Holiday Shooting Tips -Twinkle Lights, and November Wrap-up Notes!

It was so fun to see a full house at our monthly meet-up for November!

Lindsay Kennedy was our speaker and we had so much fun with her! Her entire slide presentation is linked here if you missed it and you want to review her awesome tips! I am also pasting my own notes at the end of this post as well.

But first! Our PHOTO EXERCISE! We have a fun twist this month-  a contest! Print one 8×10 of your favorite photo assignment result and bring it to our January meet up for a live photo contest where we’ll be giving away a Black Rapid RS-W1 women’s strap!

Photo exercise: Twinkle Lights!

Capture a photo or series of photos that incorporate holiday lights in an abstract or “thinking outside the box” way. Bonus points for having a composition with interesting layers of foreground, middle ground and background.

Have fun with this one, Mamas!


After our last meet up I was inspired and brought my camera to the Woodland Park ZooLights to get my twinkle on. True confessions here, this type of light is not what I usually photograph, and while figuring out the settings I had a bunch of blurry, awful photos on my memory card. But it was a fun process to figure out and as I was doing it! Here are some tips for you mamas:

Jack up your ISO! Mine was at 1600

Put your camera in M (or at the very least P, to suppress your flash)

-Make sure your shutter speed is slow enough to let in enough ambient light from the twinkle lights. My best lit photos were between 1/40th and 1/60th of a second.

-Focusing can be tricky. A lot of times my camera was refusing to focus because there was either not enough light on my subject, or because the twinkle lights were too bright to create a focal point. I has the most success focusing a few inches off of the twinkle lights. In this photo below, my focal area was the bushes to the left of the twinkle lights that are in the same horizontal plane as my little guy.

The settings for this photo in Manual were ISO 1600, Shutter 1/60, Aperture f/2.2

If you go see the Zoo lights, be sure to post your photos up on the Mamas With Cameras Group page on Facebook!


We have our last Introduction to Digital Photography workshop of the year coming up on December 8th, just in time for capturing those holiday pictures!

Or, if Santa is getting you a DSLR for the holidays and you want to add a workshop to your wish list (or give one as a gift!), our first Introductory Workshop of 2013 will be on Saturday, January 26th! If you have want to give a gift certificate without registering for a specific class, we can do that too!  Contact us directly at mamaswithcameras [at]


Linsday has so much information on the web page she created for us, but I am including my notes from her talk in case it helps out the folks who couldn’t make it out!

-She shoots with a Nikon D700. Full frame sensor.

-Recommends having a 50mm/f 1.4

Part of telling a story is capturing details.

Shoots in aperture priority (AV or A mode) primarily. Keep an eye on shutter speed. If the shutter speed gets too low, there will be blur.

General rule of thumb- take the Length in mm of your lens and turn it into a fraction, that is the lowest shutter speed that you’ll want. 50mm lens, no less than 1/50th.

For a big group of people, shoot at f/8.

Shooting indoors, shoot in aperture priority

Manually change ISO, raise it if you want shutter speed to go up.

Holiday Lights

-What are different ways to use the holiday lights? Pull subject away from the tree (5-6ft) shoot at f/3.2 to get the tree blurry. ISO 1600 f/3.2 1/80th of a second.

-Christmas lights are a great way to have beautiful catch lights in your child’s eyes during the day. Put yourself in the tree and shoot through the tree.  What layers can you have? What is in the foreground? What is in the background?(Like a present.)

-Take pictures of reflection of child in the ornaments.

-With ISO you want to stay as low as possible to keep the grain down.

-Tell a story, wait for a funny or goofy face


Lower ISO, aperture priority f/2.8. If backlit, use exposure compensation to overexpose by 1 or 1.5 stops. Or you can spot meter on the face.

-Think about where you’re shooting from. If you get down on the ground, or up high.

-She likes to shoot an hour before sunset, hour after sunset, or an hour after sunrise- it’s the best time of day

– To get yourself in the picture, use self timer (setting where it takes one every couple of seconds) or stand in place and then hand off the camera with settings prepared.


-Lindsay never uses pop up flash. The closer the light source is to the camera, the more fake it looks.

-Switch to manual mode- set shutter speed between 1/160th and 1/200th of a second. Set aperture to f/2.8-f/3.5. Adjust the ISO until you can’t see any ambient light in your image (ISO 200-400).  You can shoot at f/8, you aren’t using aperture for light anymore.  Your flash is one temperature, the light in the room is another temperature, so by doing this you block out any existing light

-Her flash recommendation: Speedlite 580EXII, or other shoe-mount flash.

-Set white balance to “flash”

-Point flash over your shoulder to bounce the light off the wall.

-If you don’t have white walls, adjust white balance to compensate. If you bounce off a red wall, it will give a red hue. Don’t use windows or mirrors.

-Have your flash exposure compensation set to -1.3 to 0.3

Tips on getting photos of siblings

  1. Ask them to squish their cheeks together
  2. Sing a song with the wrong lyrics “twinkle twinkle little DUCK!”
  3. Get their heads close together- have them seated, or get one to lean over.
  4. Silly faces.
  5. Fake laugh (with older kids)- make them fake laugh and then wait for real laugh to come
  6. Dance party.
  7. Bum wiggling
  8. Let them do what they like doing together (read books). Look to catch moments happening .

 Ideas for documentary style holiday photos:

-Baking cookies together or other holiday traditions- get detail shots of little chubby hands on measuring cup

-Have your kids capture what the adults are doing

-Take photos incognito, when no one is paying attention to you.

-Be patient and watch for moments and laughter.

TIPS FROM THE “MAMA CIRCLE” (this is the group sharing time after the speaker)

Fun places to take pictures during the holidays:

Cougar Mountain Zoo- allows you to take your own Santa photo for a donation.

Woodland Park Zoo- “Wildlights” exhibit is open through the holidays

Greenlake Pathway of Lights- December 6th

Swanson’s Nursery has reindeer photo ops! And a sleigh that you can pose your child in!

Teddy bear suite in the Fairmont Hotel – go on a Tuesday or Wednesday

UVillage- Menorah Lighting is on December 12th

Opinions on Holiday Card Printing 

Vista Print- cheap, there are a lot of options.

Tiny prints- beautiful designs, thick, high quality quality paper (but it isn’t photo paper, so it will have a “soaked” look)

Minted – similar to Tiny Prints, a bit more high end

Shutterfly-good customer service, they don’t do as well with color corrected photos

MPIX is doing holiday cards (cheaper price point than Tiny Prints)

Paper Coterie– higher end, fun holiday cards

Photo affections – DO NOT use! Horrible customer service!

Tips on Getting your Child to Pose with Santa:

-You can have santa peeking out behind the chair

-You can sit in the chair with them if they’re scared of Santa

-Spend some time desensitizing to Santa before your photos (saying hi to lots of different santas, walking by the photo set up at the mall etc).

A Cool Gift Idea: 

One mama created a Photo Board book for Kids- name of the company is called Pint Size Productions – a custom one is $20.


One Reply to “Holiday Shooting Tips -Twinkle Lights, and November Wrap-up Notes!”

  1. I shot two sessions at Flower World in November when rain threatened. It was great so I’d check it out if you need indoors ever or just a great spot regardless of weather. Greenhouses are awesome light filters. Molbaks work too but I like FW better.

    Bummed I missed the meeting when I was in town!

    Cheers Mamas!

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