Christmas lights and markets can be challenging to photograph, especially when locations are bustling with people, the lights are flashing, and you are working in difficult lighting conditions.
Acclaimed photographer and social influencer Nige Levanterman uses a range of Canon cameras for his low light and long exposure photographs. Nige explains that cameras such as the Canon EOS 2000D or Canon EOS M50 make an excellent choice for taking quality photographs at Christmas time. In this article, Levanterman gives tips on how to shoot the best shots this festive season.
Favourite Christmas Markets
I like to take photographs in places with lots of charm, character and energy, Christmas markets are ideal for this. I particularly like how the Christmas markets across Europe and South Africa are set up, such as the cosy wooden cabin stalls, sparkling lights, colourful fairground rides and the obligatory Ferris wheel, providing plenty of movement and scope to take my signature long-exposure photographs.
Long Exposure Photography
Contrary to widespread belief, long exposure photographs do not require a very long exposure. There are no rules. People can expose photographs for just one second or for longer periods depending on the results you want. It depends how quickly your subject is moving, therefore I suggest you experiment by taking as many photos of the same subject with varying exposure lengths, then compare and fine-tune the results.
Patience is essential when trying to capture a quality long exposure photograph, play with the exposure settings and simply allow room for trial and error. The most common advice I give is to be unique and try something new, even if the subject matter is a popular city monument.
Finding a vantage point
In busy city locations, it can be difficult capturing the perfect photograph, as people often walk in front of the camera or if nudged by a passer-by could possibly hinder the composition. If possible, seek a slightly elevated viewing point, to get the camera above the crowd, steps or a stable wall could suffice.
Consider turning continuous autofocus off and switch to one-shot AF mode, not servo AF mode, as this will allow people to set their focus precisely and keep it in place.
Avoid the flash
I choose not to use a flash when shooting at Christmas markets or the festive city lights, this may surprise many, as a flash can be important in low-light conditions. A flash could potentially drown out the ambience of Christmas lights and instead highlight subjects in the foreground.
Using the right settings
At Christmas there are lots of sparkling lights, so to get a starburst effect, I may use a narrow aperture or a wide aperture for shooting Bokeh balls. If you use a tripod, choose a low ISO, such as (ISO 100).
A low ISO will give your photograph a vibrant depth of colour and minimum noise. When I hold my camera, I like to use shutter speed priority and select Auto ISO. This keeps the exposure length exactly where I want it and automatically ensures the ideal exposure.
Stop your photographs blurring
A tripod will prevent the camera from shaking and can transform a photograph, however, when walking around busy Christmas markets you may decide not to take one along. To counter blur, adjust the manual exposure settings. For example, using a 50mm lens I find my hands stay steady just long enough for an exposure rate of 1/50 of a second. However not everyone has a steady hand, so you will need to practice and see how long you can keep your hands still – it can be a challenge!
To avoid blur caused by pressing the shutter button and moving the camera, you can set the camera to Drive Mode, use a self-timer of two seconds, and hold the camera as still as possible whilst the camera takes the photographs automatically. Finally, I also recommend using the Viewfinder and not the Live View LCD screen, you can hold the camera much steadier when it is pressed against your face and elbows tucked in by your side.
Good bokeh adds a touch of magic to photographs especially around Christmas and there are several ways to accomplish this. For example, on the Canon EOS 2000D or Canon EOS M50, I suggest using the widest aperture your lens will support and get your subject up close to the camera. A long focal length on a close subject will compress the subject against the background.
Increase likes on Instagram
In 2018, Instagram hit 1 billion active monthly users, so if you want to get your photographs noticed on social media, you need to have a unique image to grab people’s attention.
When an image receives lots of likes, Instagram will prioritise it and feature it in more people’s feeds. However, you will need a unique or eye-catching image to make this happen. If you are very lucky, the photo could go viral with the help of Instagram’s algorithm.
Nige Levanterman’s photographs have been captured on Canon cameras including the Canon EOS 5DS and Canon 5D Mark IV.