Photo Tutorial Christmas Decorations E-mail

Either you hate it or you love it, but with December comes Christmas, and with Christmas comes the need to be warm, cozy, inviting, merry, enchanting, extravagant and so on and so forth.  Among the many challenges Christmas poses, one of them is to create the perfect atmosphere for the always dreaded (for those responsible) Christmas Dinner.  This grand event is where the whole family comes together, often for the first and only time during the whole year, to evaluate each others successes and failures, or just to enjoy a nice evening together.  No matter what the situation in your particular family, the challenge of decorating the table can only be matched by the challenge of depicting it for posterity so that everyone can envy your grand design.  If you find yourself at a loss when it comes to depicting your work, here are a couple of tips that may just save Christmas....

So you've gone all out and made the best table ever.  You have silvers, golds, reds and greens perfectly layed out and it looks amazing.  You snap your camera at it and it all looks dull and uninteresting...the dissappointment is palpable.  So here's your rescue plan from the field.

First, don't trust the magazines.  The photo's you see in magazines are all staged in a studio with perfect lighting and you really don't stand a chance at reaching the same level.  One general problem is lighting of course, the other and significantly more pressing, is time.   You have guests coming in, so don't expect to have "all the time in the world".  You have to be quick and precise, no second guessing. The pictures on this page are all from the same real christmas dinner and under the real constraint of time.

Whether it is God or The Devil that lives in the details, the point to note is "in the details".  Your primary instinct is to shoot the entire table because it looks fabulous, well, it does, but the picture won't convey that.  Just look at the table image here, quite dull overall.  Why?  Among other things because when you look at the table you're actually looking at it in 3d and you're not looking at a still, your moving your eyes constantly, constantly re-focusing on all the details in such rapid succession that the whole gives the right impression.  A photo doesn't allow that, its two-dimensional and flat and usually fails miserably at conveying multiple "focus areas" simultaneously.

So you pick out the details, like the golden ball and the blue vase (above) or the bottles of wine and the grapes (left).  Get really close, allow yourself to forget about the whole, convey the particular detail to your best abilities.  Remember that generally the background will be dull and uninteresting (note the bookcase on the full table photo).  So a low aperture (f2.8 - f7) is not only necessary due to the general lack of light indoors (see Tutorial Photographing that Indoor Christmas), but also to blur out the uninteresting background.  Note how the lamp behind the wine is simply light and the red curtain simply gives a backdrop for the blue vase.  Make sure the focus is sharply on the main element and expect and plan for bluriness on the other elements (red-wine bottle, meat below etc.)

All the detail pictures you can take before the dinner party itself, as done here, but once the food is on the table you have but seconds to convey the general atmosphere or your impatient guests will stop smiling and start complaining.  Same approach as for the details.  Generally if you want people in the pictures I would have them slightly out of focus so that they become part of the background and atmosphere rather than the focus area (especially since they'll be moving a lot, don't expect them to sit still or smile correctly).  Photograph from as low an angle as you can with the people covering the top third to top half of the picture (see Tutorial Composition 1-2-3 for details on compostion).  Unfortunately I didn't do that for this particular event, so you'll have to make do with the foot, Norwegian "pinnekjøtt" which is my personal favourite for Christmas.

As a final note, don't expect perfect exposure, you will get some lack of sharpness, you will get some underexposure and you will get some plain out bad pictures.  The tools you have for post processing that are worth noting are: adjust the exposure slightly in post-processing, all the pictures here  (with the exception of the one with food, have been move -0,2-0,4 points in post processing.  A slight increase in temperature (from around 4800 to about 5100 for these) to give slightly warmer color tones and finally some sharpening (especially noticeable for the top picture where the one on the left is edited, the one on the right is the original).  With that set, you should have great Christmas dinner photo-memories.

Have a great Christmas everyone.

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