photos, tips, tricks, and thoughts from an avid amateur photographer


Posts tagged Christmas

Where do I find this stuff?

ISO 100, 50mm, f/1.7. 1/15 sec, +7/10EV, IS on

Welcome to my new photo blog! Please take a minute to read my about page for more information about this new venture of mine. The short version is this: people are always asking me “how did you do that?” and “where did you take that?” so I thought I’d create a website where I could go into greater detail about those things than is feasible on Flickr.

The photo above was taken at the Home Depot in Opelika, AL with my Pentax K10D and 50mm f/1.7 SMC-A lens. I often take my camera with me shopping as I have found supermarkets and home centers to be great sources for photographic fodder. In this case I was looking specifically for Christmas light bokeh and knew that the home centers (we hit both Lowe’s and Home Depot on this outing) would provide me with the appropriate subject matter and the right environment for me to shoot it in the middle of the day. Lowe’s was a bit of a let down on the Christmas lights but Home Depot had a dozen decorated and illuminated trees standing guard just inside the front door.

This was the only shot I took of the trees as we were in a bit of a rush by this time. The keys to success here were having the camera properly set up ahead of time and shooting RAW. The K10D tends to underexpose in an effort to retain highlight detail in JPEG images. However, the RAW files tend to have 1.5-2 stops of additional headspace (as do most RAW files). My old manual focus 50mm f/1.7 overwhelms the exposure meter in the K10D at anything below f/2.0 so I am in the habit of dialing in +2/3 of exposure compensation whenever I’m shooting it wide open (which is my preferred way to use this lens).

I generally shoot in aperture priority mode, using the front control wheel to adjust exposure compensation and the rear to dial in the desired aperture (custom configured in the K10D settings menu). Obviously I’m shooting manual focus with this lens. I typically only use the center focus point whether I’m shooting manual or auto focus as I’m a focus-and-recompose type of shooter. The K10D has a nice feature wherein the focus point and the focus confirmation icon in the viewfinder both light when manual focus is achieved. I have left the focus confirmation beep turned on as an additional aid in manual focusing this lens. At f/1.7 there is essentially no depth of field and it is next to impossible to determine correct focus through the reduced viewfinder of a crop sensor camera- a problem I did not have on my old Canon 5D ;-)

For this shot, the Christmas trees were displayed on a raised section of warehouse rack shelving (sorry, no establishing shot for this post). I simply walked up to the first tree, set the focus to its closest setting (0.45M on this lens) and honed in on one of the light bulbs. I then rotated around that point until I saw some good bokeh balls in the background and fired. The secret to this kind of awesome bokeh is shooting wide open and putting as much distance between the foreground subject and the points of light in the background as possible. Very high end lenses (like Canon’s professional L series) generally have curved aperture blades which will produce nice round bokeh balls at just about any aperture setting. With most lenses and their straight bladed apertures, it’s best to shoot wide open to get nice round bokeh like this.

When shooting in manual focus the K10D does not lock exposure unless focus is also locked. Since I focused on the light bulb then recomposed with it slightly off center, the exposure adjusted slightly and let more light in. This was exactly as I planned it as I could tell from the relatively high initial shutter speed (1/100sec) that the light bulb was blowing out the exposure. The unprocessed and un-cropped RAW image looked like this:

the original image as shot and unprocessed (LR default import settings)

I could tell from the LCD that the image was a little flat but the histogram looked good so I quickly caught up with the wife to complete our shopping task. BTW, we were shopping for matchstick blinds for the living room. Another good reason to take your camera shopping is to document what you find for later review.

sizes and inventory

sizes and inventory

Also, if you are legitimately taking pictures of products that you are considering returning to purchase the stores typically do not have much of a problem if you snap a few other random photos. Just avoid taking pictures of customers (or at least avoid getting caught) as they will complain and get you a meeting with a manager. Trust me on that one :-)

Back to the photo. Once I returned home I downloaded my RAW images into Lightroom for processing. With this image I knew I wanted a square crop so that was the first order of business. Then, I applied the Direct Positive preset, dialed the Clarity up to 33, the Vibrance up to +21, Saturation +2, Sharpening to 47, and Detail up to 48. The exposure was a bit hot with the default Direct Positive settings so I pulled it down to +0.25 and nudged the Recovery up to 25. I played around with the white balance a bit but settled on the as shot settings for this image.

That’s it! Let me know what you think and if there is anything I missed. This is my first attempt at this sort of thing so your input is highly desired!

UPDATE: Check out my new Bokeh Tutorial!


I'm an industrial designer and an avid hobbyist photographer. People are always asking me "how'd you do that?" So, I decided to create this site as a place to share my experiences and insights about photography, the gear and what it all means to me. I'm not sure if this site will make anyone besides myself a better photographer but I figure it's worth a try. Take a look around and let me know what you think. Thanks for stopping by!


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