Tuesday, December 4, 2007

AoaP: Family Pic #1, Under Christmas Lights

The day after Thanksgiving (a.k.a. Black Friday) typically means decorating for Christmas around my house. Actually, I'm being a bit unfair to my wife; she sometimes will until a few days after Thanksgiving before she really pushes to get the decorations up (she loves Christmas). Me, I'm the opposite... while I like Christmas, I hate to decorate. This year I can't complain at all though, because my wife did everything, including the lights outside.

Actually, it's funny. While I always tell my wife she's a Christmas fanatic, she is nothing compared to my aunt up in Washington (the state, not the capitol). For three or four years after I came out to California for grad school (when I was essentially a country away from the rest of my family) my Aunt and Uncle invited me up to their huge Thanksgiving festivities. I had a lot of fun every year seeing my cousins, eating more than I should, and playing soccer in the rainy northwestern weather. The only downside (or, the way I worked off the free room and board) was helping to put up their Christmas decorations the day after Thanksgiving. It was not a small task which took most of the day, because they had at least five or six Christmas trees to put up and decorate!

Anyway, the day after Black Friday was Christmas photo day. We started out inside the house (which I'll talk about in another entry). Then we went out front at dusk and got a shot for our Christmas card on our front steps with the Christmas lights. More than anything, it was a waiting game: waiting until the ambient from the sky was slightly darker than the light from the Christmas lights. Obviously, I used a tripod and the camera timer to trigger the image. In the first photo, at left, the sky was way too bright leaving our faces in shadow.

So we waited five more minutes, and improved to the image at right. Still not quite enough illumination on our faces... So we waited ten more minutes, and got the shot at the top of the page. I like how the Christmas lights create a zone of warm light around our faces. I did do a little doctoring though, adjusting the levels (curves) and putting a slight vignette on the image to darken the concrete at the bottom of the image and bring out our faces more.

We had our cards printed at Costco, but I made the mistake of not turning off color correction, and the image tricked their software, blowing out our faces a little bit and losing some detail. The end result is a bad case of red-face, but not enough to ruin the cards. Overall, I'm quite happy with the shot!

As luck would have it, Strobist justed posted Apropos to the Season which links to the How To Photograph Christmas Lights post from last season. The balancing of artificial light with skylight that Hobby describes is exactly what I did for this image, although I didn't use tungsten color balance because I didn't want our surroundings to be too cold. Instead, I'd rather have our faces a little on the warm side. In hindsight, maybe they are a bit too warm, but too late now, we've already got 150 cards printed!

Next time though, I'm going to do a test card with auto-correct on and make sure the colors are correct.

And in my next post, I'll describe the indoor shots, some of which came out really nice, and some of which came out so-so. We took a lot of shots that Saturday, and trust me, it wasn't all fun and games!

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