Q. I'd like to have some of your thoughts on how to photograph my Christmas tree, the room decorations and the outside lights we've put up.
A. Since most decorations will still be up between Christmas and New Year's, I held this and similar questions until now. If new cameras were found under the tree, this is a good way to try them out.
First, there are as many ways to take Christmas-tree pictures as there are trees. How many lights are there? How bright are they? Do they blink? Is the tree against a light wall, a dark wall or no wall atall?
And, of course, what kind of equipment do you have?
Let's start with the simple, nonadjustable cameras. With this kind of camera, use your flash and get the best results by making several different kinds of pictures. Since you can't change your camera, change your shooting positions. Be sure that you take general views of the entire room, some medium close-ups, and then move in as close as you can for tree pictures. Try some low-angle shots, and be sure to make plenty of pictures with people.
The most successful method I've seen for capturing outdoor decorations is to take your pictures just before dusk. Turn on the lights and shoot. If you hit it right, there'll be enough natural light from the sky to give you a background.
If you have a camera with time exposure, you can do lots of things, especially if you also have a tripod.
In most cases, indoors or out, you'll have to bracket; that is, repeat shots at different speeds and f stops.
Try this: Keep your room lights a little lower than normal, turn off the tree lights, mount your camera on your tripod and set it for "time." Open your shutter; about two seconds later, turn the tree lights on for a second. Then close the shutter. Try it a few times, varying the f stop. You'll love the results.
Make some time exposures with the tree lights on and the room lights off. Then make some shots with the room lights on all the way.
If there's a special ornament at the top of your tree, shine a flashlight on it during some exposures.
Move around the room and make pictures from different vantage points. If your camera allows it, be sure to make some close-ups of your favorite ornament.
Use your flash. Straight flash shots will be fine, but will tend to wash out the lights. Try bounce flash. This will supply enough light to make the scene seem natural and the lights will show up well.
If you don't have a tripod, improvise. Rest your camera on whatever is convenient. If nothing else is available, brace your camera against a door frame and try.
Outside, do just about the same thing. Time exposures, bracketed, with just the decorative lights are always a favorite. Again, try shooting at dusk with the lights on, too.
Spend a little extra time, film and processing money on these pictures. You'll learn a lot and have fun.