Nothing says “Christmas is coming” quite like the sight of fairy lights adorning buildings and streets up and down the country. I absolutely love them. But I also love the way they can brighten up the dullest of photos and somehow immediately make me think of the season.

And a great portrait with a beautifully soft, fairy light background is one of the most requested types of images our students want to learn to take at this time of the year – it works great in their Family Christmas Cards! Lucky for you, we can show you how to do it – EASILY 🙂

You may have been led to believe that the only way to get the glowy Christmas light effect was with pro-grade cameras, complicated settings, expensive lenses and a lot of photography know-how. All of the above certainly doesn’t hurt, but we can show you how to get it with ANY camera, even a simple point and shoot.

What are the glowy lights in the background? The technical term is bokeh. The practical description is lights which are simply out of focus. The more out of focus they are, the bigger and glowier the lights will look.

So how do we get them out of focus? (whilst presumably keeping something else – like your child or any other subject you want – sharp)?

1. Put some distance between your subject and the background

The further apart they are, the more you separate the ‘in focus’ and ‘out of focus’ zones – therefore making the out of focus blurrier (this is a good thing). In the image below, our model was too close to the glowy background – no good.

2. Your camera settings

If you have a camera which allows you to change settings, set it either into portrait mode (ideally with flash off). If you know what you’re doing with your camera settings, set it up in Aperture priority mode and give it the widest aperture you have – smallest F number you have (if this sounds like gibberish, just go with the portrait mode).

3. THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT: Zoom in as much as you can on the subject

This might mean you’ll need to step back a little to get the right composition, but trust me, this one really makes ALL the difference. Have a look at the image below – we zoomed in on the little girl = lovely glowy lights.

4. Get close to your subject

Final step – with all the above in place, the closer you get to your subject, the better the results – this means, that without the fancy cameras and lenses, you’ll get better results taking a head and shoulders shot than a full body one (because you need to stand further away when taking the latter shot)- test it like this – standing in front of your lights (in some distance) and extend your hand in front of you- focus on it and take the shot. Now remove it and without changing anything else, just focus on something a bit further away and take the picture. When you compare the shots you’ll see that the first photo is a lot more blurry.

And that’s it – it’s that simple – 4 steps:

  1. Make your background far from your subject
  2. Set camera on portrait and/or no flash
  3. Zoom in as much as you can
  4. Get as close as you can.

Being able to take great photos of your family is a skill every parent can benefit from. It’s a cliche, but the kids really do grow up so quickly, you blink and although it may seem like they were just born yesterday, soon enough they’ll be asking to borrow the keys to your car. 

People often assume that to get good photos you need a really expensive camera or be a born artist who will ‘just know’ how to capture a good photo. Not true.

You can capture great images with any camera – as long as you know what you’re doing with it. And you can compose beautiful photographs even if you don’t think of yourself as ‘artistic’. Learning composition fundamentals and basic photography principles will make your images better. Everyone can improve.

With that in mind, we created a short mini course – we call it Photo Clickstarter – which gives you the very basics of good, child focused photography. It’s FREE and any camera appropriate. 5 days, 5 email lessons and some much improved photos afterwards! And we even remind you to unsubscribe at the end.

Sign up and start taking better photos straight away!

And with that in mind, I will leave you with a quote of one of the Grandfathers of modern photography, Aaron Siskind: “Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving…it remembers the little things, long after you have forgotten everything…”

Find out more

Ania Wilk-Lawton is founder of Photography for Parents – online and in-person Photo School teaching parents how to photograph their children beautifully. A photographer, educator and Mum of one little one and one not so little one, she understands the challenges of photographing children but also the value of those everyday photos. At Photography for Parents, professional children’s photographers share their knowledge and experience to show parents how to make the most of the cameras they have and capture all the big, little, funny, touching, bonkers moments on their family lives.

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