Light Your Holiday

By Roger (17 Dec 2013)

Naturally, during the holidays, you spend lots of time behind the camera. This is a season for great snapshots. I really like to catch all the hustle as the kids and grandkids plow through the packages, ripping the wrapping paper and singing along with the music. Every year, my wife tries, unsuccessfully, to make them open packages one at a time, in turns. I'm not very supportive of this because I love the chaos of the free-for-all. Unfortunately, this hubbub doesn't give me much time to grab the snapshots of the joyous riot. I have nice flash units for my camera, and I'm not afraid to use them, but the bright flashes can be distracting, and, before too long, everyone is seeing spots and not the gifts. I need to make constant adjustments to the camera and flash settings, based on distance to subject and the shooting angle. When the batteries start to weaken, the recycle times will get annoying and may cause you to miss a shot.

There is a relatively inexpensive solution for this problem: constant light. Most houses, however, do not have lamps bright enough to keep the shutter speed reasonable unless you bump the ISO to a very high setting. I prefer to keep the ISO low to keep down the digital noise. So, I set up some studio lights and replace lamp bulbs with daylight-balanced photo bulbs.

Before you dismiss the idea as untenable and too expensive, let me explain how you can make this work. Temporarily replacing your regular table lamp bulbs with the new fluorescent, stay-cool, daylight-balanced photo bulbs will help you keep a consistent color temperature throughout the photo. Any lamps with standard bulbs are left turned off. These photo bulbs are safe for use in regular lamps, even with lamp shades. They are a little brighter, but it will look like it belongs in the room. No one will ask why your photos don't show a lamp with orange light coming out of it. This is quick and easy. The total cost is less than $60 for four photo bulbs. Depending on your room, this may be sufficient.

Continuous lighting prevents a bright flash from startling little subjects.

Continuous lighting prevents a bright flash from startling little subjects.

I have a small, portable lighting kit that I set up for more light. It comes with two softboxes and stands. The softboxes are placed at the back of our family room, out of harm's way, on both sides of the room to get some cross lighting. I set them to give a realistic light, as if there was a big window behind me. These lights are brighter than the other bulbs I use in the lamps, but they are dimmable. For most people photos, we prefer big, soft light sources, and these lights and attached softboxes are much bigger than my flash heads. This kit fits into a carrying case that is easily transported wherever I need to go. The total cost of the kit was $169. Compare that price to my fancy Westcott IceLight (sans any light modifiers), and you will be convinced of its value.

If you use flash in a quiet family setting, you'll only get one chance at this shot.  I got several because no blast of light alerted my brother-in-law to my shooting.

If you use flash in a quiet family setting, you'll only get one chance at this shot.  I got several because no blast of light alerted my brother-in-law to my shooting.

This solution allows me a quick way (set up is less than 10 minutes) to achieve a room with balanced light and enough light to shoot at a good shutter speed and low ISO. All this is accomplished at a price less than half the price of one of my flashes. I can move around the room and change my distance to subject range and angle without any additional calculations. These small kits are great for uses like this and lots of other uses. They aren't the big, beautiful 60” softboxes that portrait photographers dream of, but they will certainly provide great light for this snapshot situation. Use the proper tool for the situation.

From the Westcott Booth, at Photoshop World Vegas.  They make beautiful lighting, but there are cheaper alternatives for your holiday snapshots.

From the Westcott Booth, at Photoshop World Vegas.  They make beautiful lighting, but there are cheaper alternatives for your holiday snapshots.

I probably won't post a blog on the Thursday after Christmas, since I have the entire tribe (and their dogs) at my house next week. We hope whatever holiday you celebrate is great, and you get photographs that are treasured forever. Merry Christmas.