1. Preparations are part of the celebration

Even before Christmas starts, there is a lot going on. Get busy capturing the motion that is put in place by the Christmas preparations. Have a picture of the kids decorating the tree, the grandma baking the cookies and the wife setting the table. These are candid pictures, but you should not forget about composition rules while hunting the perfect moment. Try to fill the frame in order to have your subject free from distractions. Since we are talking about indoor pictures of people in motion, make sure to set the ISO sensitivity higher. Test a few shots to adjust your camera settings to a shutter speed that keeps motion blur away.

2. Photograph the indoor and outdoor Christmas lights

Decorations aren’t just in your tree. In fact, it’s quite possible that before you even started to put the globes in your evergreen tree, the city is already packed up for Christmas. Grab your camera, get out, and watch out for the leading lines of the garlands hanging from the lampposts. Or, if you live in the countryside and the houses are surrounded by lights, I suggest you shoot from a sideways perspective rather than a simple frontal one. A few extra-tips: look for reflections and symmetry, add the light trail of the passing cars, try a vertical composition.

Pay attention to exposure: because most of the scene is dark, your camera will try to increase the exposure time, and therefore, the areas around the lights will end up overexposed. You don’t want that to happen, so you need to forget about “auto” shooting mode and change to “program” or “shutter speed priority”. Use an exposure time that is fast enough to avoid camera shake, and if needed, adjust the exposure compensation in such a way that the interest areas of the photo will be the ones perfectly exposed.

3. Shooting macro photos of Christmas tree decorations

About this particular subject, I wrote an article back in 2009. You can read it here. To make a recap: “Program” Mode, rear flash, adjusted exposure (differs from scene to scene), tripod and remote control or 2 seconds shutter delay. If the flash light is still too bright even if you put it in rear mode and set its brightness to minimum, you can use a flash diffuser. For brighter scenes you can put the flash off and increase ISO. Additionally, if you don’t want your reflection to show on the globes, use a polarization filter. Try to shoot macro photos of the decorations in both these scenarios: with the tree lights on, with the tree lights off. The results are very different.

4. Keep it simple – photograph a simple scene without busy background

Most of the time, Christmas decorations are photographed as part of a busy scenery. However, modern photos show a single globe, or some one-colored arrangement of  Christmas decorations, over a simple, blurred background, with no tree lights behind the subject. It doesn’t hurt to make a few pictures like these, and transform them into amazing self-made greeting cards that you can send over to your friends and family.

It doesn’t have to be a decoration. It can be a gift box with a pretty ribbon, a few candles, or even cookies.

5. Use a bokeh filter to capture dreamy images of Christmas lights

First of all, you can take great shots by creating simple round bokeh. The key is to have a front object (your main subject) at a considerable distance in front of the lights (may it be the tree lights or other indoor or outdoor ornaments), and focus on it, preferably in macro mode. It’s not like you can’t create bokeh without a main focused object, but I rather do so because it’s more interesting. A plain simple bokeh photo is only useful as texture or background for something else. But, it you want to know, here’s how you do it in the simplest way: frame your picture and keep it out of focus as much as you want – the more out of focus it is, the larger the round shapes.

You can use a filter to change to round shapes into something else, like hearts or stars. For this purpose, grab a piece of cardboard and cut it in such way that you can attach it to the lens. Then, before you put it in place on front of your camera, cut out the desired shape in the middle of the cardboard.

Here’s a tip I bet you haven’t thought of: use the zooming effect while shooting a picture of the tree (or the city lights). The result will be impressive: something similar to the  third image below.

6. Capture emotions when presents are opened

Don’t get too excited about opening your own presents, even if you die to put your hands on those boxes and bags. First of all, take photos of everyone else opening their presents (even the dog – hehe). These will be the most cherished memories, the ones that your family members will want to have framed. Plus, this is when you can get some authentic emotions instead of directed family shots when people gather in front of the tree and smile only when you say “cheese!”. Keep in mind to have the action in a “golden” area of the frame, respecting the rule of thirds, and don’t center your subject (see the second pic as example: the front kid is one action, and the group of three is another action, in the opposite corner).

7. Create astonishing portraits while celebrating Christmas

Group shots are easy, but the picture is better if everyone is wearing a Santa hat. Everyone wants to have a picture in front of the tree, wearing the new winter sweater or holding the present. What most people often do wrong in this situation – the single portraits, is to photograph the person with the tree, disregarding the main subject. If you focus on the entire scene, it will be too distracting. For a good portrait in front of the tree, you have to tell your model to step away from the tree and closer to you, then frame the photo having your subject visible from the torso upwards, and the tree partially sideways. This way, you will be able to increase the DOF, obtaining a bokeh filled tree and a perfectly focused portrait-closeup.

