Home Forums Let’s Talk Photography Strobes vs. Christmas tree

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    Hello smart ones!
    I have been puttering around trying to figure out how to get good light (must get stop action from wiggly kids) and also keep the glow of Christmas lights on the tree.  It seems I can have one or the other, and can’t figure out how to get both.  Is it possible?


    The short answer is, it depends.

    Depends on your gear.  Depends on the tree’s lights.  Depends on ambient light.  Depends on what you actually want.  Depends on how fast the kids are.

    Here are tree lights and some people, from last Christmas.  No flash.  Just ISO, fast glass, short lens, hand held with ambient light.  To be fair, the people weren’t all that fast.


    And the tree was pretty big, and maybe a little burnt out around the tree lights.  The girls/women in white coat and blue coat are lit by someone else’s flash, possibly from a cell phone.

    Here is another sample from the same event.  I have no idea who the woman is, so I wasn’t trying to light her, just to get the overall notion that there were lights, some colour in the sky, and that people were present.  If a flash had been used at low power, she would have been lit.  Any motion within the flash’s range would have been stopped or minimized, and that woman would be much brighter.  The background would not be affected much due to the distances involved.



    The keys are:  Shutter speed and aperture affect ambient light.  Aperture and flash power affect light from the flash.  Christmas tree lights and any other bulbs are part of ambient light.  The flash from most studio strobes is around 1/1000th.  Flash from small flash and some specialized studio strobes can be as brief as 1/10,000th!  Sync speed is usually 1/200th or 1/250th for most dSLR cameras.  That’s the speed where the first curtain has fully opened and the second curtain has not started to close.  Faster than that you need High Speed Sync, which fires the small flash multiple times.  This is not that good at stopping motion, you are better off with a slower shutter speed and single pop from the flash.



    No people in this one either, but at least I used a flash!  This is a dragon made of Chinese restaurant dishes, cups and spoons, held together with wire.  Conveniently there are lights like Christmas lights.  They even used a wide range of lights, frosted bulbs, clear lacquer bulbs, clear glass mini lights, possibly LED lights in the antenna.  Most of the photos I took that night were of the lantern lights, so no flash.  I wanted to show the construction of this piece, so I used the pop-up flash of my 30D.



    This is what it looked like in daylight, the previous year, from the other end


    And here here is a photo of a small piece taken during daylight, with the lights on



    Thanks CC, I really like that first shot you put up there, and I am in awe of the dish sculpture.  That’s amazing.

    Set up is in studio. Fireplace, tree beside it.  Kids will be posed in front.  2 strobes, modifiers available are 1 soft box, umbrellas, 1 beauty dish/sock.  no grids

    I can get a nice little glow on the tree by lowering the SS to 20 but I’ve never met a child who can sit that still for portraits.  Strobes have been turned right down and moved away front the tree.
    Maybe I just have an image in my mind that isn’t going to happen without doing a composite in PS because my tree and work space is too small to bring subjects that much farther in front.

    This is what I’ve got.  Tree is about 4.5 feet tall

    Here’s what I’m after ( I don’t know the photographer, just found on google images) http://www.delalanephotography.com/blog/2012/12/31/kids-christmas-portraits-2012-yucca-valley-photographer/


    Those are nice photos.  Photogenic kids, too.  It looks like the top photo was taken at about 12:20 p.m.  That’s a tall tree, it probably reaches the ceiling.  I imagine it’s around four to six feet behind the ottoman the child is on.  There could be a softbox at camera left, but it might be a picture window.

    Use low ISO, 100 or 200 is probably enough.  To get the bokeh effect you will want a fairly large aperture and long-ish focal length.  Focus where you expect the child to be.  Adjust shutter speed to get the tree the way you want it.  Then introduce a strobe with softbox, to blow light across the scene, in front of the tree, keeping it off the tree.  Move the strobe around and adjust power to get the desired effect.  You may want to put a grid on the front of the softbox, or you may get away with aiming the softbox between camera and subject.

    You are not relying on shutter speed to stop motion.  You are relying on minimal ambient light and a very brief flash to stop motion.

    Let us know how it works out.



    I just realized that I was going to suggest an alternative to the idea CC stated but after typing it I realized that in essence, it was exactly the same.
    The softbox with a grid sounds like a good idea or use a lower power strobe with a grid mounted inside the reflector if you have one like that.  Thinking like an AlienBee type of strobe, if you get my drift.  20° or 30° grid should be fine.


    Thanks, I’ll try that and report back!


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