Forget the 12 days of Christmas, it's actually the 12 photography projects of Christmas, according to Chris Gatcum
Christmas is a great time for photography, but aside from all the food and family gatherings, it’s also a great opportunity to be creative.
Whether you’re looking to make yourself some new photography kit or want to finally try out that editing trick you’ve been meaning to, here are 12 Christmas photography project ideas for you to try.
Christmas Photography Project 1: Try Freelensing
Most new cameras have a ‘miniature’ mode, and most image-editing software now offers a tilt/shift filter that will help give the impression that you are Gulliver looking down on Lilliput. However, these options typically work by blurring the top and bottom of the frame, whereas a genuine tilt-and-shift lens actually shifts the plane of focus.
‘Freelensing’ bridges the gap between these two options by allowing you to change the plane of focus but without paying for a tilt/shift lens. The principle is simple: set your camera to manual and hold your lens in front of the lens mount, rather than attaching it to the camera. Turning and tilting the lens will allow you to shift the plane of focus (and focus the lens), giving you the shifted plane of focus you want.
However, it sounds easier than it is, as the slightest adjustment to the camera or lens can throw everything off. The lens you use will also determine the success of your results – longer focal lengths, manually selectable apertures and full-frame (or medium-format) lenses are all things to look for. You will need a fair amount of patience as well! Also, a word of warning – as no lens is attached to your camera, if you are worried about getting dust on your sensor freelensing may not be a technique for you.
Christmas Photography Project 2: Levitation
In the pre-digital world, making something appear to ‘float’ in an image wasn’t easy, but in the digital age we have software that enables us to create the impossible. The technique I’m going to outline here will work regardless of the scale of your shot: you could use it to make an elephant levitate, or raise a compliant ant from the ground, the only difference is the support that will be needed. In this instance, I’m working with a festive still life.
The process is pretty simple, but you’ll need two shots: the first is of the background without your subject in the frame and the second has your subject in their ‘floating’ pose, albeit with a rather obvious support to hold them up (be it a stepladder, chair or something else). Your shots need to be as similar as possible, so shoot with the camera on a tripod and keep the same camera settings. Switch to manual exposure, a specific ISO (rather than auto ISO), a preset or custom white balance (again, not auto) and set the focus manually as well, so this doesn’t change, either.
When you’ve done shooting, open your ‘background’ image in your editing program. Then add the add the photograph containing your would-be floating subject on a layer above it. Because you used a tripod the images should align perfectly, so all you need to do now is ‘rub out’ the support that’s holding your subject in the air. You can do this using your software’s Eraser tool or by creating a mask.
Regardless of your method, as you remove the support the underlying layer will show through, filling the background and enabling your subject to ‘levitate’.
Christmas Photography Project 3: Make a Simple Beanbag
A bag of rice or lentils makes a great beanbag, but it won’t earn you any kudos when you’re out and about. However, if you have some scraps of fabric and can sew (or know someone who can), a simple beanbag cover can cost nothing more than time.
Christmas Photography Project 4: Make a Quick-clamp
All we’re doing here is getting a heavy-duty plastic clamp, drilling a 1⁄4in (6.5mm) hole in the end of one of its ‘arms’ and then using a 1⁄2in (12mm) long, 1/4-20 bolt to attach a small tripod head. This creates an incredibly simple, yet wonderfully versatile and steady camera support that can be used to clamp your camera to a wide variety of objects. I mounted a small tripod head to my clamp, but you could also mount your camera directly if you’re willing to have it in a fixed position. This project comes with a warning, though – the heavier your camera, the stronger the clamp you will need, so a certain amount of common sense is required. This project is done entirely at your own risk!
Christmas Photography Project 5: Shoot with a Lo-fi Lens
If you’ve toyed with the idea of playing with a plastic camera, such as a Lomo or a Holga, but have been put off by their reliance on film, a ‘lo-fi lens’ may be the answer. While Lomography offers an adapter for its Diana lenses, I much prefer the ‘digital’ Holga lenses. These lenses are designed specifically for digital cameras, but retain the classic plastic construction and design of their medium-format namesake, complete with four fixed-focus distances.
Of course, the term ‘focus’ is used in its loosest sense – as with a ‘proper’ Holga camera, nothing is going to be overly crisp. You can also expect strong and uneven focus fall-off at the edges of the frame (even on an APS sensor), plus heavy vignetting and chromatic aberration – everything a lo-fi lens should give you! A word of warning, though: although Holga lenses claim to have a (fixed) aperture of f/8, they can be much slower. The Holga lens I use is in the region of f/32–f/45.
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