For the last 12 days we have been running a Free Christmas Photography Bootcamp with our followers. We have taken them through a number of different techniques and concepts particularly useful when preparing for Photographing the Big Day. We covered everything from photographic and specifically Christmas StoryteIling, capturing the magic of Christmas Lights, Christmas decorations, the glowing tree, yummy Christmas food and preparation for the main event. has been an absolutely awesome experience with scores of people posting, chatting, getting advice and feedback in our Facebook group – my Facebook feed has been ablaze with all their brilliant photos.

If you missed out on it, I’m sorry, but here is a little consolation. 3 techniques from our Bootcamp, illustrated by our students’ own photos.

Enjoy and Merry Christmas from Photography for Parents!


The term Bokeh comes from a Japanese word and is used to describe circles/spots of light which are created by blowing lights out of focus. Depending on the level of brightness of your lights, bokeh may be more or less pronounced. Fairy lights in general make for great bokeh sources as they tend to be multicoloured, the light is quite distinctive and there are usually multiple little light sources in small areas.

The MORE out of focus you can blow you lights, the bigger, softer bokeh you’ll get. Here is how you do it :


Before go go any further, make sure your camera is set right:

If you’re shooting on auto: set your camera to Portrait or High Sensitivity.

If you’re shooting in semi-auto or manual mode : set your aperture to the widest available setting ( smallest number you have) and ( unless you;re using tripod or something else where you can just set your camera steady by itself) up your ISO to 800 – 1600 ( or until you’re able to get a shutter speed above 1/60s).

If possible, try to make sure that the subject you’re photographing is facing a window or another source of light.

To make bokeh as attractive and as effective as possible, we are essentially trying to throw them out of focus as much as possible. And here is your 3 step plan to achieve it.

Step 1. Distance to the lights

The closer your lights are to your subject, the more in focus they will be. So to give yourself a chance of getting it right, move your subject a little distance from the lights.

Step 2. Distance to your subject.

The further you are from the point you are focusing on, the more everything in the frame will be in focus. Easy way to test it – grab your camera and hold one arm in front of your lens. Take a picture focusing on your hand. Now without moving an inch from where you are or changing anything on your camera, focus on something a bit further away. If you compare the two pictures, you’ll see that one has comparatively much more blur in the background than the other.

Step 3. Zoom in

The more you zoom in on your subject, the more you compress the entire space in your frame ( trust us on it) and the more your lights will be thrown out of focus. So use as much zoom as you can in the space you’re in – longer zoom will require you to be physically further away from your subject or it won’t let you focus. Yes, I know in the step above we made a point of saying – get close to your subject – this means, get as close as you can with your zoom stretched out. Try to zoom in so much that your subject occupies at least half the space in the frame.


If you like your lights to take a bit more of  a centre stage, ditch the bokeh and instead go with a light effect which makes the lights really glisten and pop and create a ‘starburst’ effect. Particularly effective on little sharp fairy lights – this technique will make the lights look like little stars, with tiny rays extending from the centre.

Camera note : This one is very difficult to achieve without manually changing your settings ( if your camera will allow you). Your best bet is to set it up on ‘landscape’ setting but even then, it’s not foolproof. Give it a go though!

Starburst Effect

In order to create this Starburst effect, you need to make the camera ‘squint’ – you need to close down the aperture on it ( that’s the size of the opening in your lens) as much as you can

Aperture: aim towards the narrower end of your aperture your camera can actually achieve – F16, F22 should work great.  If you have a bridge camera, you may not appear to have the same range – in some cases your Aperture can go only as far as F8, but try it on your narrowest setting anyway, you might be surprised with your results.

Shutter speed: When you narrow down your aperture, you are naturally extending the exposure time ( shutter speed) so you will need to make sure that your camera is either on a tripod, or steadied on another surface, preferably cushioned from vibrations ( a little bean bag or a small bag of rice can be useful here if you haven’t got a tripod). For best results I’d recommend using a remote trigger, or setting your camera on a self-timer to minimise any potential ‘shake.

ISO : You want the ISO to be LOW – if the camera is steady and your lights are not going anywhere, you might as well get the best possible quality. Setting our ISO high here would just produce a grainy image, whereas you want a clear star shape.

Focus: When focusing your camera, don’t aim it straight into the light, but rather onto a solid element it’s mounted on – you’ll get a more accurate focus as the strong light can sometimes confuse your AF.


So this is the kind of shot which relies on the interplay of light and shadows to make it work. What you want is for the light on your child’s face to be coming from the fairy lights on your tree.

The process:

  1. Dim or turn off all lights in the room except for the fairy lights on the tree.
  2. Position your child fairly close to the tree facing the lights – watch how the light spills onto their face and judge the distance by that – too much shadow? they’re probably too far.
  3. If you can use your camera in semi-auto or manual, set it for the widest aperture – you will most likely end up with a slow shutter regardless so unless your child can stand exceptionally still, help yourself with your ISO and set it pretty high – from 800 ( if you have fast lenses and bright lights) and higher in most other instances.
  4. If you’re shooting in Auto modes – try either a portrait mode ( provided you can disable the flash) or a high sensitivity / night mode. Both of those give you the best chance of having the camera settings in the range which will allow you to take that photo.

Things to consider :

  • coloured lights do not work here – they will cast an odd colour light on your child, and especially if you’ll have a few competing colours, this may end up pretty strange indeed.
  • you need your child rather close to the tree itself and face towards the tree – I could persuade my 8 year old to do it, but I wouldn’t even try with my 15 month old. I’ve had success with toddlers and preschoolers before by placing something close to the tree trunk and asking them to see if they can find it
  • avoid flash – the hack from our first portrait will not work in this scenario – the direction of light will be wrong.