

I have photographed all the previously mentioned Holiday scenes over the years and decided I wanted to photograph Holiday lights in non-traditional locations. One idea I came up with was to photograph my backpacking dome tent in the wilderness and decorated with Christmas lights. Since I enjoy snowshoeing and ski-camping, this sounded like a great idea for my annual Christmas cards photograph.

I planned all the items I would need; the tent, a set of cross country skis, the snowshoes needed to get there, a flash unit, a wireless remote to fire the flash unit, 5 sets of battery powered Christmas lights, and a roll of duct tape. I stuffed all this into a backpack along with a pad, water, a headlamp, cell phone, and extra clothing.

I drove up to the mountains and parked in a snow park, strapped on the snow shoes, loaded on the pack, and trudged a couple miles into Oregon’s Mt. Hood Wilderness. It was afternoon when I found this location and knew it was perfect. I switched to the skies to avoid large snowshoe tracks and skied over to the spot with all the gear and set up the tent. I used small strip of duct tape to hold the Christmas lights onto the tent and placed the batteries for each string inside the tent. I next set up the flash with the wireless remote and placed it into the tent. I also turned the flash to manual at ½ power to maintain flash output consistency.

I then waited for the sun to set and began testing the exposures. First, you determine the best f-stop for the flash exposure and then leave that set. The Christmas lights exposure is adjusted with the shutter speed and this is where you have to balance carefully with the ambient outdoor light. Both the ambient and Christmas lights are constant light so for the scene to balanced nicely, you have to wait for it to get dark enough for the Christmas lights to be exposed correctly. Here it was about a half hour after sunset where the ambient light is dark enough that the Christmas lights showed up nicely and are properly exposed.

Since the flash was pre-tested and set then it remains the same f-stop for exposure and I then bracket my shutter speeds for lighter and darker images. I continue to shoot until it gets so dark that the proper exposure for the ambient light forces the Christmas lights to turn white and lose color. I then know I am done. You can use this technique for any Holiday light subject and the variety of subjects is endless.


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