It’s only the second year we’ve taken this photo, but we’re calling it a tradition anyway. We once again piled wrapping paper on ourselves and snapped a family photo. No one is posed — “sit down, grab some wrapping paper, and smile at the camera”. I used f/8 to get sufficient(ish) depth of field and the lighting is simply an on-camera flash bounced up and behind the camera. I have a wireless remote but used the self-timer for this shot (I had forgotten to get the remote out and everyone was just ready to get the pic done and go make breakfast). I ended up having to photoshop a new version of myself and one of my daughters into the shot — that’s standard operating procedure in our family shots it seems.
Our traditional Christmas Eve consists of consuming a meal of assorted sausages, cheeses, and crackers while watching Muppet Christmas Carol. We always have a fire going in the fireplace no matter the weather — it’s usually cool enough. The final hidden presents are wrapped and placed around the Christmas tree and all go to bed with great anticipation.
This year my wife had Christmas pajamas for all the “littles” (some of which are growing to be “middles”). She asked me to take a photo of the kids just before bedtime and the result is shown above. I shot from (roughly) the kids’ eye level and used either manual or shutter-priority mode (can’t remember) with a 1/4 CTO gel’ed flash bounced off the wall/ceiling behind me. In the upper left hand corner you can see the well-lit wall reflected in our glass doors. Had this been a more “official” shot I would have switched angles, bounced the flash over my other shoulder, etc. in order to minimize the bright reflections. The littlest one only has so much patience though so we to fire off some shots and call it a day.
I was revisiting some of my favorite photos recently — most of which don’t get shared because they aren’t worth much photographically speaking. I decided to share this one since it’s a good illustration of a semi-candid shot that one might not consider taking but ends up being a (personally) memorable shot. After opening all our presents on Christmas Eve morning we gathered all of us (minus the two out-of-town siblings and the baby who was sleeping), threw wrapping paper around, and snapped some photos. The setup was simple: camera on a tripod with on-camera flash bounced on the wall behind the camera. I have a remote but I just used the self-timer here. If I were trying to get the “ideal” shot I would have rearranged the room to allow a longer lens to be used and avoid the distortion from the wide-angle. I would have also lit up the background (simply by turning on lights in the other rooms) so it wasn’t so dark. I probably would’ve gotten out an umbrella or two and the remote triggers. However, I would have also annoyed everyone and made them impatient 🙂 In the end we got a fun picture that we all like.
Each year my mom sends hand-made Christmas ornaments to family and friends. They are usually very intricate in both structure and painting. It’s a bit harder now with our large family size but ours are typically personalized with our first names painted on the ornament. She does exceptional work on crafts like this. We always encouraged her to make a business out of her various crafty things but she was never interested.
Before the tree came down this year I decided to grab quick shots of some of the ornaments. While the crafts stand on their own artistically I’ll throw out a few comments on how I shot them. First off, I didn’t light them except with the lights on the tree and the ambient (tungsten) light in the room. I used a tripod and bracketed the shots thinking that I might even do some HDRs given the large difference between the shadows and the lights on the tree. In the end the only HDR is shown at the top of the post…it’s just OK photographically IMO. I didn’t spend any time in Photoshop trying to make it better. I experimented with aperture. I didn’t get enough DOF with f/2.8 — even when considering only the ornaments and not the tree and lights. Using f/22 gave interesting starbursts in the lights of course but required either very long shutter speeds at low ISO or a higher ISO which I avoided since I was planning on HDRs. Of course I could use any shutter speed I wanted but I was simply too lazy to do manual exposures/bracketing above the 30 second maximum sans “bulb” mode. I didn’t want to do starburst HDRs that badly. So, I ended up processing individual frames with apertures ranging from f/6.3 to get some bokeh vs. f/22 to get the starburst effect. Lightroom was used for some simple adjustments — mainly clarity, contrast, sharpening, and vignette. A variety of combinations are posted here.
For purposes of scale here’s a (blurry) picture of the above ornament with a quarter held next to it. Other ornaments are shown below.
“…Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Phil 2:5(b)-11
Circle C Ranch is a development near our house and the neighborhood is known for its great Christmas light displays. I took three of the kids out last night and drove the streets (along with lots of other cars). We stopped at two locations to grab a quick portrait. I brought red, blue, and green gels in hopes of matching the flash to the lights somewhat — I had mixed success but since our purpose was to view the lights I didn’t spend any extra time attempting to perfect the shots. I dialed down the flash way down in hopes of making the images look more like they were lit by the surrounding Christmas lights. There’s a tell-tale shadow of course but I’m not trying *hide* the fact that flash was used, just match the lighting (and its brightness) to the environment.
The kid’s favorite house is one they call “the jungle”. The displays (front and back yards) are walk-through and have all manner of decorations from a nativity scene to Elvis to the Grinch to Winnie the Pooh to…everything you can think of. For as long as I can remember, the neighbor to the jungle has put up a “Ditto” sign. Funny.
The next shots were taken in the backyard of “the jungle”. The nativity scene used bare flash handheld on a sync cord and the other shot used a red gel on the flash to match the lights. I could have used a different color — the main idea was to prevent the flash from lighting the kids with daylight (bare flash) while they were standing in the middle of the colored lights. I wish I’d had a red gel which was slightly weaker…
Finally, an out of focus shot in the back yard of “the jungle”.
My son Evan has successfully completed all sorts of emergency/rescue training over the past two years. In addition to having become a fully licensed paramedic, he’s obtained diving certifications, high-angle and swift-water rescue certifications, sawyer certifications (yep), specialty medical emergency certifications, and who knows what else.
For his birthday we bought him a rappelling rope so naturally he got it in his mind to take his family rappelling. Off we went to the Barton Creek Greenbelt in search of scary cliffs to hang from. Evan scouted out a nice spot for us — a cliff ~25′ high, with a hollow cave-like area halfway down the wall which you had to rope past without having the benefit of using your feet.
Three of my girls and I learned how to tie a Swiss Seat — the poor-man’s harness — and were then schooled on how to attach the “eight” to the rope and to our harness. We practiced rappelling and belaying from a ledge about 6′ off the ground (none of us had ever rappelled). From the standpoint of the mechanics it really couldn’t get much simpler. With a little practice one learns to control their descent relatively smoothly.
On to the top of the cliff…got a little scarier up there. Out loud, I quoted (roughly) Rizzo the Rat from Muppet Christmas Carol — “There are two things I hate: heights…and jumping from them”. Now, I’m not *really* that afraid of heights and am fine looking over the edge of a cliff or climbing extension ladders, etc. However, the thought of backing myself over this cliff (rope or no rope) was making my stomach turn and my hands shake. I honestly haven’t been afraid like that since I was a little kid. I did it though. Walked back, pretended to be a cool cat. After all, I was encouraging my girls to overcome their fears and do this as well (all three did the 6′ ledge and two of them did the cliff). It was awkward going over the edge since the rope had no leverage point except a tree 20′ away, but once I got going and the rope resting in the cliff’s edge it was a piece of cake.
We glanced over and noticed my 3 year old attempting to tie a Swiss Seat — it was hilarious to watch. He was as serious as ever. I’m sure he’ll be rappelling down cliffs before long. I had to include a shot of that.
Since we were in deep shade I placed a remote-triggered (via an Elinchrom Skyport) flash on the ground while we were up on the rocks. We were busy climbing so I couldn’t always place it optimally or adjust the power but it worked pretty well for many of the shots.