Making Christmas

It’s Christmas time, and it’s my favourite time of year. Since I work for theme parks and media, it all starts just in the end of October with the carols and lights, but there is a whole lot more to it than that.

First of all, lets look at the most practical thing: timing. What many people don’t realise, is that for Christmas photos its best to plan a year ahead and shoot image during the actual Christmas period. It’s a lot simpler to have people in warm coats looking at nice lights and decked out windows when they are actually there, instead of having to fake everything.

So, what is Christmas? It’s a time of love, peace, people getting together and exchanging gifts. The Christmas holidays even transcend religions and believes. It is so big, that it will enhance feelings people have of it. Happy people will be happier around the holidays, people feeling lonely will become even more lonely. It’s that effective.

It might even be the one holiday that commerce still mostly experiences as ‘real’. Don’t get me wrong, Christmas is big business, and cynical people having seen Mad Men will know the feeling of happiness comes from advertisement agencies, but those same agencies have Christmas decorations in the office and Christmas parties. In fact, I know that people who have to create Christmas experiences for a living will still put on the carols, and hang up the tinsels.

But Kris”, you say, “we’re here because you make pretty pictures, why all this deep thought on a holiday?”. I know, bear with me.

But, what do we experience as quintessential Christmas? A white blanket of snow and Christmas carols sounding on the streets. We can trace a whole lot of traditions back to Dickens, including the idea of a white Christmas, despite it being as rare then as it is now. And just as XKCD explains here, we keep going back to the youth of the baby boomers.

It’s easy to be disappointed by Christmas these days, since we are nostalgic for a time we never experienced ourselves. Quintessential Christmas Movies like Home Alone and Muppets Christmas Carol only deepen that feeling, but, there is a spark to capture there.

And that spark is what is needed to create something that feels warm, believable and most of all, Christmas. It’s easy to put some models on a street, photoshop some snow, but that doesn’t mean it feels right. It needs wonder. So, each Christmas for the past years I’ve been on the street, creating and photographing those moments. I’m not creating these images with the idea of selling something in the back of my mind, but on how to bring out that feeling that resides inside of us. It should feel like there’s a snowstorm raging outside, but it’s cosy with the fire. Every one of these images contain small details that can be traced back to those feelings of yore.

But, danger lurks everywhere. It’s a very delicate balance between a soulless commercial image and something extremely camp and corny. A dark blue sky feels cozy, while a purely black sky can feel just wintery and cold. You don’t want a snowstorm in every image, but a small dusting can make a difference.

Or a bigger dusting ..

If you’re going to add snow in post, your lighting should match the lighting of the snow plates.  Not just that, it’s not about perfectly lighting a photo, it’s knowing when to imperfectly light your models, and make sure your light has a reason to exist. And most importantly, to keep it going from where it shouldn’t go.

Don’t forget colours. Everyone thinks green and reds are the Christmas colours, but those colours in light look very threatening and hostile. Warm oranges and cold blues, with a hint of those others work best.

But most of all, it’s about a feeling.

All images shot for Stad Hasselt. See my complete Christmas gallery here

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