Hello, December! The holiday season is upon us and twinkle lights are everywhere. They can be so much fun to photograph, especially when they’re out of focus in the backdrop. I’ve written this brief tutorial to show you the best way to get the prettiest pictures of the glowing holiday lights around you.
You’re going to have the best results if you use a camera that allows you to adjust your settings, and you’re going to need to use the widest aperture it allows. DSLRs and mirrorless big fancy cameras that let you to change lenses will allow you to alter your settings. For your specific camera, check the manual (most camera manuals are online in case you can’t locate yours.) If you read through these steps and they don’t make any sense to you, definitely check out my post explaining how to shoot in manual mode.
Select the longest focal length (lens) you have. If you only have the kit lens that the camera came with (usually 18-55mm), then you want to shoot at 55mm. The longer the lens, the more blur you will have. (I’ll post an example of a 100mm lens at the bottom of this post.)
You must set your aperture to the widest setting, which is the smallest f/number. If you only have a kit lens, then you won’t be able to open up wider than f/5.6 when you’re at 55mm.
That’s why the lens I highly recommend for any hobbyist photographer or aspiring professional is the 50mm 1.8, which costs under $200 and allows you to use a super wide aperture, giving you gorgeous background blur (bokeh)! It’s been nicknamed the “thrifty fifty” because you get so much bang for your buck. There are versions for Canon, Nikon and Sony all available at Amazon.com and the results it can give you are amazing.
The first image below was taken with the Canon 50mm 1.8 lens, and the settings were: ISO800, f/1.8, 1/250
The next image below was taken with the Canon 50mm 1.8 lens, and the settings were: ISO4000, f/5.6, 1/250
I’m sharing these two pictures so that you can see the difference between using a lens that allows you to open your aperture up much wider. At f/1.8 the background and the lights are very out of focus behind the subject. If you’re using your kit lens which will only open up to f/5.6, your backdrop and lights won’t be as out of focus.
If you don’t have a lens that opens up super wide like the 50mm 1.8, there are still some things you can do to increase the amount of blur behind your subject:
You will need some light falling on the subject in the photo if you want it to be illuminated. That’s why these photos will be easier to capture during the day when there’s natural light. It’s ideal if you can have diffused light coming in through a window fall on your subject. That means the light hits their face, not behind them. I don’t recommend using a pop-up flash, ever!
Here’s an example of how out of focus you can get the background using a longer lens. This was taken with the Canon 100mm 2.8 lens.
Did you know you can make a blurry light effect with your smartphone? I shared a tutorial for it in my Instagram stories along with other photography tips and tricks! You can find it in my story highlight “freebies.” Make sure you follow @helendonphotos so you don’t miss any tips!