Christmas Twinkle Light Pictures- A How To

I was a busy picture taking elf this weekend.

Oh yeah, I took that!

And this…

And this one…

And those aren’t even the ones that made the cut for the Christmas cards!

After one year of owning my fancy pants camera (Canon EOS Rebel T2i), I finally feel I have enough of a grasp on how it actually works to start getting creative.

I ordered Lightroom and the Clickin Moms Film Art Presets last week, and as soon as I get LR this week, I’m going to start teaching myself a thing or two about post processing.

Speaking of Clickin Moms, I’m a little obsessed with it lately. They have an iPhone app, so I just spend all the time I’m nursing Leyna browsing the forums. That’s where I got the idea for these pictures and figured out what I needed to do to set it up. It was so simple once I figured it out.

Here’s how I made them happen:

I took these with my 50mm 1.4 lens. My settings were 1.8-2.0F, 200 ISO, 1/160-1/200 SS (I think, I’m doing my best to remember all that, but that’s the general range for everything.) I used auto white balance, and that seemed to be fine.

The Setup: (Let us all laugh at how horrible this looks!)

I set this up on our bed since we have a wall of windows to the right, and then I opened the bathroom door on the left and let in the light from the window there, too. Luckily, I didn’t need a reflector of any sort. All I needed to set this up was 2 white sheets, a white fuzzy blanket (we already had all of that), and 2 strings of icicle lights (on WHITE cords!).

I took the curtains down to let all the light in, but wound up hanging a couple back up when the sun got low enough in the sky that it was causing dappled light on the bed. I hung a couple just so they would block the directΒ sunlight.

I taped a flat, white sheet to the wall behind the bed, then I taped the lights over the top of it. I wish I would have had more lights!

The fuzzy blanket is at the end of the bed, and the rest of the bed is covered in a white sheet.

Then I just positioned my subjects at the end of the bed, and I shot a few feet away from them. That gave me nice bokeh (fuzzy lights) in the background, and helped blur out most of the cords, though I still need to go in and blur out some of them.

Easy peasy! My focus is a smidge off on most of them, but that’s something I’m still working on mastering. They are good enough for Christmas cards, though.

From what I gathered from reading tutorials and the thread on Clickin Moms, the keys to making this happen is to keep your subject 4 or more feet away from the lights and getting your aperture as wide open as you can. I hope that helps spell it out a little bit. I’m by no means a pro at any of this, but I can try to answer questions you have, so let me know if you’re confused.

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  1. Your fancy pants camera makes me feel inadequate. I never have gorgeous shots of the kids, and my panda is all sad. πŸ™ WANT WANT WANT (but ain’t never gonna get – not until Mama hits the lotto.)

    • If I ever make it up to Chicago, I’d be happy to take some pics of the kids for you! I finally justified the cost after adding up all the photo sessions of the kids I wanted every year. But, you know, now that I’m really learning photography, I’m realizing I could have taken MUCH better pictures with my less expensive point and shoot, too. I had no idea how to work that camera either, and a camera on auto, no matter how much it costs, just isn’t going to produce the best results. Not that you have a ton of time to figure out photography, but there are ways you can take great pics without an expensive camera.

      • I REALLLY need to learn how to use my P&S. I have no idea what any of the settings do, except that the pictures always seem flat. And I have no time to photoshop anything. Do you have a website where I can learn about those darn settings?

  2. nice work!! i just bought a Canon EOS Rebel T3 which will probably remain on the auto setting until i die! i know nothing about photography and have absolutely no ambition to learn – i just want to be able to take pictures of my kids without a 10 second lag time between shots!

  3. Wow, Jill, you never cease to amaze me! Gorgeous, gorgeous photos and excellent setting. Hopefully we’ll get to see how the holiday card turns out. Excellent tutorial, too. You are one awesome Mama!!!

  4. I was admiring these photos on Facebook and seething with jealousy that I didn’t have a white wall to hang my lights on…but the sheet is GENIUS. I can’t wait to see which ones DID make the card!

  5. Speaking of ClickinMoms, do you feel like you’ve been able to learn a lot through the forums as opposed to paying more money for their special classes? I’m debating whether to purchase the discounted life membership today (40% off). If I’m paying over $100 for access to the site, I’d like to learn as much as I can without paying more money for their classes.

    • Definitely! There are tutorials out the wazoo on there. I still haven’t had time to read through all of them. I don’t plan to take any classes any time soon.

