Photograph Your Pets this Christmas

Do you make your pets the star of your Christmas cards? I think it's a great way to celebrate Christmas. To have the whole family remembered via photographs. Even the shelled or furry ones.

Last blog post I shared my top 10 tips for creating bokeh photographs using Christmas tree lights. Before packing up the lights I decided to get the turtles in on the silly season action.

I love how these Christmas themed photographs turned out. I had considered holding them during our photo (see last blog post). However they don't like being held much and tend to use those powerful claws to try and escape. That hurts and I didn't want to risk dropping them.

Photograph your pets at Christmas

Check out my last post for tips about lighting, lenses, and camera modes, etc. This time the distance wasn't a big a deal. The turtles were much closer to the lights than when I was photographing people. My camera was at the end of the vinyl. This time I had the window blinds mostly closed to avoid harsh shadows.

The turtles are used to routine. They live in a big indoor tank and they often enjoy time in the backyard too. They're familiar with that and enjoy climbing over and under all the succulent plants. Putting them in this scenario made them unsure. Especially Aristotle, after ten minutes he bolted. I've never seen him move so fast to get away from me. Either the vinyl gave him great traction or he wasn't liking something that day. Maybe it was the vinyl, it made a sound as the turtles walked. It was a sign to stop and put him back where he was most comfy, in his tank. The next day I decided to give it another go. This time I had much more success. The turtles were happy to play along. Yay!

Bokeh set up for pets

The best tip I can give you is to get down to your pets level. That meant I was on my stomach. Much lower than my tripod would go. (I have carpet burn on my elbow now). Focusing on their little faces was tricky. Those long necks move quiet a distance in a matter of moments. I had to do my best to keep up. I found the 24-70mm lens best as the zoom feature was handy.

I took some photos at f3.5 (as I was keen to create some beautiful bokeh in the background). I also took some at f11. I wanted to make sure I had at least some photos of them in focus properly. They turned out interesting too. It was good to capture some variety.

Family Pet Turtle Christmas Photo

Christmas pet photo

Turtle Long Neck Photograph

turtle photography

Turtle Christmas lights
Gerti loves looking at her tank light. This really made her Christmas!

turtle photography

Christmas turtle photography

I was glad I took the time to photograph the turtles with the Christmas lights. I was almost tempted to not bother. I stumbled across last years Christmas photo and this years is looking much better. All those tutorials I read and workshops I watch have been worth it. I'm liking the improvement. I'm grateful for all the know-how available online.

Christmas photo comparison by year

A very Merry Christmas to you and your family from me and mine. I hope you enjoy taking some creative bokeh photos this silly season.

Top 10 Tips for Creating Bokeh Photographs Using Christmas Tree Lights

This year I thought I'd create a Christmas eCard with bokeh. Bokeh is when the light in the background becomes big and round, and the background is fuzzy. It makes for an interesting look.

I started settings things up and quickly discovered I didn't own any Christmas lights. That was tinsel we've been putting on the tree each year. Opps. Once over that hurdle this experiment turned out great. I was like a kid with a cardboard box. Amused for hours and having fun. I jotted down my top ten tips to help you create your own Christmas themed photographs.

How to create Bokeh Top 10 Tips

Tip #1.  If you want to use a white background, then buy lights with a white cord. Alternatively find yourself a dark coloured background. I discovered this after buying green corded lights. I purchased 100 clear Fairy Lights from Target for $16. 100 turned out to be a good number for this task. Any less (eg a 50 pack) might not have been enough lights or enough cord length.

Tip #2.  Use what you've got. Don't let my organised set up put you off. I used what I had. I'm what you call a very enthusiastic hobby photographer. A curtain or back of the couch (for shorties like pets or kiddies) would have worked just as well. Your Christmas tree would work a treat too.

Bokeh tutorial how to set up Christmas lights
I used painted styrofoam boards. I probably could've just leant them against a wall (instead of a backdrop stand).
An umbrella light, reflector, and a tripod with a remote.

Tip #3.  Avoid putting your subject right in front of the lights. Allow lots of room between the lights and the subject. This helps create depth of field and keeps the subject in focus and the background blurry. I read 8 feet (2.4m) was a good distance. My distance ended up being 14 feet (4.27m). Allow some time to set things up and work out what distance works best for you.

I suggest practising with something like a stuffed toy (I hear kids get impatient quick). Use something about the height at which your subject will be. I used my mannequin, Betty Sue. She helped me to judge how tall my lights needed to be in the background. That meant I only needed ten minutes of my husbands' time to snap a few photos.

