Christmas Portraits: How I Took It


A Guest post by Judd Green

Every Christmas I like to get the boys together and do a couple of quick snaps as their Christmas portrait.

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It’s good to look back on and see how much they grow and change every year. When I say quick, I mean quick as they have been my test subjects for so long they get over photos very quickly, keeping kids attention during a portrait session is a whole different post all together!

This year I knew exactly what I wanted, but it was going to be a little challenging then normal. When I think of Christmas I think of decorations, but mainly Christmas lights, and what are Christmas lights good for? Bokeh! My 50mm 1.4 rarely comes off my camera these days, perfect for what I wanted to achieve in capturing some good bokeh.

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So I found some old Christmas lights we weren’t using and set them up in the back yard, I had some colored lights hanging over our fence for the background of the shoot and also had some plain white lights in a circle on the ground for the boys to sit in for the shoot. Now as I wanted the lights to be the feature in the shoot, I had to expose for them first and foremost and for that to happen I had to wait for it to get darker if I wanted to shoot wide open.

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But also in order to have the boys correctly exposed I needed my flash. Now when a flash is involved you are then limited in how fast you can set your shutter speed, any faster then 1/250th you will generally miss getting the flash as the shutter closes up again before the flash has any effect. When working with flashes and strobes I like to play it safe and set my shutter to 1/160th and set everything else accordingly. So with my shutter at 1/160th and aperture at 1.4, then the only other setting to adjust is ISO, which I was happy with the result I got setting it to 800.

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Now everything is set, where to put the flash? I wanted a good silhouette around the boys as I like that look. So the flash needed to come from behind, so it sat on the ground behind the boys. And with the settings I had, it was easy for the flash to over power everything, so I had to set it to it’s lowest power setting possible. But with the flash giving the nice silhouette from behind I needed some sort of light source to light the boy’s faces, that’s when the wife comes in and holds my white reflector bouncing the light from the flash onto the boys faces, which I am very happy with the results.

So that’s the story behind a Christmassy shoot lit up by only Christmas lights, one speed lite and my boy’s smiles.

There is so many different ways to get creative with photography and you don’t need the latest and most fancy equipment, just learn the limits of what you have and maybe even push them.
Merry Christmas all!

Judd Green is a Photographer from Brisbane Australia. See more of his work at

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Some Older Comments

  • Madhukumar December 31, 2012 01:45 pm

    Very nice photos

  • Catherine December 27, 2012 11:05 am

    Just beautiful! As a beginner I am so inspired by this type of work. I hope I m more prepared next year for great Christmas shots. I laughed when I realised your lawn looks like mine and it dawned on me these were summer pics. So used to looking at winter ones but then didn't recognise my own type when I saw it. Thanks for sharing.

  • Penelope December 26, 2012 03:11 am

    Thanks for the setup idea! I didn't even think to use a reflector to add a bit more light to their faces.

  • Caleb Keiter December 21, 2012 05:15 pm

    Judd, thanks for sharing your great images! I recently wrote a similar blog post about Christmas portraits, but I used my Puggle as my model. In my article I talked a bit more about getting great bokeh by separating your subject from the background. Take a look! Merry Christmas!

    How To Take Better Christmas Pictures

  • ram casty December 21, 2012 05:07 pm

    I enjoy reading your techniques, Thank you very much for sharing this! Merry Christmas and have A Blessed New Year to you and to your love ones!

  • Eternalhope December 21, 2012 12:30 pm

    @xd40c Lol!!! I didn't even twig on that! 'Tis lovely having a warm Christmas but I also love the thought of white Christmases. Makes more sense when Santas here still pile on the traditional wooly costumes!

  • Eternalhope December 21, 2012 12:22 pm

    Sweet photos and a nice simple explanation to follow! Love seeing those dried up gum leaves on your lawn! Happy Christmas!

  • xd40c December 21, 2012 08:39 am

    Wow! It's mid-December and the kids are outdoors, at night, with shorts and no shoes! I want to live where you do. We did something similar inside, but using the Christmas tree lights. Love the 50mm 1.4 too.

  • Retesh Patel December 21, 2012 07:17 am

    Nice Pictures guys, I also tried couple of shots and presenting the best one!!!

  • Jay December 21, 2012 04:04 am

    Thanks for sharing both the lovely pictures of your children and the techniques. Happy holidays!

  • Joe Elliott December 20, 2012 09:07 am

    Aw beautiful photos, great job, a 50mm lens is great for the low apertures, I might need to be getting myself one, thanks for sharing :)

  • Scottc December 20, 2012 08:21 am

    Nice work, and a great setup.

  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer December 20, 2012 08:13 am

    Using Christmas lights is a good idea for holiday portraits. I posted a photography tip for such portraits by putting the lights right on the people:

  • Libby December 20, 2012 08:01 am

    Nice job. Usually I'm wanting the kids to dress up at least a little, but here they look good even in the shirts and shorts. Amazing what some good light will do ;-)

  • Reed Lovick December 20, 2012 07:53 am

    Good Fun Stuff!

  • jim December 20, 2012 07:46 am

    Not bad. I like the bokeh. I just did mine last night. You can check them out here
    Seems like your kids were way more patient than mine!

  • Sreenivasa Sudheendra December 20, 2012 06:05 am

  • Marlo Casabar December 20, 2012 05:45 am

    What a cool idea! Thanks for sharing your lighting process!

  • Jai Catalano December 20, 2012 05:43 am

    Those boys are adorable. That sure looks like it made it as this year's christmas card.

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