How to: create that twinkle light backdrop

So, a little while ago, I told you not to wrap your kid in holiday lights but to instead try something like this set-up, which is good advice and you should totally take it. m-twinkle-lights-3wm

But… maybe you don’t know *how* to do such a thing! No worries, I can help you get started. You are going to need to put your camera in manual mode, or at least *AV*/ *A* aperture priority and you’ll need a basic understanding of your camera’s manual features. If these words are Greek to you, maybe call in the pros and ask about a mini session ūüėČ Otherwise, it’s pretty easy to do.

 

What you’re going to need:

  • a bunch of Christmas lights on a WHITE WIRE
  • an SLR camera and lens — I used a Nikon D7000 and Nikon 50mm 1.4 lens but entry level bodies and lenses will work just fine with a little tinkering
  • a solid color background
  • something to hang your lights on

You may want:

  • a white sheer curtain
  • a couple boxes of cheap-o laminate floor
  • speedlight– do NOT use your on-camera flash. It only points forward and will ruin EVERYTHING! ::dramaz::

The first thing you’ll want is something to string lights on. I have a backdrop stand, and used an ivory piece of vinyl backdrop from The Backdrop Shop, but you don’t need a “real” drop; if you have a solid, light color wall in a room that gets LOTS of sun light you could tape lights to your wall. You can use a full size sheet (a twin size white sheet will work if you have only one person in the picture).

This is a pull back of my set up, shot with a wide angle lens. I have a 6×6 backdrop, about 12 pieces¬†floating laminate floor and 2 strings of 150 white lights. If you want to load up your lights, you can buy more, but I think this is plenty. ¬†After you hang your lights, wash your hands!

DSC_0088(also, sweet vintage sled, right?) Shooting in a purple room poses challenges, so I would suggest trying to shoot in a light, neutral colored space. Sooner or later, that purple room will be painted (again, for the 3rd time) a neutral shade as I start offering more sessions in my home space.

You’ll need to set your lens to it’s widest aperture. I know my lens isn’t its sharpest wide open, so I keep it around to 1.8 or 2. You’ll also want your child out as far away from your lights as you can get while still being able to frame the shot well. Depth of field gives us that blurry background with those glowing orbs of light and works when you are closer to your subject than your subject is to whatever is behind it.

You’ll want your shutter speed fast enough to stop any motion.

My settings were¬†f 1.8, SS 1/250, ISO 160 with my white balance set to flash since I had to use my speedlight. I ¬†used my speedlight because I was taking a picture in the early evening¬†when there isn’t a ton of natural light available. I bounced the speedlight on a 45o angle behind me. ¬†I could have adjusted my settings; slowed my shutter speed, ratcheted up my ISO or opened all the way to 1.4 buuuut I have a speedlight and truly, there was very little natural light.

Once you have your settings… set, it’s time to start! You may have to change your settings around here and there. If you don’t like what you’re seeing, adjust your settings. It’s best to take test shots with something like a stuffed animal- something that won’t get peeved at you for taking time to adjust. ¬†Once you have the shot you like, add in your model!¬†I had my daughter sit on the sled to have her up a little higher and a touch farther away from the backdrop. Remember you want to be closer to your kid than your kid is to the lights, but having your lens as open as possible helps a LOT if you don’t have much space.

I took a few practice shots and really didn’t like the look of the lights- they glow pretty yellow (which yea, I could have set a custom white balance but eh) so I put a white, sheer curtain panel over them. It softens the color of the bulbs and creates a sort of faux- bokeh. You can see in the pull-back picture that the lights are still pretty sharp and that is for sure NOT what I wanted. ¬†Draping the sheer made it so soft and perfect.
m-twinkle-lights-1wm

If I had moved my daughter out more¬†the lights would be even larger orbs. I could also use my 35mm lens so I can be zoomed out some and able to get closer to my kids! All kinds of adjustments can be made. I’ll keep shooting and if you’re not getting what you want, keep trying! It’s worth it, promise.

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