Bokeh Tutorial Distance from lights to subject

Distance from subject to tripod Bokeh Tutorial

Tip #4.  If using a curtain or a styrofoam board for your backdrop, you can use pins to help hold the cord where you want it to be. This helps to stop the lights bunching up and you can spread them out. Maybe something like bulldog clips or safety pins would do the trick too. I saw one tutorial where bulldog clips were used to pin lights to a book shelf. Put on your MacGyver hat and work out where you can put your lights up.

How to hold Christmas lights in place Bokeh

Tip #5.  Consider the available natural light where you're photographing. Even though bokeh means photographing lights, taking the photo/s during daylight is preferred. Bokeh still happens, and you don't have to raise your ISO too high (which avoids a grainy look). Try it for yourself and you'll see. Using daylight helps get a sharper looking image.

I angled the window blinds to help achieve the amount of light I wanted. I also have a large white styrofoam board sitting on the other side of the room (you can see that in one of the earlier photos). This reflects the window light back towards the Christmas lights and helps even out the light across the back of the room. (Otherwise I can have one side bright and one side dark). A white sheet held up does the same thing!

Bokeh Tutorial Lighting

Tip #6.  Set your digital camera to manual or AV (Aperture Priority) mode. Select the smallest f stop number your lens allows for. This 'opens up' your lens and lets in more light. If you have a 50mm f1.4 lens, then set the aperture (f stop) to 1.4. Set your focal point on the subjects eyes. If you have more than one subject getting everyone in focus can be tricky. You may need to try a slightly higher fstop, say 2.8. I used 3.5 (with my 24-70 lens) for the below photograph with my husband. That still achieved a bokeh effect and we were both in focus.

Christmas themed photo using Bokeh

Tip #7.  Turn off auto focus and use manual. I know in tip 6 I said to set your focal point, but doing it manually you'll have better luck. If you don't have a subject in the photograph you can go nuts and create some amazing big bokeh. It's when you have someone in frame you need to juggle the focus with the amount of bokeh. (Unless you're being extra creative and going for a different look, as in tip 10). I asked my husband to stand in place and look down the lens. I set my focus manually, jumped in place beside him so we were both in the same focal plane, and used a remote to take the photo.

Bokeh size examples

Tip #8.  If you have more than one lens, test them all out. I thought my 50mm or 85mm would be ideal. Turns out I preferred how the 24-70mm easily fit both myself and my husband in the frame and achieved a nice bokeh in the background.

Tip #9.  If you have a neutral density filter you can use that to help manipulate the light. Be careful you don't slow down your shutter speed too much. If your subject isn't perfectly still you could end up with photo blur. It was interesting to see what effect a filter had.

Tip #10.  Have fun. Rediscover your inner child and be silly. If you need some creative inspiration check out the examples shown at Digital Photography School. If you're keen to experiment and make your lights into shapes, like hearts or stars, then watch Lucas Ridley's video on how to do create custom bokeh.

Christmas card

Next post I'll share 'Photograph your Pets this Christmas'. I took Christmas themed photos of my two adorable long neck turtles.

Forty Is The New Thirty

I always assumed forty would be a scary number. That that would be the number where I'd start getting paranoid about wrinkles, crows feet and grey hair. When I was a teen forty seemed reeeally old. Now I'm forty and not sure what the big deal is. I already have crows feet, laughter lines, and use hair dye. What was I worried about? My husband has been telling me for a while that '40 is the new 30'. Now I'm old enough to agree with him.

I celebrated my birthday by spending four nights at Mantra Salt Resort at Kingscliff NSW. It's a bit of journey from Geelong. However it's an annual holiday I look forward to. It was great to catch up with family and friends who travelled from Queensland to say hello.

My husband bought me the best b'day gift ever. How could he go wrong when I give him a Wish List. A circular polariser filter (a bit like sunglasses for your camera) and a neutral density filter (for long exposure). Our visit to Salt was the perfect opportunity to test them out. Hello beach!

Mantra Salt Lagoon Pool Heart Reflection

Mantra Salt Hotel Waterfall Feature

Mantra Salt Surfboard Yellow Car

Kingscliff Beach Mantra Salt

Beach Mantra Kingscliff

Kingscliff Beach NSW Long Exposure Waves

Scenery Kingsliff

Seagulls Scenery Nature

Scenery Circular Polariser filter

Kingscliff Beach NSW Circular Polariser filter

Bearded Dragon Seagull Rabbit

Mount Mt Warning NSW

Mount Mt Warning Sunset