12 things to photograph this Christmas

12 things to photograph this Christmas

Don't mope around the house - get shooting!

Things to photograph in winter

The Christmas break gives you time to think, plan and experiment

Winter can seem like a pretty miserable time for photography. The days are short, the weather's cold, the trees are bare and it's like the whole world has shut down – especially over the Christmas and New Year break.

But photography is like an itch, especially if you just got a new bit of camera gear. You've got all this time off from work and you just want to get out there and take pictures. But what of?

Well, here are 12 ideas. You don't have to do them all and you don't have to do them in any particular order, but they're all pretty straightforward and they might give you some inspiration to go off at a tangent with your own projects.

Some of these need a more advanced camera, some can be shot on a smartphone. The only bits of fancy gear required are a tripod and, perhaps, a folding reflector for indoor lighting control – though a big sheet of white card can do just as well.

Tripods, by the way, are fantastic. They are big, bulky and annoying, but they really open up the range of things you can photograph. Especially in the deep, dark gloom of winter.

01 Snow and ice

Things to photograph in winter

If you get a white Christmas, make the most of it!

If you're not lucky enough to live in the middle of a breathtaking alpine landscape, try looking out for smaller scale scenes which could make a good picture. This small copse of bare trees made a very interesting pattern.

The only tricky part with snow scenes is the exposure – you'll need to add anything from 0.7EV to 1.7EV compensation to make snow come out white. If you don't, it'll end up a muddy gray color.

Don't be tempted to switch to the cloudy white balance setting for snow shots on overcast days because this gives snow a warm tone which looks terrible. Auto white balance or the daylight preset are best because snow should have a slightly cold tone.

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• How long will it take?
No time at all. If you get snow, you're going to go out for a walk anyway, right?

• What you'll need
Any camera, from a smartphone to an SLR

• Shooting tips
Look for patterns, stark shapes and splashes of color. If the sky is a dull gray, crop it out!

• Editing tips
If you get the settings right when you shoot, there's not much to do.

02 Indoor still life

Things to photograph in winter

Clear the table, raid your cupboards for props and start experimenting

If the weather outside is frightful, do your shooting indoors! This setup took half an hour or so to organize and it starts with some old curtain material taped to the wall to give the background some height. The rest of the props came from the garden shed, some household ornaments and a trip to the local home decor store.

The lighting is completely artificial – a simple high-intensity work lamp placed out of shot to the left. The fill-in light coming in from the right is simply being bounced off a large sheet of white card.

From here it's just a case of adjusting props and experimenting with the lighting – and you can learn a lot about lighting when you're in complete control like this.

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• How long will it take?
Give it at least an hour, probably two. You'll need time to set up your props and lighting, and once you start you'll really get into it.

• What you'll need
A camera with a tripod socket and long exposure capability, plus a tripod – household lamps aren't that powerful, so the exposure time could be a second or more.

• Shooting tips
Move further away and use a longer zoom setting – this flattens the perspective and helps you fill the frame with the background material. You may need to switch to your camera's Incandescent white balance preset to get natural-looking colors.

• Editing tips
Try doing a little dodging and burning to improve the lighting – here, I lightened the side of the basket and the area to the right.

03 Close ups

Things to photograph in winter

When you get in close, the everyday can become extraordinary

This is something else you can try indoors, using either window light or artificial light. This picture of a sunflower was shot with a macro lens – these let you get much closer to your subjects than a regular lens. You don't normally notice the spiky green bracts around the edge of a sunflower, but by getting in close and going for a tight, horizontal crop you can produce an interesting semi-abstract composition.

If you don't have a macro lens, see how close you can get with your regular kit lens – the trick is to use the maximum zoom setting because the minimum focus distance won't change and this will give the maximum magnification.

Many compact cameras have 'macro' modes but this is almost always at the wideangle end of the zoom – this makes it hard to control the background and get flat, geometric effects like this one.

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• How long will it take?
Allow an hour to get your subject, lighting, background and camera angles just right.

• What you'll need
A tripod, a DSLR or mirrorless camera and a macro lens – or at least a kit lens focused as close as it will go.

