It’s the Holiday Season! I always enjoy getting out and trying some new photos with Christmas lights and other holiday decor.
In the past on this blog, I’ve highlighted some of the local events I’ve attended. This year I have something different to share: some Holiday client work.
Engledow Group is an established landscape design and maintenance firm that has operated in central Indiana since 1932. They provide holiday decor and design services for a number of companies in the Indianapolis region.
This year Engledow reached out to me to help them update their catalog of images. I headed out to over a dozen different businesses of all types to document some of their best displays.
Here are the results!
If you love looking at holiday lights, here are some other posts I recommend. These are some of our favorite annual events in the Indianapolis area.
A funny thing about publishing a magazine is that most of the time you’re working a year in advance. That means for the Thanksgiving 2020 issue of Eating Well magazine, I took photos on Thanksgiving 2019.
Eating Well planned a spread of photos from across the United States to show different ways we celebrate Thanksgiving. My assignment was to document the role small farms play in the process while covering the Midwest section of the story.
Liz and Nate Brownlee own and operate Nightfall Farm in Crothersville, Indiana. Here are some images as I follow them around southern Indiana on their distribution day.
Fun Fact: I took the image they published in the first 30 minutes of a 5 hour shoot. You never know which photos are going to be your best until you go through the entire process.
Click on the image below to head to the Eating Well website and see the full story celebrating the diversity of our country on one of our favorite holidays.
You see model trains a lot during the holiday season, but nobody does model trains like the Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis. Jingle Rails is their annual train display. Models travel through famous local scenes and national landmarks from the American West. You’ll find downtown Indy, complete with a scale model of the Soldier and Sailor’s Monument, lights and all, along with Lucas Oil Stadium. There’s also Las Vegas, Yosemite, and new this year: Route 66.
The Men of Jingle Rails
Equally as interesting as the trains are the old men who are really into it. I happened to notice one gentleman making a repair, so of course I had to take a moment to capture it…
Jingle Rails is sponsored by the Indiana Railroad. Their signature red locomotive travels overhead throughout the entire exhibit.
Had enough trains yet? No? Here’s a few more…
Thanks for visiting our Jingle Rails coverage for 2018. We were there last year as well, so you can check that out here: Jingle Rails 2017. I work to take new angles each year.
2018 Holiday Events
As legendary Hoosier Michael Jackson once said, “Don’t stop ’til you get enough.” So by all means, please enjoy our other posts from this season. Click the image below.
Next up for our holiday events is Christmas at the Zoo in Indianapolis. This is always a great event at the Indianapolis Zoo because in addition to Santa’s Village and lights throughout the zoo, a lot of the animals are out and about and available for visits.
The Bicentennial Pavilion houses Santa’s Village which includes Santa’s house, decorating cookies with Mrs. Claus, reindeer, a mirror maze and more.
The tunnel of lights at the edge of Santa’s Village is a popular spot for portraits and selfies (above).
Christmas at the Zoo is one of the best places around to visit Santa. He has a very tastefully appointed study in the village. This Santa has nailed the classic Santa look and he’s very good with the kids, as you’d expect.
Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center
Follow the lighted walkways to visit attractions like the Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center.
Visiting the animals at night is a great part of Christmas at the Zoo. Max, a three-year-old orangutan, was kept up late by visitors, but his mom did her best to get him calmed down and back to sleep.
The oceans exhibit is a popular spot during the cold weather. It’s close to Santa’s Village and a good place to come in and warm up for a bit. The kids enjoyed these cownose rays (above) because they look like they’re smiling. The California sea lions (below) like to swim laps, passing as close to the glass as possible.
Christmas at the Zoo is a must-do for families in central Indiana. I recommend arriving early to enter Santa’s Village right at 5:00. That way you can do the Christmas activities with little to no wait and spend the rest of your evening just walking through the zoo, enjoying the lights and animals.
Reindeer Ride: Bright Night is part of Nickel Plate Express, a train in central Indiana that runs between Atlanta and Noblesville. Throughout the year they offer a variety of themed rides. For Reindeer Ride: Bright Night, Gaylor Electric fitted the entire length of the train with LED lights.
The ride is very comfortable and each group is seated seated together either in an upper deck or in the dining or lounge cars. You can purchase hot cocoa and beer or wine and every passenger gets a reindeer cookie from our locally famous Taylor’s Bakery.
Santa makes an appearance as well. A decorated caboose remains stationary so guests can visit before or after their ride.
Passenger tip: if you’re going on the 7pm train, arrive a little early because you will overlap your Santa visit with passengers just finishing up their 5pm trip.