      • I have joined Clickin Moms but was wondering if anyone has taken the classes. Right now they are kind of spendy and was wondering if they were worth the money. Also I wasn’t sure how online learing photography would be as opposed to may be taking a class at a community college? I didn’t know if I would have a hard time learning it online. Any thoughts any one?

  6. Just one question…How did you get your husband to wear that hat?!?! Mine would never, especially if it was going on a Christmas card. πŸ˜‰

    • Scott is so awesome like that. We have always been *that* couple that isn’t afraid to be goofy and loud. We have matching hats like that. We’ve had them for the last… 6? years, and we wear them every year.

  7. They look great, Jill! And you would never guess they were taken on your bed! I saw your photo on FB and thought I might try my hand at it. We don’t have the same camera but I do have the same lens as you. And twinkle lights . . . if I can only get them untangled πŸ˜‰

    Good job!

  8. OMG only thing I can think of when I see that Leyna pic is CHEESECAKE! Love it. I sent this to the hubs (he is our budding hobby photographer). Fantastic idea!

  9. Great pictures!! I also have a good “light” room that I set up like that! I use Lightroom 3 and I love it! You should also download Noiseware. It’s a post processing program that will help make your pictures crisp and clear. It’s free on (Noiseware Community Edition). Then when you export pictures from LR you can set it up to take them through Noiseware and then save the filtered file!

  10. Love the pictures! What lens do you use most often? My husband is upgrading me to a rebel for Christmas after using a canon powershot sx110 for the last few years. I’ve LOVED it aside from the fact that it takes nearly ten seconds for the flash to recharge! Also, are there any filters or other accessories you’d recommend?

    • I only have one lens, and I absolutely love it. It’s a 50mm 1.4. I skipped the kit lenses and invested in this one and a camera body instead. Other than that, I really don’t have anything. I’m hoping to get a few accessories for Christmas.

  11. Ooh those are beautiful and very clever. Makes me wish I had some lights here on white cords. I’m having a hard time getting the baby to sit still w/ the toddler at the same time lol. Thanks for sharing your technique!! most ppl never want to tell you how they did it.

  12. Oh love it! I’m just starting to really get into my Nikon d40, I wish it was a d5000, but it will do for now. I’m a member of CM and I’m trying to navigate through the tutorials. I think the challenge is that I don’t know the questions to ask. And I’m pretty bad at my depth of field… Someone is always just a little bit off. I’ll totally be checking back for pointers because my new years resolution is to get alot better at it all πŸ™‚

  13. I was wondering besides lightroom has anyone tried Gimp? I heard it is free and has almost the same stuff as photoshop. I have a MacBook and would love to save some money and download it free. Anyone have any experience with it? Pros? Cons?

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  16. Hi there,
    Stumbled upon your tutorial from Twitter and this is really awesome and so easy to actually set, stage and shoot… your explanation can be followed by anyone, easy and straight forward = awesome…

    “My focus is a smidge off on most of them”

    Tip: get yourself a tripod. It doesn’t need to be an expensive one, but if you had taken all your shots using one, it would have reduced the “offness” you claim had happen as it stabilizes the camera. (add this to your Christmas)
    When the human body breathes, it moves, even when we think it doesn’t the camera will pick up the movement. Also; Breathe out, then click… it helps…

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  18. I’ve had this page open on multiple browsers for weeks, sent the link to friends and still haven’t done it. I was all psyched at first but then I remembered our damn footboard. And it connects the bed so we can’t just take it off. Booo. So I’m trying to figure out a plan B. I might end up taking my holiday pix of the girls AFTER Christmas. Or else, I just need to bite the bullet, pack up the family and go to my office to do the set up there. I know we have a flat surface though an adult would have to be there to spot since it’s high off the ground. AND we have some photo lights which would be nice. I’m borrowing a 50 mm 1.8 from a friend to try on my T2i. Trying to decide if I want (read: really CAN) spend more on a 1.4 or if a 1.8 will suffice. Anyway, thanks for the inspiration and making it seem attainable. πŸ˜‰

    • Oh yeah, and to add to what the PP said about the tripod… there are some really inexpensive wired or wireless shutter releases that would perfect that set up. We got a wired one for the office b/c our tripod was crap and it helped a lot. I put a wireless one on my wishlist. πŸ™‚

  19. Jill –
    Did you use LED lights or regular lights? Do you think it would make a difference? Thx!! Going to “try” and attempt this weekend πŸ™‚ Also, did you use a tripod?

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  21. What flash did you use to lighten the subject. Its not all direct sunlight is it. I would have to set this up in my studio and dont have any windows for light…

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