Holiday time = long, dark nights + lots of lights, at least in the northern hemisphere. It’s the perfect time to explore! We’re continuing the recent “lights” theme of Exploring with a Camera with Creative Lights. I’m hoping that at least one, if not all, of these creative techniques will be new to you and will keep you exploring the lights at night for the remainder of the holiday season.
Let’s jump right in!
Take a look at the lead in photograph, it’s a little bit unusual. It’s a composite of two images, one in-focus and one out-of-focus, creating a neat effect I am calling “Layered Lights.” I discovered this technique on my own last year, when I was looking for new ways to capture the lights in Monza. Seeing the out-of-focus and in-focus images side by side on the computer, I wondered what it would look like to combine them. Layered Lights was the result!
You will need a photo editing software that allows you to blend layers to do this, I use Photoshop Elements (PSE). I’ll show you how to created Layered Lights using this example image from Madrid, Spain. I think it looks great when you have a bit of architecture and lights, since the architecture grounds the image in a dreamy version of reality.
First, open the out-of-focus photo. That becomes your base image. Here’s the out of focus photo I used:
Next, open the in-focus photo and pull it into a layer above the out of focus photo. Here’s my in focus photo:
Now, play with blending modes and opacity of the top layer. Soft light and Overlay blending modes work particularly well. Unless you used a tripod when you captured the images, you may also have to transform (rotate, enlarge, reduce) your in-focus image to overlay the lights and the other elements in the correct locations on the out-of-focus image. It takes a bit of playing around, and I’ve discovered I like the in-focus photo slightly offset from the out-of-focus photo for a dreamier effect.
In the case of this photo example, the out-of-focus lights were also too bright – I couldn’t easily see the in-focus lights when I blended the layers, so I reduce the opacity of the out-of-focus layer and added a 50% grey layer underneath to get the final image:
Here’s what the layers look like in PSE:
Here’s a second example, of a really tall Christmas tree in the Madrid pedestrian zone, and the resulting layers in PSE:
Fun, huh? There are so many different ways you can play with this type of image blending… add more photos or layers, change the underlying layer, change the processing with other effects. Endless possibilities! If you don’t have your own images to try this with, feel free to download the out-of-focus and in-focus images I’ve shared above (right click and then “Save as…”) to play around with this technique. Just be sure to give photo credit and link back here if you share anywhere!
Can you tell what this is?
It looks like some really cool fireworks, or I had one friend tell me it looked like something out of the movie Tron. 🙂 This was captured by zooming (changing my focal distance) during a long exposure. Here are the actual lights I photographed:
To get this effect, you will need a zoom on your camera and the ability to set a long shutter speed. I found a shutter speed of 1 second worked very well. Set up your shot by starting zoomed in, fitting the lights just inside the frame. As you press the shutter, start zooming out (making the lights smaller) and keep the zoom moving through the exposure. The more you move the zoom during the exposure, the longer the lines of light will be. If you are shooting handheld, you will see some wiggle in the lines of lights. With practice and steadiness, you can minimize the wiggle or you can always use a tripod to get absolutely straight lines.
One tip to keep obvious “joggles” at the start or end of the lines, start your zooming motion just before you press the shutter and keep it going smoothly until after the shutter closes.
Have fun experimenting! As I’ve shared before, I find it especially interesting to capture people, I think it gives a cool time travel effect.
A couple of years ago we won a prize for the “worst white elephant gift” at a holiday party. The prize was well worth it, it was two pairs of these cool holiday hologram glasses, modeled here by my son.
What’s so cool about these? They change any point light source into a holographic image when you look through them. OR, when you photograph through them! The glasses shown in this example are the “Christmas Star” version, and here’s what our tree looks like, when photographed through the film of the glasses:
I love it! Someone could probably tell me how to do this with post processing, but all I did was hold the film of glasses right up to the lens, and shoot. So simple! You have to move the glasses around a little bit to get the best coverage of the lens since the opening in the glasses is smaller than the lens, but the paper around the edges gives a nice vignetting effect. If you are shooting up closer, I’ve found you need to focus on the lights to get the hologram effect, as I did here:
If you focus on another object, as I did with this ornament, the lights become blurry and you lose the hologram effect.
This doesn’t only work for Christmas lights, it will work for any point light source. Car headlights, streetlights, etc. become point light sources when viewed from far enough away. Lots of exploration fun! A quick google search for “Holographic Christmas Glasses” yielded a number of options. Here’s a link to a set of glasses with different hologram images on Amazon. I think I may have to get the set myself to play around some more, since they are so inexpensive and so very fun.
Also consider other films you can photograph through, for interesting effects. I can imagine that the thin, colored cellophane that gift baskets come in would give cool effects too!
So, what do you think, are you ready to go exploring Creative Lights? I’m excited already to see what you link in. I love how I can throw this information out there and get even more creative interpretations coming back from all of you. You can link in below or share in the Flickr pool. Happy light hunting!
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