8. Photograph the Christmas dinner table

Another moment of Christmas that everyone considers important, is the family dinner. It is important because everyone is finally gathered into one place, and eats delicious food. By saying this, I already gave you the main photography points of focus: capture the joy of the people and the food on the plates. This means that you need to grab everyone’s attention and have them look at you before you click the button, capturing the entire picture from afar. To capture both the food on the table, the tree from behind and the smiling people, get up with your feet on a chair and take a sort-of-birds-eye photo. Then, to photograph the food, take a close-up but keep a perspective that will tell everyone this shot was done on Christmas. To do so, crouch down with your eyes at the table level, and have the Christmas tree far off in the background.

9. Create a short animation of the Christmas Tree Lights going on and off

If you shoot in continuous mode for several seconds while having your camera still, you will get a number of pictures of the Christmas tree in which the Christmas lights are blinking on and off. A computer software will then stitch these photos into an animated GIF file that will remember everyone how beautiful the decorated tree was.

10. Outdoor daylight Christmas fun

The second day of Christmas is still full of events that require your attention (even if you would prefer to lay in bed, cozy settled with a cup of hot chocolate). There’s a lot you can photograph if there is snow. Kids creating snowmen, or snow angels, young people having a snowball fight, and older people drinking a hot cup of tea while watching them. With a fast shutter speed you can capture the snow up in the air (have your model blow it, for example).

In the evening, play around with white balance and capture the strong contrast of colors between the bluish tint of the snow and the yellow of the lights.

11. Be Creative!

This is a final tip, to show you some examples of what you can do with your camera, while shooting and while post-processing.

This article presents an alternative technique for  adjusting sharpness using Photoshop, other than the existing “sharpening” filters. – Courtesy of  Inayat Ali Shah, a passionate photographer from Pakistan. Read more about him here.


When we talk of sharpness it is often thought to be a solution to a poorly focused or blurred image.  But it is not: a poorly focused or blurred image will remain a poorly blurred. Actual sharpness describes the clarity of detail in a photo, and can be a valuable creative tool for emphasizing texture.  Proper photographic and post-processing technique can go a long way towards improving sharpness, although sharpness is ultimately limited by your camera equipment, image magnification and viewing distance. Two fundamental factors contribute to the perceived sharpness of an image: resolution and acutance.

Acutance: Is how quickly image information transitions at an edge. High acutance results in sharp transitions and detail with clearly defined borders.
Resolution: The camera’s ability to distinguish between closely spaced elements of detail.

How to sharpen your images

Step 1

Open your image in Photoshop.


Step 2

Zoom into an area of detail that is important or would benefit from sharpening.


Step 3

In The Layers panel, right click on the Image Icon, a menu will open up and select duplicate layer.

A new layer containing the image will be created.  In this case it is called “Background Copy”.

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Step 4

In the layers panel, keeping the “Background Copy” layer selected, right click on it and a menu will pop-up.  Select “Covert to Smart layer”  and have the image converted to a smart layer.


Step 5

Keeping The “Background Copy” layer selected, click on filters – other – high pass.


Step 6

The HighPass Filter will appear, Keep the “Preview” button selected and adjust the slider for radius.
The Highpass filter will turn the image grey and my personal suggestion is to adjust the slider to where on starts to see darker sharp outlines with a little lighter grey areas along side it.  But not too much as excessive adjustment will lead to a “halo” effect.

Then Click the “OK” button

But don’ worry too much now as this will be fine tuned later.


Step 7

Now go back to the “layers” panel and where it says normal .. Click on it and select ” Overlay” and voila.  It will result in a sharpened image.

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Side by side comparison of the original and sharpened image.


Step 8

Fine tuning

Now go back and examine the image closely ..in all areas .. making sure you are satisfied with the level of sharpening.  If not there are a few ways you can adjust the sharpening.  To increase or decrease.

1.   Go back to the layers panel, keep the “Background Copy” layer selected, double click on the text that says “High Pass” and the “High Pass Filter” dialog will pop up again.   Now as you adjust the slider you will be able to see the sharpening effect change in real time.


Step 9

Other ways to adjust the sharpening effect

(a)  Select “Soft light” Instead of “Overlay”
(b)  Change the “Opacity” or “Fill” of the layer from the Layers Panel.

