Christmas in Newport

The historic Vanderbilt mansion in Newport, Rhode Island celebrate Christmas with old world charm. At Marble House, Christmas trees adorn every room. Yesterday, even Santa Claus arrived to meet the children.

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In the foyer, poinsettias line the grand staircase.
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At Marble House, the dining room table is set.
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Mrs. Vanderbilt will receive you in the parlor at Marble House.
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The chapel at Marble House provides a quiet atmosphere for reading and reflection.

You may also tour the upstairs bedrooms, the living room and the kitchen at Marble House. If you have time, be sure to visit the Breakers and Rosecliff, or six others! You will need a week to see them all and to walk the Cliff Walk while you learn about the Gilded Age of American history.

Tropical Christmas

It’s such a busy time of year. While the rest of my family members are on the highway or in the shops today, I am grateful to have a few quiet moments to work on some special photos from 2016.

This tropical bloom from the Big Island of Hawai’i says Merry Christmas to me today with its brilliant magenta and green colors. Can you identify it? Could it be ginger?

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Merry Christmas from tropical Hawai’i. Photo processed in Lightroom, Photoshop and Topaz Simplify.

Christmas Lights

WickleyCandles-4944adjLRPhotographing Christmas lights at dusk presents a technical challenge: having the lights just bright enough and the unlit part of the scene visible enough to look good. The practical challenge of photographing Christmas lights is taking the time out of your busy holiday schedule to carry off the shoot, right at dusk. This year, I had just the push I needed: a challenge from one of my photography clubs to submit a photo on the theme “through the window.”

Now, I pass on the challenge to you! (Hint: this is way easier than the ice bucket challenge!) All you have to do is make time at dusk and go outside with your camera. I’ll share a few tips that guided my shooting and processing of my house photo.

My family takes an understated approach to Christmas lights by putting simple candles in the windows of our Victorian house. For my photo, I attached my Nikon D800 to a Really Right Stuff Tripod. (Any tripod will do as long it is sturdy enough for your camera. The best camera for the job is one you can set manually.) I had an overcast evening, but snow would make the scene even nicer. With the D800, ISO 400 is pretty noise free, and I set the lens for f/16, hoping for a little star effect on the lights. I began on Aperture preferred mode for one frame, and then changed the mode to manual and bracketed the exposure higher and lower, so that I could choose later the best exposure for the house, the sky and the lights. The sun was setting in front of me on the left, which was not ideal, but didn’t cause a major issue.

When I imported the exposures into Lightroom, I chose the one-second exposure. It really wasn’t necessary to tone-map multiple exposures in Photomatix or Photoshop, because I only needed to bring the exposure of the house up a little, and the sky down a little. In Lightroom, I adjusted the shadows up, clarity up, white balance toward blue and lens correction vertically (to correct the look of the house leaning back).

Exported into Photoshop, the image was ready for some dodging and burning to lighten the white trim on the house and darken the edges of the frame. Since the image would benefit from a strong darkening of the sky, I used the multiply blend mode on a duplicate layer and a mask to isolate the sky.

One more sneaky trick you may enjoy: Three windows did not have candles in them, but I was able to clone stamp candles in them for a more complete look. Here is my final image.

If you need help making a memorable photo of your home with Christmas lights, feel free to contact me. There is no place like home in any season.

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Note: Cathy Kelly is available to shoot your house, your front door and garden in the Sewickley and greater Pittsburgh PA area. She makes notecards and tiles with those images, as well as large prints. These images make wonderful gifts!  For more information, contact Cathy at  cathykellyphotography@gmail.com

Back to Rockefeller Center

What is your favorite Christmas tradition? Is it the children’s Christmas play? The choir concert at your church? Caroling with your neighbors? All of these activities are close to the top of my list, but my #1 choice this year was visiting Rockefeller Center in the heart of New York City.

The “gi-normous” (gigantic and enormous both) tree covered with tiny colored lights towering above the gold statue of Prometheus and the busy outdoor ice rink are iconic for me — larger than life, and understandably the scene draws a solid crowd. I was able to take a long exposure of the tree and ice rink by sitting my Nikon D800 on the stone pedestal and using “live view” to frame the shot and focus. I propped the lens on my eyeglass case (gotta use what you have on you!) The one-second exposure allowed the skaters to blur for a more artistic effect.

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The pedestrian corridor leading from Fifth Avenue to the ice rink is adorned with lacy angel sculptures, and the facade of Saks Fifth Avenue (just across Fifth Ave.) sets the stage for a clever holiday light show.  This shot was handheld, but I edited the image in Photoshop to de-emphasize the crowd and make the overcast afternoon at 3pm look more like dusk.

I consider myself blessed that my three daughters have settled in New York City. There are so many fun and fascinating things to do there. This year, the balmy weather made our weekend too good to be true. We walked, we Ubered, we ate very well and spent our money. See you next time!