• Shooting tips
If you're using artificial light, choose a matching white balance preset to keep the colors natural. For softer light, try bouncing the light off a big white card.

• Editing tips
If there's unwanted detail around the edges or too much of the background is showing, just crop in tighter.

04 Bleak black and white

Things to photograph in winter

Grim, urban dereliction can look great in winter!

The world isn't always full of beautiful things, but sometimes even the ugliest subjects can make great pictures – and black and white is the perfect medium for this shot because it emphasises shape, contrast and composition without the distraction of color.

Stormy gray skies can look great in black and white, and here, the still surface of the river in the foreground has created a surreal mirror image of the industrial ruins beyond. You can also find reflections in windows and puddles – if your camera has a tilting LCD screen you'll be able to compose shots with the camera resting on the toe of your shoe (not in the water please).

Try using nearby doors, windows and arches to frame the scene beyond and, because this is black and white, you can use some pretty outrageous image adjustments later on the computer without worrying about what's going to happen to the colors.

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• How long will it take?
It depends on how far you live from a big urban area. Add in a couple more hours for wandering about – it takes time to absorb your surroundings and think through the angles.

• What you'll need
Any camera, from a smartphone to an SLR

• Shooting tips
Be careful with the exposure – it's important to hold on to highlight detail, especially in skies. You can usually pull detail out of the shadows, but highlights are harder to recovere.

• Editing tips
Use the Dodge and Burn tools in Photoshop, or similar tools if you're using other software, to tweak small areas. Here, I lightened the interiors of the ruined buildings and the reflection in the water.

05 Amazing interiors

Things to photograph in winterBeautiful buildings make beautiful pictures

Don't be timid about shooting indoors in low light. Today's cameras can produce good quality images even at higher ISO settings, where flash would just kill the atmosphere and produce a rubbish shot – and probably get you thrown out. If you need to use a slow shutter speed, brace the camera against a wall or a chair and take a couple of shots for extra insurance.

Shooting interiors is actually pretty easy, and because the lighting is mostly artificial, it hardly matters what's happening outside. This picture was taken inside a cathedral towards the end of the afternoon, and you can see the blue light coming in through the windows and contrasting with the warm interior lighting.

This is another shot that uses a reflection – this time it's the water in a large font, and the camera lens was just a few millimetres above the surface. The distortion in the walls comes from using a super-wideangle fisheye lens, but a regular wideangle lens (or a regular zoom at its widest setting) can give you great images too.

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• How long will it take?
Usually a tripod will be impractical, so you'll be shooting faster anyway. Give yourself half an hour or an hour on your own to look and think and experiment.

• What you'll need
Ideally, a DSLR or mirrorless camera, and the widest-angle lens you can get, a little patience – it takes time to walk around and find the best angles, and to wait for passers-by to move out of the way.

• Shooting tips
Tripods are usually impractical, so brace the camera against any available surface and avoid super-high ISOs if you can.

• Editing tips
If you get the camera settings right there's not much to do later, though shooting raw files rather than JPEGs will give you more options later for tweaking white balance and exposure.

06 Winter landscapes

Things to photograph in winter

Landscapes don't have to be all waving poppies and dancing butterflies

Winter can be a cold, grim time, but it's the perfect chance to bring out the brooding drama in windswept landscapes. So what if you don't happen to live a five-minute drive from the Lake District or the Yosemite National Park? Landscapes don't have to be vast and epic – sometimes the details can be just as interesting and just as expressive.

Landscape photography is partly about knowing the best spots, partly about timing and partly about viewpoint and framing. The viewpoint was especially important here. The camera was right down low, almost at ground level, because this hid a line of rather ordinary houses in the background and set the weatherbeaten wood perfectly against that stormy winter sky.

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• How long will it take?
Once you've found an interesting location, give yourself an hour. You might see all the good shots straight away, but sometimes you need to just wander about checking the angles for a while.

• What you'll need
Any camera will do, though a DSLR or mirrorless camera would be good because then you can use a graduated filter to darken the sky.

• Shooting tips
Be patient and persistent! Local scenes are best because you might have to go back a dozen times before the light is right.

