'Tis the Season

Posted on by Alexander Rabb


Now that it's December I've been getting more and more jazzed about my favorite holiday tradition - photographing Christmas lights.  Here in Brooklyn, there are some neighborhoods where the homeowners go all out, hiring contractors to blast up professional displays, but even the little light shows are special.

Fire Escape

I think all of this makes for some pretty interesting photography.  The colors can be rich and beautiful.  Dressed-up and decorated lawns, porches and stoops make for interesting compositions.  Most importantly, the figurines and statues range from beautiful to fun to slightly run-down to downright creepy.

Magus, kneeling
Toy Land, Part 1

Last year I got very much into handheld shots with fast color negative film and my rarely used Nikkor-S 55mm f/1.2.  Much-followed and sometimes-mocked commentator Ken Rockwell pooh-poohs the lens as a toy for insecure men who want to show off how fast their glass is.  He especially dislikes the coma ("weird smeared blobs that appear around bright points of light in the corners") that shows up when the lens is wide open.


I like it though!  I think the coma makes for an interesting effect that heightens the weirdness and dreaminess of the whole scene. I hadn't done much shooting at f/1.2 before last Xmas, and was thrilled at how dynamic and weird the swirly lights made everything.

Crèche, with Christmas lights

So I'm psyched to go out and experiment some more this season.  Maybe I'll try ignoring my instincts to take advantage of all of that color, and shoot in black and white - my recent switch to Diafine has got me shooting Tri-X at pretty high speeds - to focus on composition and try for a more timeless feel.  On the other hand, maybe I'll go the opposite direction, and break out the tripod and slow slide film for long exposures and some deep, rich color.

Either way, I'm excited to get shooting.  How about you?  Do you have any special holiday photography plans?