Subjects to seek out this month:
If you are gathering with friends or family through December you may take the chance to capture some portraits.
Candid images are always well received but beware that behind the scenes they have a high failure rate- it can be tricky catching people with a pleasant expression. Success depends a lot on reading the room and anticipating a smile or laugh coming. Try using a long lens and stand back from the group, all while keeping your shutter speed up.
Group shots can be tricky due to limited space. Try to encourage folks to pile together with as few gaps as possible. Think of ways to get the people to form rows which allow for height in the image and helps fill the frame. Planned portraits are always better outdoors or at least under natural light. Head to the garden or even doorways or conservatories. Position your sitters in comfort facing into the natural light, this might mean you grab your coat and stand outside while they wait in the doorway.
When doing portraits try to work quickly and go with the flow; the longer you make people wait the more forced the images. Once you are ready, be sure to call out that everyone needs to face the camera as inevitably there are people “helping” by looking at and talking to others in order to corral them (most often looking worse than the people they are trying to correct). To the camera’s eye calling out looks very similar to smiling and you can do a lot worse than a traditional request for three cheers: it's silly, it engages people and they look happy while doing it. Be sure to keep the shutter firing after the cheers end as the group lapse into more relaxed giggles.
The necessary camera settings for group shots in dull winter light are a bit of a big ask. You must keep your F no above 8 (although you needn’t go above 16) and you will have to have a shutter speed of 1/500 or so. Achieving both is likely to mean a high ISO and some noise, unfortunate but unavoidable - you must ensure a suitable depth of field (to cover the distance from the front row to the back) and you must freeze the movement in the facial expressions.
If you have a lone sitter (I find this works well with dogs) and there are Christmas lights nearby you can make the most of the chance to get some beautiful bokeh in the background, although you do need a bit of space. This is a big topic and tricky to master but in a nutshell, you are aiming for a very shallow depth of field. To maximise this you must put as much distance as possible between you and your sitter and them and the lights behind- so stand as far from the lights as is feasible and pop your subject in the middle. Then zoom in as far as you can and select the lowest possible F no. Be sure to frame it up with some of the twinkling lights visible.
You can see the difference being able to increase your focal length makes when looking at my examples below. On Otter’s shot on the right everything is magnified further and the fairy lights appear larger and more blurred. These examples are not ideal as the room was too small to allow me to stand back and frame her how I would have liked while maximising the sparkly bokeh dots.
I seem to have used the word ‘winter’ in every newsletter in recent months but by now all measures agree that it is here, 1st of December marking the start on the meteorological calendar.
If you need something sweet to take your mind off the cold weather, I am told that in the US it is National Peppermint Bark day- here is a recipe if you fancy making some bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/peppermint-bark