Monday, January 30, 2012

Capturing Holiday Bokeh in Portraits

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This post would have been a little more helpful to you all back in November.  You know…when you were actually gearing up for holiday cards and all snap happy with your kiddos and dogs.  Oh well.  Better late than never and I have actually gotten a few e-mails about how I got the “white lights” in my backgrounds.  Hopefully it will help you prepare for next year’s holiday shoot.

Or maybe you’re a super duper clickin’ mom and you can use this for your Valentine’s Day shoot?  Dunno.

I’ve wanted to try the Christmas light bokeh thing for a while and snagged this picture during the Christmas 2010 festivities.


Yes, I know you’ve all seen it before, but I loved creating the glowing orbs of Christmas bokeh.  Just screams holidays to me.  Fast forward to Christmas 2011 and I decided to try it out again, this time with human subjects.

After a little research, I stumbled upon this quick “how-to” on Flickr.  The photographer also shared some updated pictures in a later shoot as well.  Fantastic!

From inspiration to application…I just had to figure out how to string white Christmas lights in a fashion that was easy to move in and out of my portrait area.  Also, I knew I wanted to use a white background instead of black, so I wasn’t sure how the bokeh thing would work.  You never know until you try, so this was my basic set up.


Looks highly technical, doesn’t it?

To create my “light board”, I bought a large piece of heavy duty white cardboard from Michael’s for under $5.  It is the kind of board you would use at a presentation booth.  Look for it near the poster board.  I wrapped two 50 light strands of lights around the cardboard…


…and then taped them in the back to hold them in place. 


Nothing too fancy, just spaced them out and taped them down.


To get the bokeh effect you should be shooting from far enough away that you won’t see the pattern of the lights anyway.  Well…that’s how you’re supposed to do it, although I had trouble with a few shots.  See my boo boo shots near the bottom of this post. 

I took my “light board” with me to Katie’s for the WOWN Holiday Shoot.  If you missed it, please take a minute to check out the adorable offspring of my hood friends.  For the shoot, I set up my large white muslin backdrop in her living room.  I took photos of each family with just the white background…


Then I would have my “assistant”…errr…Katie, move the “light board” into the portrait area to get this look…


The light board has to be WAY farther back then you would imagine to create enough depth of field to get the “orb” look…or bokeh.  You also must use a very low aperture and get up and personal with your subject…not too hard with these cuties.  Just be sure to focus on their eyes and you should get that wonderful holiday bokeh.

Here are some more shots, first with just the white background…



And then with the added light board…




Some of the shots with the bokeh look turned out better than others.  It was trial and error.  The better pictures came from using a lower aperture and an increased distance between my subject and the light board.  Since this was my first time using the board and I was trying to keep a ton of kiddos smiling, happy and in one place, the set up wasn’t always perfect. 

For instance, this shot is not my favorite…


Of course, the little guy is gorgeous (THOSE EYES!) and his look is adorable.  However, the bokeh isn’t the greatest.  The orbs are a little small.  You can see the dark lines of the lighting cords.  Maybe I’m being too picky, but its something to work on next year.

I’d also like to work on getting my white background whiter.  That blueish tint kind of irritates me.  Although, from the research I’ve done, I’ve realized that getting that “high key” look involves much more artificial lighting than I want to get into at the moment.

Again, I LOVED trying this out and will for sure do it again next year.  Maybe I’ll even tackle getting Dixie the wonder pooch in the mix.  I hope this gives you all a little inspiration for next year’s holiday photos as well.

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Let It Snow: The commuter edition

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So here I sit here on the train contemplating how bad the drive home from the station is going to be tonight for Rambo and me. Rambo is my commuter buddy that's taught me the ins and outs of Chicago train commuting.  He is a Metra veteran, a knower of things.  Things that I never knew exsisted.  This whole commuter subculture.

Anywho, Rambo and I face our second snow storm commute this evening.  It's a fun one.  I decided to blab a bit on the blog and try out my new blogging app, Blogsy.  More on that soon.

I  snapped a few pics with my iPad from the lovely view from the train car...



Hope this evening finds you warm at home...and NOT fighting the fight of the snowy suburbia commute.

Happy Friday to all!

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Saturday, January 14, 2012

WOWN Holiday Photo Shoot

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Another long overdue post…I sound like a broken record.  I just couldn’t let these adorable photos of my WOWN friends and their families go unshared. 

