Day +234: Christmas lights

In what has become a traditional for our family, we went to see Christmas lights. There is a street in Castle Hill (Grandoaks Place) where the residents create elaborate displays every year. The street is usually packed, but being a Sunday night (school isn’t out yet), there was hardly anybody there. It made parking much easier, but there was not as much atmosphere.

I shot these with my Sony A7Rii, 16-35mm lens, mounted on a monopod.



How do you make an object on the edge of the frame sharp, whilst blurring out the rest? Modern cameras (especially the expensive ones) have pretty good autofocus, and if there are enough focus points, they normally do a good job of making an object stand out. In this scenario, the wider the aperture (smaller f’stop), and the more focussing points, the better. Did I mention that pictures always look better when the subject is not in the centre of the frame?


However, there are situations where your camera will get fooled, and won’t be able to adequately pick out the subject you want (ie. it won’t be in focus). There are two basic ways to achieve the result you want:

  1. Manually select a focus point
  2. Focus-recompose

The latter technique is something that we all used to employ, when autofocus technology was in its infancy. The centre autofocus point tends to be the best, so what we did was aim the centre point at the subject that we want in focus, and whilst keeping the shutter half-pressed, recompose the picture so that we get the actual image we want (with the said object off to one side).

Sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn’t. There are situations where focus-recompose does not work well:

  • User-error: Failure to keep the shutter half-pressed (in a future blog I will talk about the benefit of “back-button focussing”, a technique will removes the focus function from the shutter button, assigning another button to do this). If you let go of the shutter button, the camera will re-focus when you press it again
  • Wide apertures: When shooting wide-open, depth-of-field is extremely shallow. The fact that you move the camera when you recompose maybe enough to move the subject out of the plane of sharp focus. Portraits taken at f1.2 does not lend itself to the focus-recompose technique

There are only 12 days until Christmas, and only 18 days left of the year. Where did the year go?

Have fun!