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Christmas Film Photography For Beginners
By Karen Freer
As the holiday season approaches, many photographers may be planning fun ways to make Christmas-themed photos of their friends, families, and pets. We have compiled a list of our favourite film photography shots and tips for you. These are perfect for beginners who want to capture the festivities.
If you need a general guide into the world of analogue photography then head over to our 'Film Photgoraphy Beginner's Hub' here. This gives an overview of analogue cameras, films, and development.
Lot's of you will have spent hours decorating your Christmas tree and making your home look lovely and festive! Make sure to capture all your seasonal efforts, and get a shot of your Christmas tree!
There are several ways to take photos of the tree. You might want to take it in the day time if you don't have a tripod to steady your camera enough for a night time shot. Below you can see that Millie photographed this tree with the sun shining through, the golden light works really well with the golden decorations.
© Millie Clinton, Christmas Tree II
We recommend using an SLR with Aperture Priority for this type of shot. Set to between f/1.4 & f/3.5 (or the lowest number you have on your lens), get up close to the tree and choose which part you want to focus on. Millie has focused more on the tree which makes the baubles and bows slightly out of focus. But I think it really works for the glowing look this photograph has.
For those of you with a tripod or another way (be it a chair) to keep the camera steady, you can experiment with low light Christmas tree photos. Whether indoors or outdoors, shooting a tree in low light gives you the chance to get great shots of the lights shining through the branches.
In the photo below, you can see Jim opted for a Black & White photo of his Christmas bauble, he has used a narrow focus to ensure the tree is blurred and the lights have that cool bokeh effect.
© Jim Grey, Christmas Bulb
Jim used his Nikon F2AS with 50mm Nikkor lens set to f/2 for this shot. The film used was Ilford Delta 400, but you can use any other 400 speed film - black & white or colour. We recommend; Ilford HP5, Kodak UltraMax, Kentmere 400.
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Food and Drink is obviously a big deal at Christmas and people often struggle to take photos of it. There are a couple of easy options for you, either get close or stand back to take a photo of the entire scene.
Depending on your lighting situation you will need to decide if you need to use a flash or not, but in most cases it’s nicer to use natural light. Remember that if your shutter speed drops lower than your focal length it will be harder to keep the image from coming out blurry. Unless you have a tripod, then this won’t matter so much.
© Millie Clinton, Christmas Time VI
Millie used her Contax T3 and some Kodak Portra 800 to take this shot. She chose to shoot outside and use a faster ISO film which means she would have been able to be more flexible with her aperture. She could have, if she wanted, shoot this image with aperture f/8, however you can see from the amount of blur on the subject’s lower body that this was probably taken at f2.8 - f/4.
Next we have a nice example from Millie of the dinner table at Christmas. You could get this type of shot using an SLR or point and shoot camera. The aperture can be around f/8 if you want to get the entire table in focus.
© Millie Clinton, Christmas Dinner II
We recommend over 400 speed films for this indoor shot. There are some lights on in the photo but even with room lights on you will sometimes find that you need a higher ISO and a lower aperture to get the shot you want. This goes abck to the fundamental film photography concept of the exposure triangle. Remember a tripod is your friend.
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Portraits don't have to be taken in a studio with fancy lighting and fabulous backdrops. During Christmas you are going to want to take photos in the environment that you are currently in because that is where your friends and family are.
Christmas portraits can be fun and candid, indoors or outdoors.
© Karen Freer, Friends at Christmas
This photo was taken on an Ilford disposable camera using the flash. These little cameras are great for taking to the pub for some candid photos. You just need to remember that if you are using the flash you should stand back around 1 metre from your subject. If you are not using the flash and it's indoors or outside at night, you probably need to use the flash.
Remember, Polaroid cameras are also an amazing tool for taking out over the holidays and getting photos of friends.
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Pets are great models. So when you go out on your boxing day stroll with your furry friend, take a camera with you.
© Millie Clinton, Barney the Pug
If you are lucky your pet will stay very still when asked and the majority of the tips that we have given previously will apply. If you have a pet that won't stay still then an SLR with shutter priority will be your friend. Making sure its set at around 1/250 or 1/500 should be fine to capture a moving subject. You will need to make sure you have an ISO higher than 400 in a well lit environment or a flash to help freeze the action!
Got a cute Christmas outfit for your pet?