Step 10

Additionally, you cam use the “Mask” capability of a layer to apply the sharpening to selective areas.

yosemite-participantsPeru Travel Photography Workshop 2015

This is a 14 days trip in Peru, organized by travel photographer Brendan van Son.

From a travel photography standpoint, the most amazing thing about Peru is the diversity. The country really does wrap up all the different aspects of photography into one country. You’ll get the chance to do wildlife photography with the condors, take portraits of people across the country, capture architecture in Arequipa and Cusco, and shoot landscapes at places like Pisac and The Colca Canyon. If there ever was a country to build and diversify your portfolio in a short period of time, it’s Peru.

2015 Photography Workshops with Frank Comisar

The founder of Scenic Aperture, and also an award winning professional landscape, wildlife, and nature photographer, scheduled 9 different workshops for 2015. You can see a list with details here. The participants limit is very low, so make sure to book your place if you like it.

2015 Photography Workshops in San Francisco

If you live in or near San Francisco, then you will be able to get to these workshops easily. ss-bay-bridge-panoDon’t worry if you miss one, there are more of the same programmed during the year. These are held by Aperture Academy – a professional organization dedicated to safe, quality, positive experiences. They promise breathtaking locations and beautiful wildlife at every workshop.

2015 Photo Tours & Workshops with Gary Hart

gc1Gary Hart, a full-time professional nature photographer with over 30 years photography experience prepared upcoming photography workshops in YosemiteHawaii Big Island VolcanoesEastern SierraDeath Valley Winter Moon, and Maui Tropical Paradise. These all sound exotic and fascinating.

2015 Zion National Park Fall Foliage Photography Workshop

Prepare for five days in beautiful Zion National Park (Utah) at or near peak fall foliage. You will be photographing amazing sunrises & sunsets along with striking fall foliage color with not one but two full-time fine art photographers (Matt Suess and Christine Hauber) as your instructors and guides. Only 8 students are accepted, and the period of this workshop is Friday, November 6 – Tuesday, November 10, 2015.

Bob Evans’ 2015 Photography workshop schedule

Groups of 10 students will be formed to go on photo tours with Bob Evan as follows: Winter in YosemiteEastern Sierra NevadaColumbia Gorge, OregonSmoky Mountains National Park and Bryce and Zion, Utah. Here’s what one of the previous year’s students said:

Bob has a very personable style and takes time to listen to and work hands on with his students to determine their needs and assists in the achievement of their goals. Whether you’re a seasoned photographer looking for some great photographic opportunities, or a beginner hoping to advance your skill level, I am confident Bob will help you. One of the highlights of all of his workshops is the group critique session and lectures where students have an opportunity to share and learn.New+1200Galaxy

2015 MUENCH Photography Workshops

Muench Workshops was founded on the friendship and common love of photography shared by Marc Muench, Andy Williams and David Rosenthal. When I browsed the workshops offer for 2015, I was pleased to see there’s at least one opportunity for every month of the year. However, some of them are already sold out! And given this quote, I am not surprised:

We lead photo workshops—not photo tours, and there’s a big difference! Expect to be immersed in photography every day with both group and individual instruction, and trust us: you can sleep in at home!

2015 Photo Tours with Jim Cline


2015 Photo Workshops with Dave Allen

s_gods_countryLearn to use your digital camera to its full potential while shooting photos at visually inspiring locations throughout Western North Carolina and the Smoky Mountains with landscape photographer Dave Allen. Attendance will be limited to a small group of participants in order to maintain an effective learning environment, ensuring that you receive plenty of one on one instruction throughout the day. These trips are short, but for landscape photography, that’s enough.

  • Spring in Charleston SC Photo Workshop – 2 Days
  • WNC Waterfalls Workshops – 1 Day
  • Blue Ridge Parkway Landscapes Workshops – 1 Day
  • Spring in the Smokies Photo Workshop – 2 Days

2015 Adventures in Light Photography Workshops and Tours

downloadJoseph Rossbach, Kurt Budliger and Alex Mody will help you explore, learn and chase the light in amazing locations. See here a full list of available workshops (or what’s left of them, since again some are sold out).

Our tour instructors work with each client on an individual basis providing feedback and instruction when needed. All tours and workshop are conducted in locations that each instructor has intimate knowledge and years of experience shooting in. This allows us to know when and where to go based on changing weather and light.


There are many more photography workshops that deserve attention and which you should look into, but the few I have selected are on my own personal wish-list – and we can’t have them all, right?