• Editing tips
You can give winter landscapes a big contrast boost to increase the drama and use a bit of crafty editing to darken the sky. Localised contrast adjustments like Lightroom's Clarity slider can really make clouds stand out.

07 Night shots

Things to photograph in winter

You don't have to put your camera away just because it's dark

Night shots can look fantastic, and they're really easy to do with a digital camera. In the days of film you'd face all sorts of problems with color shifts and reciprocity failure (don't ask), but with digital you just extend the exposure as long as you need to.

But there are two different approaches. One is to shoot handheld, and here you'll need to bump up the ISO, brace the camera and put up with noisy pictures – this works well for documentary style photography. Or you can get out the tripod, take your time setting up the shot and settle down to some long exposures – 10 seconds, 30 seconds or up to a minute, depending on the scene. You can use a low ISO to get top quality and the long exposure captures traffic as rivers of light.

If you can, shoot soon after sunset. That way, there will still be some color in the sky – that's made all the difference to this architectural shot.

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• How long will it take?
Everyone's different, but I tend to 'see' the night shots I want very quickly. If you want to capture color in the sky at dusk you don't have long – a 1 hour window after sundown at most.

• What you'll need
Any camera you can fix to a tripod… and a tripod, a remote release so that you don't jog the camera (though you can use the camera's self-timer). You'll also need manual control of the ISO setting.

• Shooting tips
Don't believe the camera's meter because it will be fooled into underexposure by bright light sources in the frame. You can use auto exposure but start by adding +1EV exposure compensation – or shoot in manual mode and use trial and error.

• Editing tips
If you've got the camera settings right, there's not much to do later except perhaps tweak the white balance and exposure settings.

08 Sunsets

Things to photograph in winter

You get sunsets at a civilized time, another reason to love winter!

It's not just sunsets but sunrises too – both happen at much more convenient times in the winter. So you can stop on the way into work and capture a spectacular dawn, and pull over to grab a stunning sunset on the way home. It's not like the summer, when these happen practically in the middle of the night, for heaven's sake.

It's hard to predict when you're going to get a good sky, though, because clear days can end in a kind of hazy mush that makes you wish you hadn't bothered waiting, while bad-weather days can end with a blaze of light through air washed clean by the rain.

So be prepared. Keep your camera with you and keep a shortlist of possible locations in your mind. Beaches are good because wet sand will reflect the colors in the sky, but any strong shapes make great silhouettes and will give your sunset shots a focal point.

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• How long will it take?
It's mostly journey time, since the window for a good sunset may be just minutes. Keep a list of good nearby sunset locations in your head so that when you can see the conditions are good you can get yourself in the right place at the right time.

• What you'll need
Any camera will do. A DSLR or mirrorless camera will give the best results, but if a smartphone's all you've got with you, that's fine too.

• Shooting tips
Watch the exposure. The sky is the subject so don't let it overexpose, and use the camera's EV compensation control to reduce the exposure if it does.

• Editing tips
If you're shooting in a hurry it's easy to overlook a wonky horizon and bits of rubbish in the foreground, so a bit of straightening and cloning later can make all the difference.

09 Have a go at HDR

Things to photograph in winter

You can make HDR complicated if you want, but quick and dirty is just as good

HDR stands for high dynamic range photography, and it's a technique for capturing a much wider brightness range than your camera's sensor can normally record – you take the same shot at a series of different exposures and then merge them into a single image.

Technically minded photographers would use a tripod, a remote release and a pocket calculator to work out how many shots to take at what kind of exposure interval and with what sort of initial exposure offset.

Or you could just set the camera to auto-exposure bracketing mode with an exposure difference of 2EV or 3EV and put it in continuous shooting mode. You press and hold the shutter and the camera fires off three different exposures in quick succession and the job's done. You don't need a tripod because any decent HDR software will be able to adjust any slight misalignment during the merging process.

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• How long will it take?
My quick-and-dirty HDR shooting technique takes no longer than regular photography – the only extra time needed is on the computer later.

• What you'll need
A camera with an exposure bracketing function, and one that can shoot raw files will give you a little extra exposure leeway. You'll also need HDR software – HDR Efex Pro, for example (Google Nik Collection), Photomatix or Aurora HDR (MacPhun – Mac only).

