The holidays are almost upon us, and some would say there’s no better time to get creative! Our gift to you: we’re sharing ideas for what to photograph and how to #CaptureTheHoliday, with Krolop & Gerst Photography team and the #CreateYourLight team!
There’s nothing quite like the gift of photography and with travel more difficult for many of us this year, a great photograph is a wonderful thing to share with loved ones who are further away. Plus, getting creative with what you shoot and how you shoot it is a beautiful gift to give yourself—you can have a lot of fun using very simple set ups.
The images you’ve shared during the #CreateYourLight journey have brought us so much joy and inspiration. We’re excited to see what you come up with for your festive shots! From the decorations to the people around you, our holiday tips will show how to use everyday objects and Christmas decoration and play with the light to create unique festive shots, capture stunning portraits, and more.
Happy holidays, happy reading, creating and shooting!🎄
TURN YOUR SMARTPHONE INTO A SOFTBOX
Sometimes, the best things to photograph are right there in front of us. By paying attention to the framing and colours, you can use everyday objects and seasonal decorations to create beautiful compositions.
A good tip is to choose objects with contrasting yet complimentary colours, such as red and green, and then create a diagonal arrangement. If you want to add a little wow factor, you can make your subject more interesting by adding drops that will look like water when they reflect the light.
All you need is a little glycerine—which you can find in most food stores and supermarkets—and a light source. Glycerine drops stay on a surface longer than water, but you can use water if you can’t get glycerine. Simply spray the drops onto the objects you’re photographing.
For the light source, you can use your smartphone as a softbox! A softbox is a common tool that professionals use to diffuse the light, but they’re often quite pricey. You can save money by downloading an app that makes the screen on your smartphone glow in a particular colour. If you’re using seasonal colours like red and green in your arrangement, then a white screen works nicely. If a friend or family member wants to help out, you can bring in a second light source: have them use a warmer colour like orange. It will look like there’s a fireplace glowing in the background!
For the best image quality set your camera on a tripod so you can shoot a long exposure (four seconds works well) at f/11, and set the ISO to 100. Before taking the shot, set your focus area, darken the room, and set your camera’s self-timer. Set the colour glow on your phone screen, and move your phone during the course of the exposure. This will make the light source seem bigger than it actually is and create a really nice effect in the final image.
That’s it. A super-simple way to create great holiday images with everyday objects.
FAIRY LIGHTS AND BOKEH
Fairy lights—whether you love them or love them slightly less, there’s no denying that festive lights with beautiful bokeh look great in photos. Getting creative with bokeh ‘balls’ might be easier than you think—you can do a lot with some LED lights and a great lens.
Nikon Z lenses render beautifully smooth bokeh circles, and a lens like the NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 lens is ideal. Where you position the LED lights in relation to the lens is key: the closer the lights are, the bigger the circles of bokeh. The further away the lights are, the smaller the bokeh circles get.
How you arrange the lights is also important. To create a more three-dimensional effect, you need to set up a ‘light tunnel’. Arrange the lights so they create a tunnel, and then position the lens so you’re shooting through the tunnel. The final image will show larger circles of bokeh tapering off into smaller circles, creating a real feeling of depth.
You can try this with any LED lights, but non-dimmable lights with just one colour temperature tend to work best because there’s less chance of them flickering as you take the shot.
And there’s more! Check the video to see how Martin uses a ring of fairy lights to create his own bokeh overlay which you can then add to any image you like in Photoshop. It’s so much more fun than using a ready-made app to do the same thing.
FRUIT, PAPER CRAFTS, AND TOY RACE CARS
How can you make your holiday photos stand out from the rest? With some good old-fashioned paper crafts and some toy racing cars!
Snowflakes are a great way to add a winter holiday feeling to your images and you can create your own snowflake filter using small snowflake paper cut outs. All you need to do is cut a small snowflake shape into a piece of paper and attach it to the front of your lens using scotch tape. You may have to experiment with the size of the snowflake filter you create until you get the effect that you like the best.
The set-up is pretty simple: take an old wooden box, an interesting object to place in the centre (‘star fruit’ works nicely) and some fairy LED lights. You place the starfruit on the box and arrange the fairy lights in the background to create bokeh balls. To light the starfruit, you can use the torch on your smartphone.
When you shoot with your snowflake filter in front of the lens, the bokeh balls will turn into snowflakes made of light! The trick to capturing a shot like this is to make sure your paper snowflake filter is touching the front lens—that way, you get a clearly defined snowflake shape in our final image.
And the cars? If you’re just dying for an excuse to play with your kid’s new racetrack, go ahead and check out the video tips. You’ll see how to create images that look like the race is on for real!
