Photo by Joshua Waller
City streets, particularly at this time of year, are an abundance of jewelled lights from traffic, shops, and festive bulbs. Their colour and a good bit of sky detail make city locations perfect for urban winter shoots. Dramatic clouds or the subtle gradation of twilight hues make good backgrounds for winter lights but as the light fades and your background turns black, you can turn your attention to the Bokeh effect to really make your urban work shine.
When out-and-about, focus on your subject from about 10 feet away with a long lens and a wider aperture and your background lights should glow like coloured jewels in the night.
As it's dark you'll be using a slower shutter speed so a tripod or monopod are an essential item. Applying a gentle touch to the shutter button and remembering to take your shot when you've exhaled and not while you're holding your breath will also reduce camera shake and help you produce a shake-free, perfect image. A good lens is always useful too and using a lens with a focal length of 70-200mm or above will help ensure those backgrounds are out of focus and the lights are twinkling.
Photo by Joshua Waller
Once you're set-up and your picture's framed, take a look at your white balance settings. Auto white balance will work with the majority of these shots but by choosing tungsten balance, any ambient daylight goes a lovely rich blue. It also helps ensure the lights in the background are glowing the colour they're meant to be.
As well as using the Christmas lights, why not use the other lights of the city to create some dynamic images? Illuminated advertising can add an interesting twist to urban portraits and so can reflections. Wet paving stones, wet tarmac and windows are all exciting items to hold reflections. You just have to learn to look for them and incorporate them into your images.
If you're out to shoot specifically winter/festive lights then why not plan your shoot around a Christmas shopping trip or a visit to a Christmas market. There are usually plenty of incentives to wrap up warm, grab a brolly and enjoy a mulled wine and the odd bag of roasted chestnuts, all of which make excellent festive inspired images. You could also grab a window seat in a cafe, order the drinks, then pop out onto the street, shoot a frame or two then back into the warmth. You can also use the cafe as a setting for a few of your shots, using steaming mugs of hot chocolate and coffee to add another level of interest to your portraits.
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