’Twas the night before Christmas and all through the night, outdoor photographers were dreaming about the country Christmas photos they’d capture at first light…
Traditional Christmas photos lean heavily toward trees, family — kids especially — and presents. Shoot those, but then spread your wings and get creative with some outdoor country Christmas photos.
Five Country Christmas Photos You Can Take
1. House and Barns. Too few of us document our biggest financial investments — our homes. Why not get outside and shoot yours from a variety of angles under various lighting conditions? If you’ve got it glowing with holiday decorations, try some night shots, but then shoot again as the ambient light begins to increase. There’s a point at which the proper exposure for most holiday lights matches nicely to the natural light. At dusk and dawn you escape the heavy blacks of night, but capture a cool blue that contrasts dramatically with the warmer reds and yellows of decorative lights. Turn on indoor lights to give your windows a warm, welcoming glow. While you’re at it, extinguish the Christmas lights and just shoot the house and barn in their normal winter guise. Years down the road you’ll be amazed at the emotions photos like these will inspire. Grandma and grandpa, mom and dad, siblings — and all the grand adventures you’ve had in that house. Honor it with photos. (Tech Tip: To record the proper exposure for lighted windows, move close and fill your frame with them. Set that shutter speed and f-stop manually. Then compare it to the exposure of the external surface of the house. When the two come within one to three f-stops of each other, you should have a good balance. Fire away. But experiment, too. Read about f-stops, shutter speeds and ISO exposure here.)
2. Backyard Wildlife. But of course! Most outdoor/wildlife photographers lure wildlife to their yards with feeders. Christmas is a great time to document your feathered and furry neighbors plus the assistance you provide them for surviving hard, cold winters. Shoot some close ups, but shoot wide, too. Show your habitat and feeder layout in relationship to your family home. (Tech tip: If your camera has a remote shutter release, set it up to frame your wildlife feeder in the foreground and your house door/window in background. Then get the family in that opening. Trip the shutter when birds or deer hit the feeder for a wild “extended family” portrait. Learn about wildlife telephoto lenses here. Buy my favorite 100-400mm wildlife lens here.)
3. The Passing Years. Photographic images are one of the most durable, identifiable historical records you can make. The same scene shot from the same place year after year tells a long story of changing climate, weather, vegetation, structures, animals and people. Why not establish a historical country Christmas photos album? Choose a camera location and angle that you can easily remember (like in the southwest property corner or the end of the driveway,) a suitable lens (20mm, 28mm, etc.) and a consistent time (like sunrise, noon, sunset — or all three) and make your shots. Do this every year for a decade or more and you’ll marvel at life’s subtle changes. No snow, big snow, dead tree, new tree, different house color… (Tech Tip: When there’s snow around the house, take care to set the right exposure. A dark house in a snowy yard is a tricky lighting proposition because the snow reflects so much more light than the house. You may need to expose for the snow and open 1 to 3 f-stops. Shoot several trial exposures before selecting the winner. Learn more about photographing light here.)
4. Wildlife Hunt. Many outdoor families enjoy an annual family Christmas hunt. This is a classic, traditional harvest that cements camaraderie via a nurturing harvest of organic, free-range protein. You can do much the same with a camera hunt. Get together with friends and loved ones to explore farms, woodlots, parks, wildlife refuges — any place where wildlife is likely to winter — and see what you can photograph. You can make it a competition to see who captures the greatest number of species, who gets the rarest specimen or who nails the best shot overall. (Tech Tip: Be ready for fast wildlife action by pre-setting your camera controls. A shutter speed of at least 1/500, preferably 1/1000, should stop most moving wildlife. Adjust ISO and f-stops to make this speed setting possible. Read about a versatile wildlife zoom lens here, and if you want to investigate in detail the Canon EF 100-400 visit this link. It’s selling for $600 less than I paid for mine!)
5. O Little Star of Bethlehem. Starry night skies are stunning and surprisingly easy to capture in country Christmas photos. Crisp, cold winter air increases the chances for clear skies with minimal atmospheric debris. Decreased Christmas night travel clears the sky of most blinking aircraft lights. It’s the perfect time to capture the stars. This will require a rock solid camera for a 20- to 35-second exposure. Use a tripod or set the camera on a solid support (bean bag on a deck railing or log works.) You may need some special gear too. Google “star photography” for details, but here are the basics: (Tech Tip: A “fast” lens is necessary to let in enough dim starlight. f/2.8 is okay, f/1.4 is better. You could compensate for a slower lens (smaller aperture) by increasing exposure time, but after about 30 seconds the spin of the Earth results in smeared stars. Super wide angle lenses minimize this. Try to shoot with a 24mm or shorter focal length. You’ll need to push ISO to 1,600 or higher, even as high as 6400. Shoot RAW so you can manipulate the image extensively in post. Add foreground elements for more interest. The roofline of your house, backyard trees. Street lamps and other ground lights can mess up your shots. You may have to trek far from town to avoid light pollution.)
Conclusion: Christmas is a annual benchmark in our lives. Don’t miss the chance to capture it in outdoor photos.
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