CLASSIC INDOOR PORTRAITS
Looking to get the best photographs of your family and friends this holiday season? Or how about sending self-portraits to loved ones further away?
All you need to shoot a classic black-and-white portrait is your camera, a backdrop from simple black cloth, and a good portrait lens. A 50 mm or 85 mm lens is ideal if you’re shooting with a full-frame Z camera. A 35 mm lens is ideal if you’re shooting with the DX-format Z 50. Find a room where the only light source is a window, preferably one covered with translucent curtains to diffuse the light. It doesn’t matter how translucent the curtains are, you just don’t want any direct sunlight on the person’s face. If your curtains block out too much light, you could use any type of translucent cloth, so long as it’s big enough to cover the window and lets in enough light for a decent exposure.
Think of your window as being like a huge softbox which you cannot move—you need to position yourself and your subjects carefully in relation to it. There are two key aspects to making this shot work: you need to position yourself in front of the window and the model needs to be positioned to the side. You’ll be shooting with your back to the window, and you'll need to get as close up against it as possible. (To see this set up in action, check the video below!)
You can play around with the angle to generate everything from moody, side-lit shots to flattering beauty shots where your subject looks straight into the light. Your position stays the same—your back is as close to the window as possible. As you reposition the model, you turn to take the shot. In this way, you get a full 180 degrees to play with.
A good tip for portraits is to reduce the contrast: unless someone has had their make-up done professionally, softer contrast will be more flattering.
You could also create a self-portrait using the same simple set-up and SnapBridge so you can trigger the camera remotely using your smartphone! All you’d need to do is find a stable surface for your camera and position it as close to the window as possible and then—strike your pose!
ARTISTIC SHOTS WITH CANDLE SMOKE
Smoke from a burning candle, perfectly lit up on a black background, makes for a beautifully artistic shot. The trick here is to have the light coming from the back.
All you need is the candle, a black background, and a small softbox. For the lighting, we used a 60-watt LED light and placed it inside the softbox. Imagine that your candle is the central point of a clock face: position the softbox with its LED light at about two o’ clock and then check your image in the electronic viewfinder or in Live View. You don’t want to see the softbox in the frame. (If you don’t have a softbox, you can find out how to make your own here.)
This set-up lets you emphasise the smoke against the black background. Any light source will work, but a soft light is better. You’ll want to leave the tip of the candle burning after you blow it out, so best is to use about 2 cm of candle rope each time you try this. Snuff out the candle and let the smoke rise up—then take your shot!
A telephoto lens is ideal for a shot like this because of the closer angle of view. We used a 50-250 mm zoom lens and shot between 135 and 200 mm at ISO 800 with the shutter speed set to 1/160 of a second. You can always experiment with the camera settings to see what effect you like best. A short exposure of around 1/200 or shorter will really freeze the shapes for a very contrasty look. A longer exposure of 1/15 will lead to more milky, blurry shapes.
TOP SHOTS OF FESTIVE COOKIES
If there’s someone in your family who just loves to bake, how about showing your appreciation with a stunning ‘top shot’ of their creations? To make this work, you must resist the urge to eat the arrangement before taking the shot. The rest is simple . . .
For our cookie shots, we used two light sources: one inside the frame and one outside. The main light source inside the frame came from some fairy lights, which we arranged around the cookies. The second, external light source came from a daylight LED light which we diffused with a 40 cm square softbox. (If you don’t have a softbox, you can find out how to make your own here.)
In this set-up, it’s the fairy lights that impact the exposure of your image because they are inside the frame. If you want the fairy lights to give you the kind of warm glow that creates interesting shapes of shadow and light, you need to play with the LED light source outside the frame. We set ours at its lowest power (1 %), but if you want to lift the overall exposure a little more you could try raising the power of the external light source until you like what you see.
You can check your image in your electronic viewfinder or in Live View (using the camera’s LCD screen) to find an exposure where the fairy lights inside the frame look pretty and warm. If your external LED light source can’t be dimmed, you can experiment with moving it closer or farther away.
Using a tripod lets you position the camera so you can take a photograph from a bird’s-eye perspective that looks straight down onto the cookies. We’re not used to looking at things from this perspective, so it lends real impact to the image.
For more tips, watch the video to see how you can use the cookie-making ingredients and Photoshop tools to create images where you are the snow angel.
We always knew angels were real!
We’d love you to show us what evokes the feeling of the winter holidays for you. It could be the festive lights, the decorations, or the holly and pine cones. It could be the food, or the people. Or it could be something that’s special just to you. Whatever it is, we just know it’s going to be magical! Send us your best festive shots and tag #CreateYourLight and #CaptureTheHoliday and tagging any of our channels:
.. or any other Nikon social media channel of your preference.