• Shooting tips
Keep the camera still while it shoots the exposure series to keep framing variations to a minimum.

• Editing tips
Most HDR software comes with one-click presets – you can then make manual adjustments to the parameters if you need to.

10 Long exposures

Things to photograph in winter

Blur can be brilliant when it's done creatively

There's big craze amongst landscape photographers for long exposures – and we're talking anything from 5 seconds to 5 minutes. Anything stationary, like rocks, hills and headlands, will stay perfectly sharp, but water will blur into a smoky mist and clouds will streak across the sky. It's actually really easy to do as long as you don't mind carrying a tripod and standing around rather a lot.

The key is in the long exposure times and how to get them. I got this shot of an old lighthouse by shooting at dusk, when the light was low enough for a 15-second exposure. You're not going to be able to do this in the bright light of day, even at the smallest lens aperture available. If you do need to shoot in full daylight, you'll need a powerful neutral density (ND) filter to reduce the light passing through the lens.

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• How long will it take?
Maybe an hour, once you've allowed for tripod set-up time, experimenting with framing and getting the exposure right.

• What you'll need
A tripod, a camera capable of long exposures and the ability to control the lens aperture (to adjust the exposure time). If you're shooting in bright daylight you'll also need a powerful ND filters.

• Shooting tips
Compose the shot around the static elements in the scene – remember, clouds and water will blur.

• Editing tips
None specifically, though you may need to clone out bright 'hotspots' in the water.

11 Window portraits

Things to photograph in winter

Who needs studio flash when you've got a window?

True, studio flash is infinitely controllable and it's used by just about all pro portrait photographers for their commercial work, but that doesn't mean it's the only way to take attractive pictures of people. In its own way, window light is just as controllable. You can move your subject nearer to the window to get a softer, all enveloping light, or move them further away to get a more intense, directional light. And you can use a large folding reflector to 'bounce' light back into the shadowed part of their face, adjusting the intensity by changing the angle or distance of the reflector.

You may need to increase the ISO setting to get shake-free shutter speeds, and make sure you use a longer zoom setting – if you get too close to your subject you distort their features.

Window light is terrific for winter portraits because it doesn't matter what the weather's doing outside and while strength of the lighting may change, its quality and direction will stay the same.

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• How long will it take
Half an hour? It can be less or more, depending on how much time you and your subject have for experimenting.

• What you'll need
Any camera with a zoom, though a DSLR or mirrorless camera will give better quality at higher ISOs. A kit lens at full zoom is OK, but a proper 'portrait' lens, such as an 85mm f/1.8 will give nicer background blur.

• Shooting tips
Use a wide lens aperture to throw the background out of focus and focus on your subject's eye – the one nearest the camera. That's the most important thing to get sharp in a portrait.

• Editing tips
I added a white vignette to this picture to give it a lighter feel and hide some background clutter. You could try using a soft focus effect, but keep it subtle.

12 Arty abstracts

Things to photograph in winter

Shapes, textures and lines can be fascinating in themselves

If photography was just about capturing a literal facsimile of the world around us we might just as well walk around with a color photocopier under one arm. The fact is, though, that we engage with pictures on a much more emotive level, and there's a lot of satisfaction to be derived simple from the graphical arrangement of objects in the scene – that's what the art of composition is all about.

Abstract photography just takes this that one step further, so that it's not what the picture is 'of' that matters, it's whether the picture is visually satisfying in itself.

You can find abstract images everywhere once you start to look. These are patterns in the surface of a rock on a beach, and within a 50-yard radius there were a dozen other similar but unique shots ready to be captured.

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• How long will it take
Give yourself an hour to walk around slowly if you go out with abstracts in mind or, if you're out walking anyway, just keep your eyes peeled for interesting compositions.

• What you'll need
Any camera will do, though one with a zoom and decent close-up capability will help.

• Shooting tips
Crop in tight, experiment with angles and look for striking contrasts in color or texture.

• Editing tips
I gave this picture a contrast and saturation boost to bring out the colors. Some shots, by contrast, will work better with less saturation or converted to black and white.










Source: TechRadar.com





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