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H is for Holly and Hanukkah

Posted by on November 18, 2012

Holly is an evergeen with some nice red berries, which are slightly toxin for humans. During the winter months you will see holly appear in many Christmas decorations, mainly in wreaths. If you have a holly bush in your garden you might find many passerby’s trying to take a branch for their decorations. The great benefit of a holly bush in your garden is that it will attract many birds as they are able to eat the berries. If you have the chance when planting a bush, put it in such a way that you have a great view from your windows. That way you can capture some nice images of birds feeding on the berries.

Christmas : Winter holly berries


Hanukkah is an eight day Jewish holiday known as the Festival of Lights, which occurs sometime between late November and late December. As the Hebrew Calendar differs slightly from the common calendar, the festival is not always on the same common date. One of the key traditions during Hanukkah is lighting an additional candle every night. This tradition can be compared to the Catholic tradition of advent whereby every week for four weeks a new candle is lit.

There are some similarities between Hanukkah and Christmas. Both are family driven occasions, whereby exchanging small gifts and enjoying dinner together is central. Like with Christmas there are specific dishes that are only eaten at this time of year. Likewise they are often the more “unhealthy” choices like sweets and fried food.  

Jewish and Catholic religions are not the only ones having festivals during the winter. Most other cultures and religions have similar festivals. All have in common that they celebrate light and new life.

For example Diwali, a religious festival associated with Hinduism, Sikhism, and Jainism which is celebrated as the Festival of Lights and falls around in the last quarter of the year. Like with Hanukkah and Christmas, lights, candles, exchange of small gifts and enjoying good with family and friends is central.

From the far Eastern holidays the celebration of Light has made it’s way to the West through sky lanterns. Traditionally these are made of rice paper or bamboo and contain a small candle or wax.

During the winter months you will find in many cultures different ways to celebrate light, in efforts to try to overcome the lack of sunlight during the day. One of the most famous ones is Berlin’s Festival of Lights. Over a period of 12 nights Berlin’s famous landmarks are transformed through light and projections. The success of this festival has spread to other cities and countries.

Night photography

Making photos of these events is not easy. Special night settings and in many cases longer exposure are needed to transfer what you see onto an image. With exposure time easily reaching half a minute, some additional tools are needed to make sure you have great images.

Some key tips for great night time photography are:
– use a tripod. Especially with the long exposure time you want to make sure your camera is steady for the full period. If you dont want to carry around a tripod, try to find any other flat objects like walls, fences or bridges
– don’t use autofocus, but use manual instead. In general you will not have much strong light to work with so your autofocus will not work
– use a flash or something else to light what you want to make a picture of. It will help your autofocus and also create some nice shadows or reflections
– use the self timer or have a shutter release cable. This stops the camera from shaking when you take your image

Let your imagination run wild! If you really get to grips with night photography and the long exposure, you can have great fun in playing with lights or sparkles in front of the camera. You can use the lights or sparkles as a paintbrush. Whilst you are doing your movements you might not see what you are doing, but it will look great on your photo.

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