How It's Made - Christmas Edition

I recently stumbled across an photographer's work and wanted to learn more about her gear and process. It was extremely difficult to find, and I got grumpy - I wanted to know more about how she worked her magic. Then I realized I was guilty of the same sin ... I hadn't posted anything anywhere about how I make my photos. So here's the first!

Background on this photo: I was inspired by a shot of a wineglass in front of a Christmas tree, featuring Bokeh Shapes, that the lovely +Lotus Carroll posted last year. Christmas-season is my favorite because of the warm glow of lights everywhere - so now, a year later, after much experimentation, I've been able to play a bit.

The Gear

I shoot with a Canon 5d mk III. It's really big, and I'm not that strong - it's a lot to cart around. I use it because I love landscapes - especially at night. The mirrorless cameras are great (I can't wait to get one!), but they still aren't quite up to par for astrophotography.

My favorite lens is the Canon 14mm f/2.8 prime, because it's soooo wide! I can capture everything I see. If I could only have one lens for the rest of my life, that would be it. For this shot, though, I used a 50mm f/1.8. The faster glass (lower f-stop!) means I can let in more light and get better bokeh. Also, it's hard to shoot small objects up close with a 14mm. 

I usually shoot with a Gitzo Ocean Traveller tripod and a Really Right Stuff head. It's great for getting down and dirty with a shot - it's been in oceans on maybe four continents. It takes outdoorsy abuse like a champ.

Getting the Shot

I found a massive Christmas tree at a nearby mall. It was perfect for working on getting this shot.

For this shot, I didn't use a tripod. I compensated for the low light by using the most wide-open aperture, f/1.8, which was great because it makes great bokeh - which is exactly what I was trying to do. I also had a pretty annoyingly high ISO (800), but I used the noise-reduction slider to handle that later.

For the bokeh shapes, I used +Photojojo 's Bokeh Kit ( ) (No, they don't pay me - they just make great stuff!).  The kit comes with a bunch of little black circles with cutout shapes. You put them over your lens, and the bokeh in your frame will magically transform into the shape you chose. In this case, I chose hearts - you can see them on the right side of the picture.

I framed the photo so that the focus of the picture was a little off center, because that makes for a more interesting composition. I also put the ornament a little lower in the frame, because hanging things look weird higher up. I wanted to make sure to catch a lot of the pretty bokeh, too, so I positioned myself to get a good scattering of heart shapes behind the ornament.

The 50mm f 1.8 lens isn't awesome at focusing, so a lot of the photos I took this day were manually focused. I took a bunch, then headed home to edit!

Here's my Metadata:
Dimensions: 5760x3840 (not cropped)
Exposure: 1/60 sec at f/1.8
Focal Length: 50mm
ISO Speed Rating: ISO 800
Model: Canon 5D Mark III
Lens: EF50mm f/1.8II


My mom once asked me how much of making a good photo was attributed to gear, composition, and editing. For me, I think a good photo is 20% gear, 40% composition, and 40% editing. Post-processing is super key, especially in digital age - we've got such great tools! 

I've put some before and after photos in this album, so take a look to see what I mean.

I divide the editing process into two parts: science, which is the sort of required cleanup stuff, and art, which is more the personal vision component. I always start with "science" so I've got a good baseline to work with.

Science. To start, I always crop to something that's at least basically correct. As you can see in the before/after, the ornament wasn't perfectly vertically oriented, so I used that as my anchor to crop.

I'm not a huge advocate of the "rule of thirds," which says that if you fold your photo into thirds both horizontally and vertically, the most interesting parts should be along the creases of your folds. I do think, however, that putting something right in the center of the photo is rarely as interesting as putting it off to the side. (My exception - I love symmetry, so for architecture shots I often do something symmetrical!).

I also moved my "noise" slider way towards the right, to compensate for my ISO 800. Because this is supposed to be a more warm, glowy shot, the loss of detail was okay with me.

Art. Now that I was generally where I wanted to be with Science, I moved towards art. For this one, I wanted to create a very warm, cozy feeling. I did that by decreasing the Clarity, and moving my white balance a bit towards the yellow side.

I also wanted to make sure more of the tree was obvious, so I used a mask on the left side to bring it out just a bit more. I liked the idea of the ornament being "nestled" in the tree, like the tree is giving it a cozy little tree hug.

Seeing as the ornament was where I wanted you guys to look, I also used a mask to brighten it just a little.

Clean up / misc. One of my favorite photographers told me that he loves working with the details of a photo, and will sometimes spend four or five hours editing just one photo! Conversely, another of my favorite photographers uses the "one-song-one-photo" editing technique: he'll put on a song, start editing a photo, and if the photo isn't done by the time the song is over, it wasn't a good photo.

The Clean up / Misc section is the part where you decide where along that spectrum you fall. I guess I spend about 15-20 minutes on a photo, so closer to "one-song-one-photo" style. Honestly though, I don't really keep track - editing is one of the few activities that I really can get fully immersed in and lose track of time.

For this photo, I did two major cleanups. The first was on the ornament itself - you can see the cloning I did in the first photo. The ornament was definitely made of plastic, and I wanted it to look a little, well, richer. I cleaned up a bunch of the imperfections with the clone tool and decreased the noise even further to give it more of a glowy sheen.

For the background: There were a couple of weird overexposed spots (top left, top middle, bottom right). For the two corners, I cloned in a nearby area. For the top middle, I just used a mask to decrease the exposure a bit.

That's it!

Then I posted the photo on Google+ (it's here: ) and wrote this for you guys!

Happy to answer questions. :o)

Also, if you wanna learn more, I have some availability to do +Helpouts with you over the next few weeks. Finals are almost over (one more tomorrow - can you tell I'm procrastinating? ;) which will give me more time to hang out with you all!

#Blog   #howitsmade   #photography #photographytechniques #christmas   #holidayseason  
How It's Made - Christmas Edition
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