Polaroid film is a fun and simple way to capture your pets at Christmas. You can even take photos of your friends or family's animals and then just hand them over the Polaroid as a gift.
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Dreaming of a white Christmas? Well we might finally get one this year! We have already been very lucky with the snowfall, and it is the perfect chance to capture some beautiful, frosty, festive photos. As snow is obviously white, it reflects a lot of light- so a low ISO film will work well for this weather situation.
Millie has captured these thistles in the snow. Because her subject is closer to her than the backdrop, and she has used a small f number, the result is this lovely out of focus look around the main few thistles and in the distance.
You could capture this scene with black & white film too, but the colour palette works really well with the white and browns that we can see.
Red is a colour we associate with Christmas, Millie has taken a photo of Bobbi below and the red just pops out of this snowy scene.
© Millie Clinton, Bobbi
This photo can be achieved with any camera and colour film. If you have the option to select f/4 to ensure the background is a little out of focus then great, but otherwise you can get a nice festive looking photo like this using a simple-use or point and shoot camera.
And of course, a snowy scene wouldn't be complete without a Snow Person.
© Emma Lloyd
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Whether you are in a town, village or city, there will probably be Christmas lights nearby. If you have a tripod take that with you, if not you might need to steady your camera upon something.
© Emma Lloyd, Christmas Lights in Cornwall
In this photo, Emma has used CineStill 800T - you can tell its CineStill because of that marvellous halation around all the light sources. CineStill 800T is a great film to shoot at Christmas because of its slightly higher ISO, meaning you won't need to worry as much about low lighting. You can see that Emma used a slower shutter speed for this photo because the people are blurred where they are walking through the frame.
If you are not a fan of the glow around the lights then we would recommend shooting Kodak Portra 800. Same ISO speed but with the colours you would expect to see from Portra.
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The festive season is full of parties, work socials, Christmas drinks and celebrations- none of which would be complete unless they are captured on film! You can’t go wrong with a point and shoot in your pocket, loaded with a high speed film. Unless you are willing to brave the December cold, we imagine your Christmas drinks will take place indoors, under tungsten lighting. This means you ideally need a film of at least 400 ISO (unless you have a strong flash, then you can get away with lower).
The photos below were taken with Kentmere 400 on a point and shoot camera. Kentmere 400 is a great budget film that still gives wonderful photos that pack a punch. AND it is now available in medium format too!
© Emma Lloyd
Christmas is a great chance to experiment with high speed films that you wouldn’t normally use, like Delta 3200 for example. These photos were taken with a Pentax K1000 and a Diana f+ flash (unconventional combination we know, but that’s Emma for you!). It allowed Emma to capture some fun night scenes in Liverpool, in very low lighting.
© Emma Lloyd
These photos were taken at our ‘Christmas’ party last year (which was actually in March this year due to Covid). We still got some Christmas crackers out and the classic Christmas hats though. Here Emma used her Diana Nami with Lomography 400, a great colour film for indoor shooting.
© Emma Lloyd
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Final Thoughts and Tips
Christmas can be a busy time of the year, seeing lots of people and with so much going on. It is wonderful to capture all the festive fun on film, but don’t feel bad if you don’t get a chance to take all the photos you wanted! Remember you can also use film photography as a chance to take a time out for yourself, go on a little photowalk of your own and escape the Christmas chaos if you need to.
Here are some final tips for shooting film at Christmas to take away from this article:
- Point & Shoot cameras are great for taking fun candid photos in the moment, 400 speed film should get you through most lighting situations
- Natural light is always more cosy for festive photos but if you need to, a flash will be fine too - just make sure you are around 1 metre away from your subject or they might end up being too well lit and you will lose detail
- If you find the light too low, drop your aperture to f/2.8 - just keep an eye on your shutter speed - you want it to be no lower than your lens focal width (if your lens is 50mm don’t let your shutter go lower than 1/50)
- If your shutter speed gets too low, grab your tripod to steady the camera. If you don’t have a tripod, you could use a chair or table to lean on
- When taking portraits, try to focus on the eyes of your subject
- Photographing pets and children can be tough if they are moving around and won’t sit still. Shoot in shutter Priority and set to at least 1/250 or 1/500 to freeze the action
We hope you have a very merry film-mas and a snappy new year! Happy Shooting!
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