December 2017 – Santa’s Grotto!

Canon 1DX, 50mm f1.2 @f1.2 with 3 x Speedlite 600 ex-rt providing fill and main lighting, with an on camera transmitter keeping it all nicely synchronised.

Now – a lot of people may think that photographing Santa in his grotto is pretty run of the mill stuff – but not for us! We’re fortunate enough to shoot at a really exclusive venue in Shropshire – Apley Farm Shop ( So we go all out to make this a really special event for customers! Over the course of thirteen days we take around 20,000 photos with a huge footfall and understanding what customers want is really key to getting successful shots. We can of course do the standard shots but we always try to go the extra mile to get something special for everyone who makes a visit, and we get some delightful shots by doing that. I shoot this event almost exclusively with a Canon 50mm f1.2 lens – I can get a wonderful effect with the lights twinkling in the background and every photo is really unique. A lot of the fun is watching children show their anticipation and character, and patience is really key to making great shots, you can’t just rush in and start clicking 🙂 a shy smile is never far away and I love seeing the photos after the event so I can see what everyone was so excited about!

We have two flashes positioned inside the Grotto to provide some careful graduated fill, and a third one shot through a translucent umbrella for soft main lighting just to keep everything looking natural. The trick is to keep everything well balanced and working in unison and not overpowering the ability to shoot with a very wide aperture, which can be surprisingly challenging when ambient light plays into the equation. It’s hard work with lots of changes on the transmitter to adapt to a variety of scenarios – I do sometimes envy people with iPhones who can enjoy having everything from their toes to the background being in focus and they really do keep me on my feet when they want a shot which has huge depth of focus – but the shots that really work are those where the lights have a lovely blur and that’s something that takes a lot of careful planning and execution. We also don’t want it to look like a studio shoot, people are there to see Santa after all, so the approach is to be really low key and still get wonderful photos that customers treasure for years to come.