A Christmas Blog

Inspired For The Photographer
by Mark Ritson December 23 2018

It is that time of year again and unfortunately Christmas outside (in the UK at least) isn’t always a dream of warm lanterns flickering, dry white snow sparkling or silhouettes of wildlife in the mist. Even if it does snow your camera is likely to be met with slush, dull grey light, some drizzle, nasty winds and that is not to mention the demands on your time that the festive season makes wherever in the world you might be, your time is usually in demand. This will often put photography for the keen amateur on hold for all but a few hours here and there when you might get out with the camera. Unless you have a plan!

Combining your Xmas activities with some photography can keep your eye in and produce results worthy of some prints.

I have some ideas that I hope resonate and make sense to you at this time of year and keep you engaged with your camera and photography.

Keep your camera by your side throughout the festivities along with a tripod by your dining table!

Food Photography

If you haven’t tried this it is endless fun and there is no better time than Christmas with so many treats, roasts, fancy drinks, espressos, bubbling champagne and golden beers, liqueurs and cocktails all make stunning photography subjects both macro and whole items. I’m new to the genre but I find it very enjoyable. I would recommend a tripod by your table throughout. If you have a tripod whereby the centre column can be positioned horizontally then all the better or for maximum flexibility consider the Benro Go range which have a versatile centre column that can be removed from its conventional vertical position and can be swung through a 180 degree arc and locked into place at any point which has to be the best option for food photography and many other applications. Either way, keep your eye on the goodies arriving on your table and even during preparation try capture some liquids and steam. Even a single mince pie styled with a pot of cream and a piece of mistletoe can be a wonderful subject.

Note of advice for food photography (granted I’m no expert). Try experimenting with a 45-degree angle and also flat overheard shots paying very close attention to keeping the focal plane of that sensor flat to the subject as just a little out can ruin everything. Those two angles are the most popular for commercial food photography, so they make a good starting point from which to experiment further. Again, as a start try to focus on the nearest point of the star subject and bare in mind at reasonably close distance DOF can be too shallow for the image to work, as much as bokeh is popular taste buds react better to a food image that doesn’t take bokeh to the extreme. Food styling is something I find difficult and cannot offer to much advise, it genuinely is a real skill, but Christmas is a great time to practice. As a starting point keep space between items reasonably equal, use the rule of odd numbers, so three or five grapes not two or four etc. Also, be sure the styled components make sense like a beautiful fork with a bowl of soup does not tell a story. In this shot, I loved the brass spoon and wanted to include it, but it is badly out of place. Who eats a muffin with a spoon! The shot is nicely lit and well composed but it makes no sense.

At least Christmas is a great time to experiment and practice these things and your loved ones appreciate you being on hand and in conversation distance even if you are busy with the camera and not listening. A good ole macro is another great way to photograph food as with this close up of a blueberry. The detail in nature is right there in many ingredients and yet another world opens up once they are sliced open.

Final advice on food photography is to be mindful of shadows cast both by food and plates, try to keep them soft with a nice fade by using a reflector to counter your main light source. A thick deep black hard line shadow can spoil your efforts. Critiquing my earlier photograph of the muffin with the icing sugar around the raspberry’s looks to have a shadow on the table below the raspberry’s but it isn't shadowed it is where the icing sugar did not hit, perhaps I should have sprinkled the icing sugar first then placed the raspberry’s, just experiment. Window light works well, so does a carefully positioned constant light source but again don’t forget the reflector to control shadows. No reflector? A big piece of white paper or card is a reflector. Adjust white balance to suit the light source if shooting jpeg.

Fruits and Cream and A Mini Bialetti Espresso Maker

Champagne Cork and Assorted Prosciutto

Wild Carrots and Some Festive Roast

On Camera Flash

Yes, this can be fun, practice getting to know your flash on a camera. That is advice you never hear, and it sounds all wrong doesn’t it? But on-camera flash is extremely convenient and used well produces beautiful light. The trick is to not aim the flash at the subject directly, that is always a little ugly from the direction of the camera hot shoe. Your flashgun almost certainly has an ability to swivel so swivel it to a side wall and you’ll fall in love with your flash even in TTL! This photo of my little dog was on camera flash aimed diagonally at an opposing wall (and you will be staggered at how far that wall can be away from your subject, just up your iso if need be).

Some of the above food shoots were also made bouncing flash.

A little note on inverse square law, if it is not familiar just keep this in mind. If your flash is bouncing a long way from a back from the wall, then the light falls off to shadow around your subject will be minimal but if the wall you're bouncing your flash off is closer the drama of light shaping is more evident. Experiment with the angles to the wall. Bounce your flash off ceilings, walls, reflectors, whites’ boards, in fact, anything except straight at your subject and you will get some genuinely surprising results. This blog is about indoors but if your outside with just an on-camera flash get someone to hold a reflector or a big piece of white card at an angle to your subject and swivel that flashgun to face the reflector and see big soft light hit your subject from an angle, beautiful. On camera bounce flash works well with most subjects be it the children opening presents, family around the table, pets, food and so much more.


Planning 2019

Spend some time planning 2019, this is a top investment to make. For example, you may want to photograph a specific landscape location so research the best time of year and time of day that the sun is at the best angle for the subject, check out 500px and other sites for great images shot at the right time of day and year in the location you're interested. Plan your shots around this. Likewise with wildlife, research locations, behaviours and activity and when these things happen. For example, a Barn Owl hunts relentlessly in June, July and August to feed its young. I got endless shots of this fella day after day, the Owl had a few glances at me but I stayed still and he was happy to fly by really quite close with clinging to his prey as he is more occupied with feeding his young. Don’t get to close and remain still.

Great images can be a happy accident, but producing consistently great images need some planning. So, spend some time planning. With wildlife especially check out renting some time in a hide, there are some excellent ones that yield fabulous results. Festivals and air shows, take a look at schedules and plan. Get a few things in your diary, plan around the results you want and give yourself command of what is controllable.

I did not find this boat grave with a pool of water by chance, I had checked the tide times and planned accordingly. The shot is lost without the water.

I knew Osprey regularly fished these waters in June.


Christmas might be a great time to make some final edits of your favourite shots from 2018 and print them. I have found no greater improvement tool than printing my images and viewing them on paper. This has improved my work more than any other aspect of learning, I think it really teaches you what works for your own style of photography.


Goal Setting

Similar to planning, this can be anything, master a specific aspect of photography, create a single photograph to print and frame, create a photo book, have an exhibition, photograph a specific subject/location, create a presence on social media, whatever just set a goal. You likely already know what it is photographically you’d like to achieve next on your photography journey but by making a note of it and adding some steps to those notes and then a timeline and actions and a budget etc then you are more likely to look back on your 2019 results with pride, accomplishment and progress.


Happy Xmas and have a great 2019!

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