Snowy Christmas Lights

We leave the Christmas lights on the Korean Fir in our front yard garden through much of January to brighten the long winter nights and in hopes of getting a little snow.

Outside Christmas Tree in the Snow
Outside Christmas Tree in the Snow

This year we had to wait until January 17 to get our first snowfall of the winter. Tonight, the 18th, I took my camera outside in the bitter cold to photograph the tree and its setting. I used my Canon 1Ds Mk II with a 16-35mm lens and photographed at the widest setting. I wanted to emphasize the space and separate the tree from our house and other buildings in the neighborhood.

For this first shot I focused on the tree and set my aperture to f/2.8 for the least depth of field I could get with my widest lens. At ISO 640 the shutter speed was 1/80 second (at about 5:15 pm). Photographing around dusk allows balancing the light of the sky with the tree and enables the nice rich blue I envisioned before I stepped outside. I set the camera’s white balance to daylight so any incandescent lights in the frame would be nice and warm for contrast.

Outside Christmas Tree in the Snow Soft Focus
Outside Christmas Tree in the Snow Soft Focus

While I was setting up the original sharply-focused frame I looked through the viewfinder and rotated the focus ring on my lens. The out-of-focus lights grabbed me and I made several exposures, bracketing the focus from very soft to only slightly unsharp. I liked this, the softest one, the best. I think it’s more interesting than the sharp version, but that’s certainly a matter of taste.

Then, I set up for a multiple exposure panoramic version of the landscape. I leveled the camera on my tripod, set the exposure mode to manual, and then exposed 12 sequential frames from left to right. The camera was vertical and I overlapped each successive frame 30-50%.

Outside Christmas Tree Panoramic
Outside Christmas Tree Panorama

Back inside I loaded all the frames into Adobe Lightroom for some initial processing. In particular I applied a custom camera profile and the lens profile for the Canon 16-35mm lens. The lens profile corrected some of the distortion and corner vignetting.

Next I merged the dozen frames into a panorama in Photoshop CS5. A little adjustment in Topaz Adjust 5 tweaked the contrast and color. Then back in Photoshop I made an extra layer to add the border, a technique I learned from Darton Drake at the Evergreen School of Photography last summer.

The setting for this set of images is our front yard garden. We planted the Korean Fir in 2003 and have been lighting it most winters since then. We’re using LED lights.

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