This was unchartered territory…mini-photo shoots of several families all in one morning.  It was a challenge.  It was fun.  And it went surprisingly well!

Here are some highlights…

My boys were up first and didn’t disappoint.

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Handsome little devils…emphasis on devils.

Neighbor Katie generously hosted the entire shoot in her living room where she has TONS of great natural light.  We did half of her family shoot there a while back .

Her girls…cute as always.


And the rest of the crew…

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I must say that I have a very good looking group of friends with seriously adorable little ones.  And well behaved too!  No joke.  I was really worried about having this many little friends all in one place.  Not one melt down. Not one tear.  Christmas mojo?

And last but not least, we did a very special first Christmas shoot for one of Katie’s good friends that just happened to be visiting from out of town.  Her little boy is such a blessing and it was great fun sharing these moments with new parents.


And that’s just the highlights.  Even though I’ve started working again, I’m hoping to do this shoot next Christmas season.  It was great fun, everyone was really pleased with the results and I learned more about my hobby.  A win win. 

So, how did I get the Christmas light bokeh look?  It was super easy and well worth the extra effort.  I’ll be back with that set up soon.   Seriously.  I promise.

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Monday, January 2, 2012

Times…they have changed

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As the title says…Times…they have changed. Not changing. CHANGED!



Well, I’m not sure if any of you have noticed my absence in blogland lately or not, but I feel like an explanation is WAY overdue.

First and foremost…Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of my wonderful readers.  I haven’t responded to many of you lately and I apologize.  Life has been beyond crazy and I’ve had to make some harsh decisions about my priorities.  Family first, of course.


I’ve mentioned my previous life as a science nerd.  I’m a lab rat to the core and loved my career. 


My previous job ended over three years ago and this little blog was the result of me being home full-time for the first time in my life.  The kids kept me busy, the blog kept me sane. 

Being home has been a surprisingly great experience.  I never thought I would be able to swing the full-time stay-at-home mommy thing.  I’ve always worked and juggled motherhood.  Turns out that losing my job was a gift I never knew I needed or wanted. 

Not only have I experienced my kids (good and bad) in a whole new way, I also learned how to do a barrage of new things that I wouldn’t have had time for otherwise:  photography, cooking, crafting, DIYing.  All along the way, I’ve met some amazing new friends via blogging, several even in my own area.  It has been such a rewarding experience.

Alas, I’m a career girl at heart.  I missed my work.  I missed my field.  I felt like I was missing out on something that I went to school and worked so hard for.  Over the last year, I’ve kept my eye out for jobs in my field (I’m in a really specialized science area).  And finally, one day, a position was posted that fit me perfectly.  The commute and location????  Not so much. 

I applied.  I interviewed.  I got the job.  I struggled with the decision to actually accept the position.   Can I handle commuting to the city?  How can I be away from my family that many hours a day?  Who’s going to make dinner?  Photography?  Is that over now too? 

Then the positive…WOW!  This  is such a great lab.  Such a great group.  It’s both clinical and academic. I haven’t come across many jobs like this over the last three years.  Would another position like this one come up in the next few years again?  When B goes to big boy school next year and I’m still home, will I kick myself for not taking this job?

So much ran through my head.  So many discussions about it all with my husband.  Ultimately, it was up to me.  Derek has been 100% supportive to whatever I chose to do.  And I decided in the end it was too good to pass up.  I accepted the job and started working full time December 12.  Yep, right in the  middle of the holiday craziness. 

It’s been a whirlwind over the last month.  First, preparing to start the job during Thanksgiving. Coming up with meal plans.  Stockpiling food.  Finding the right childcare.  Figuring out my commute.  Then the actually job began and Christmas came too.  No crafts were made this year, although I bought everything with the intention of making these again for friends. Sorry friends.   I didn’t make that lovely Prime Rib from last year either.  Nope.  This year, with all the job craziness, we made the holiday festivities simple.

And you know what?  It all worked out.  We had a great Christmas with both sides of our families.

The boys got matching jammies…


We hosted a wonderful New Years Eve gathering with neighborhood friends. 


And now we’re enjoying a few lazy days together.


So, there you have it.  My absence explanation.  I have so much I would love to post about, but I’m not sure when I’ll get around to it.  I’m hoping to keep the blog going.  It just might take a different direction.  Stay-at-home mom turns working mom again.

Again, thanks to all of you, my friends and readers, for continuing to read my blog.  Please bear with me during this HUGE life change.  Here’s to a happy and prosperous 2012!

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