One of the cool things about this holiday activity is the chance to sit and visit with friends and family. When you’re out running around all season staying busy, Reindeer Ride: Bright Nights provides a welcomed chance to relax.
We sang carols led by the staff though out the trip. Our kids each got a craft to take home. Needless to say, the Reindeer Ride was a hit with our four kids currently ages 9, 7, 4, & 2.
This week we visit Newfields Winterlights in Indianapolis, now in its second year. With over 1.5 million lights, this is THE light display to see. Newfields is the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the surrounding grounds.
In this post I talk about photographing in the difficult lighting conditions we encounter at this time of year.
Winterlights Before Sundown
When you think of light displays, you probably think of nighttime. However, if you wait until total darkness to start shooting, you miss out on some great opportunities.
The above photo shows the Lilly House during Newfields Winterlights. This image is made after sunset, during what’s known as the “blue hour”. A couple benefits of having the ambient light left in the sky in this photo is that it throws some additional light on the primary subject (the house) and it adds some subtle color and texture to the sky.
Let Lights Stand Out After Dark
Once it gets completely dark outside, I like to take the opposite approach I talk about in the last section. I embrace the contrast of the lights against the darkness. In the photo above I found a line of sight where I have lights filling the frame at varying distances from the camera.
Bokeh, Bokeh, Bokeh
For the uninitiated, bokeh is the visual quality of the out-of-focus areas of a photo. People often ask how to achieve that “blurry background” (see photo below), but bokeh can occur in the foreground as well (see above photo).
People often assume that you need an expensive lens for this, but that’s not exactly true. The two most important factors are a lens with a wide aperture (f/1.4, 2 or 2.8) and the distances between the camera, the subject and the background. The foreground should be close to the camera and the background should be a good distance away.
For the image below, I am standing a few feet from the subject, shooting at a low aperture (f/1.4). As a result the background has a nice blur. For the above image I am standing just a couple feet from the lights in the foreground. My focus is on the tree in the background that is about 50 yards away, again shooting at a low aperture (f/2.8). A telephoto lens heightens this affect. For the image above, I’m using a 70-200mm lens at 200mm.
The image below, inside the Lilly House at Newfields Winterlights, shows how you can use both a foreground AND background blur in the same photograph. This image is shot with a 24mm lens at f/1.4.
Underexpose Holiday Lights
I typically underexpose images with holiday lights. That means I make the images darker than what the light meter recommends, so the image appears somewhat dark on the camera screen. If you go the opposite direction, you risk the lights being overexposed. When that happens, you lose the subtle detail in the lights and you can’t get them back. Sometimes overexposure is an interesting affect with holiday lights, but it’s better to do it purposefully.
Embrace the darkness of interior spaces. Expose for the brightest point and underexpose at that. Don’t use flash! Tape it shut if you have to. Flash will kill all the subtlety of warm winter lighting.
If all you have is a lens with a high minimum aperture (~f/4 or higher), well, I suppose your best bet is just shoot at a high ISO (1600, 3200) and see how it goes. If you have just a little bit of money to spend, there are a few options of lenses you can get to make low light photography easier.
Another stop we made on our holiday tour of Indianapolis was Jingle Rails, presented by The Indiana Rail Road Company, at the Eiteljorg Museum. Eight model trains travel through miniature scenes including downtown Indianapolis, Hollywood, Las Vegas and western landmarks such as the Grand Canyon and Mount Rushmore. After the Jingle Rails photos, you’ll see a few general shots of the museum which has plenty to explore too.
Jingle Rails runs through January 15th, so be sure to check it out!
This week we headed to the Indianapolis Zoo for their annual Christmas at the Zoo. 2017 saw the addition of a new Santa’s Village under the Bicentennial Pavilion. With Santa in his study, Mrs. Claus in her kitchen and reindeer in the barn, there was plenty to see and do.
The kids enjoyed multiple trips through the “Snowflakery”, which is a short, but surprisingly tricky mirror maze. PRO TIP: Keep your hands in front of you so you don’t smack your face into a mirror!
Head to the zoo early and you’ll probably see a good number of cool/cold weather animals out. We took a short walk through the the forests (located next to the pavilion) and saw tigers, bears and eagles out in the cold weather.
Winterlights is the newest of the major holiday attractions in the Indianapolis area. A part of the 152-acre Indianapolis Museum of Art campus, recently rebranded as Newfields, the event features more than a million lights, winter treats and displays set to holiday music. The family and I decided to check it out this week and we highly recommend a visit!
Pro tip: Arrive just before sunset. The colors of twilight in the sky behind the lights is a nice bonus, and night falls within half an hour, so you get the full effect of lights at night, too.