Tis the season to be merry and to take your camera to the various Christmas markets. Text and images by Fiona Wallace.
Recent years have seen the rise of one particular aspect of the festive season: the Christmas market. A common sight in Edinburgh and Glasgow for over a decade, many more towns are now copying their big cousins and hosting their own versions, albeit on a much smaller scale. With these cheerful, fuzzily warm and colourful events being ripe for fabulous photographic opportunities, here are our top tips for capturing some great shots. And the beauty is that it doesn’t matter if you don’t need to have expensive equipment: you can get good images using a phone camera or a compact.
It’s all a blur
Us camera folk spend a long time grumbling about how photos are too blurry, and of course sharpness is a bit of the holy grail of photography. But one of the beauties of Christmas market shots is that sometimes blur is best. After all, a huge part of the fun or the event is the sense of excitement created by movement – of the various rides and sideshows, and of the crowds of people all having fun. And when it is all wrapped up in the warm hazy glow of the festive season, sometimes blur is best.
Think of those lovely fast-moving funfair rides: the carousels, the big wheel, the chair swings. They are fast and exciting and VERY colourful. Unless you have a very fast shutter, you are unlikely to capture the people as they whizz past you on the rides. But there are absolutely fabulous colour effects to be had through capturing the motion blur of the rides. Just focus on something static on the ride such as the central column, and then let your camera do the rest.
If you can control your settings, go for a wide open aperture which will let more light in and will automatically create a longer exposure.
If, however, you want pin-sharpness then you will need a fast shutter speed. Many people use a combination of a higher ISO and a smaller aperture. If you have more control over your camera’s settings, you could prioritise your shutter speed. Or you could use flash but in a large crowd you need to watch you are not pointing your flash into people’s faces.
Isolate objects against a blurred background
You will have seen blurred backgrounds in many photos and for most of them the idea is to make the foreground object the sole focus of the shot by making the background inconspicuous. This is a great thing to try if you want to focus on a particular object but keep a nice warm fuzz in the background that doesn’t intrude.
You could also try for a Bokeh effect.
Bokeh is the aesthetic blur produced in the out-of-focus parts of an image. It is different because the blurred effect is actually integral to the image. Bokeh is especially beautiful when you create a blurred effect using lights behind your central image. The trick in both situations is to focus on your main object using a shallow depth-of-field and let the background blur. Many compacts now have a setting that allows you to do this.
Make a friend of Mono
Since I’ve mentioned that Christmas is a time of colour and warmth, it seems a bit of a contradiction to suggest using mono as for many of us it might be considered a colder and starker option. The thinking behind this one is that, bizarrely, colour can sometimes be distracting and can make your shots look very busy So an absence of colour should help draw the viewer’s attention to the subject and the atmosphere of an image.
Set the camera to mono or try out the art filters/scenes available in your camera menu. Mono is often the go-to setting for Street and Candid photographers because it can feel more real, and adds a timeless and elegant feel to a photograph. If you want to add even more drama to your scene, try underexposing by adding -1.0 stop of exposure compensation.
The “colour” that a mono shot is capturing is the gritty atmosphere of the location. And if, as is likely in December, you are at the market on a cold night, then mono can capture this in a way that is perhaps missing in colour images.
It’s about the people
Undoubtedly Christmas Markets are about people and having fun in the festive season. This is perhaps the one time where we need to resist the temptation to filter out the folk “getting in the way” of our arty shot of the big wheel, and just embrace that it’s all about people having fun. Try to look for interesting shots of people out having a rare old time. Street and Candid shots are there in abundance at Christmas markets.
And above all, don’t forget to have fun yourself while you are out with your camera.