Photographing Christmas lights    

I have always liked Christmas. I won’t go as far as saying that it’s my favourite time for year. Gosh, anytime time of year that I get to point my camera at something is my favourite time.

Christmas is special. I like the music. (Don’t ride in my car or visit me at my home if you expect any other kind of music till January 2nd) I also like the festive spirit of those people that remember this is a time of caring, giving and friendship. And, of course, I really like Christmas lights.

My last article was about using my ultra-wide lens Saturday morning to photograph the Tree of Hope, but the night before found Jo and I wandering in the cold photographing the city lights.

Jo used a 28-300mm and I used my 24-70mm and we both carried tripods. I think the lowest ISO I used was 800. Jo said she kept hers set at 100 ISO most of the time.

There were the usual strings of lights along the city streets, but it was the cheerful holiday lit Okanagan Lake waterfront that we wanted to photograph.

Kelowna goes all out and even has a skating rink that is open till 11PM and this year there was a big fire at one end for people to gather around.

Everything was perfect for two prowling photographers hunting for interesting and creative photos. I was hoping for snow. I like how the white covering reflects light at night.

We were ready for the cold and the snow and we even went shopping when we first arrived in Kelowna for a pair of insulated boots that Jo got for an early Christmas present.

What a fun overnight trip we had. We checked in to our downtown hotel, went Xmas shopping, had dinner at my favourite Kelowna restaurant (That plays blues music as you eat) were out till 9:30ish photographing the lights and got up early the next morning to photograph the 250,000 bulb Christmas tree.

As Jo and I drove home after that exhilarating time we talked about how we each found our own personal views of the lights. Would that be Perspective?

Photographing in low light or after dark helps to slow us down. One employs a tripod and most of the shutterspeeds are slow.

I think those photos that visually work usually take some forethought.

I’ll end this with a quote by American photographer Elliott Erwitt that I have used many times before because it fits so well, “To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”





Ultra-Wide angle lens and the 120-foot Tree of Hope  

I recently wrote, “I have never been comfortable with wide-angle photography and I am not convinced as of yet. However, I have this big lens so for the time being I intend to put it in my bag every time I go out.”

I kept that promise and on an early Saturday morning this past weekend and I tried to be creative using that 14-24mm lens to photograph the 120 foot tree of Hope in Kelowna British Columbia.

“For 17 years the Tree of Hope at Landmark Centre has been a bright symbol of inspiration and hope to our community. The Tree of Hope is over 120′ tall and has approximately 25,000 energy-efficient bulbs. From late November until January, the Tree of Hope is a visible reminder to the citizens and visitors of Kelowna that the Christmas season is a time of generosity and compassion, bringing joy to friends and family.”

I remember the first time I saw that bright tree of lights.

My wife Linda and I had concluded our business late and were leaving Kelowna one snowy evening. All I was thinking at the time was how horrible our two-hour drive along the dark, winding snow-covered road would be.

When I saw the tree I made a sharp turn on a side street, stopped, got out and walked back along the road just to check it out. Returning back to the car I told my wife that next year I wanted to stay overnight so I could photograph that tree in the morning light.

Linda was always very patient when I got excited about doing a photograph and I am sure was thinking, “oh, great now I get to listen to John talking for the next two hours about how he will take a picture of that Xmas tree.”

I wrote. “Wide-angle lenses are interesting and I try to fit the subject into a wide-angle scene. Normally I would select a lens to match the subject, but with the 14-24mm lens I was always looking for a subject that would match the wide lens.”   That tree, the nearby buildings and the metal bridge that crosses the road were perfect.

I like how the blue early morning light separates building and adds background colour to lights, especially Christmas lights.

My best pal and photo partner Jo McAvany and I left our hotel about 6AM. It was still dark and we could have had breakfast first, but we were to excited. As it was we had plenty of time, the morning was very overcast and we waited over an hour for the sun to work it’s way through the clouds. However, that gave me plenty of time to play with the unique perspective that lens gave me.

I will report that I was more than happy with that lens. It was an ideal tool to photograph that tree and the architectural features around it.

I read that when using an ultra-wide lens one should choose and interesting foreground, shoot low, use distortion, frame the subject in an interesting way and take advantage of the sky. Good advice.

I think my ultra-wide lens comfort level is getting better. There are certainly subjects deserve the creative perspective that 14-24mm offers. Hmmm, I don’t know if “deserves” is the right word, but I did have fun.