How to photograph a baby with Christmas lights and create bokeh effect

Posted in: Family, Life, Photos on November 22nd, 2014
Christmas light bokeh with baby 1-125 sec at f - 1.8-50 mm-ISO 800
1-125 sec at f – 1.8-50 mm-ISO 800

I have had a few questions about how I setup my Christmas lights bokeh and baby photoshoot that I did for our Christmas card, so I thought I’d put together some instructions on how to do this.

First, a quick disclaimer. Letting your baby play with electric Christmas lights may put them at risk of electric shock and/or choking! I am in no way saying this is a safe or recommended practice and YOU assume all risk if you choose to do this.

Setting up the Christmas lights/bokeh/baby photoshoot

As usual, this shoot was done in my living room, with my lovely wife assisting all the way through. As a hobbyist, I am always looking for low-budget ways to create beautiful photos, and I think this shoot was adequately beautiful and cheap to create!

Photography equipment

  • Nikon D3100 camera.
  • Nikon AFS NIKKOR 50mm f1.8G lens.

Lights and backdrop

  • White backdrop – I used a white sheet hung over two chairs.
  • Christmas tree lights with white cable – I used 2 sets of these Philips lights.
  • Christmas tree lights with green cable – I used 1 set of the same Philips lights, but with green cable.

The background: bokeh with white Christmas lights

In order to get the bokeh in the background, I setup the white backdrop and hung the lights about 10 feet behind where the subject was going to sit. If you want larger bokeh (bigger, blurrier circles), you can get closer to the subject and/or move the subject further away from the lights. If you have the subject too close to the background lights, or you are too far away from your subject, you won’t get a bokeh effect. You can check out this article for more bokeh tips.

The lights basically hung touching the white sheet. I think another good option would be to remove the white sheet so it doesn’t reflect the Christmas lights, which would result in a white bokeh transposed on a black background.

The foreground: baby with Christmas lights

I chose to use green cord for the foreground lights. This meant that the cables blended in better to the darker style of the photos. As this were shot without a flash, all face lighting came from the Christmas lights. This meant that I usually had to time my shots when Harlow was bringing lights up to her mouth, or in some shots, I wrapped lights around her shoulders and neck. Again, please be careful! Working with lights and cables presents choking and electric shock risks!

The key to getting beautiful baby shots is to be patient! While I wish my 7 month old child could pose, it’s simply not possible to stage photos with a baby on-the-go. I sat there for quite a while snapping away while Andrea positioned the Christmas lights to ensure the baby’s face was lit and the background lights were positioned to create the bokeh effect.

Camera settings for maximum bokeh

To achieve maximum bokeh at the relatively small distance between the subject and background (my living room has limited space!) I had to use a wide aperture and sit quite close to my subject (about 2-3 feet). The 50mm Nikon lens I use goes to f1.8, which was the perfect aperture for this photoshoot. In fact, I shoot a lot of my portrait photos such as my baby painting photos at f1.8 for maximum bokeh and also to allow for faster shutter speeds.

To account for a wiggly baby I needed to shoot at 1/80 or higher shutter speed so I bumped the ISO up to 800. ISO 800 let in just enough light for beautiful, dramatic facial detail and the noise is barely visible. In some of the photos there is some chromatic aberration and lens flare, but I think this adds to the drama and the magic of the shoot.

As for editing in post, I barely needed to do anything. These photos were beautiful straight off the camera!

Any more questions about this shoot, feel free to get me on Twitter @ciaransm

Christmas light bokeh with baby 1-125 sec at f - 1.8-50 mm-ISO 800
1-125 sec at f – 1.8-50 mm-ISO 800
Christmas light bokeh with baby 1-125 sec at f - 1.8-50 mm-ISO 800
1-125 sec at f – 1.8-50 mm-ISO 800
Photographing a baby with Christmas lights and getting bokeh 1-80 sec at f - 1.8-50 mm-ISO 800
1-80 sec at f – 1.8-50 mm-ISO 800
Christmas light bokeh with baby 1-100 sec at f - 1.8-50 mm-ISO 800
1-100 sec at f – 1.8-50 mm-ISO 800
Christmas light bokeh with baby 1-125 sec at f - 1.8-50 mm-ISO 800
1-125 sec at f – 1.8-50 mm-ISO 800
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