Prop Insanity

Prop Insanity

How To | Holiday Backdrop


Did the holiday season sneak up on you? It sure did for me!

With my busy schedule, I start offering Holiday Sessions super early, in order to have time for them all. Well, when you go from Halloween to the Holidays in the same week…who has time to shop for new props?? And who wants to use the same props as last year??

So this year, I made my own backdrop…”Snow” I call it…It was super easy & extremely cheap. I think it turned out pretty swell, if I do say so myself.

Here’s How…

First, I went to the good ‘ol Dollar Store near my studio, and grabbed several $1.00 boxes of these…


White Christmas Lights (with white strands)…white on white is what I chose, to match the style I was going for. However, colored lights with green strands should look great too!

Next, I set up 2 backdrop stands, and placed them here…


The front stand has a “messy” strand of lights, that I use to shoot through…

And the back pole has all of the other light strands hanging vertically, all the way to the floor…

I placed my subject in between the two poles, and here is my outcome…


I hope you like my cheap DIY backdrop :)





  1. This was such a cute idea! Here is my attempt at it in my studio. For those interested, here is my settings: f1.8, ISO 800, 1/100 with a 50mm lens. I turned on my studio lights but left them on steady, no flash. I am still working on getting the photo to not be so warm, but for those that wanted to try this with no available natural light, this is how I did mine.

  2. […] How To | Holiday Backdrop | Prop Insanity. Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPinterestLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. […]

  3. Love this and cannot wait to try it! Just wondering why you need the ‘messy’ strand in front?

  4. This is great…just did a test run and the images are amazing.

  5. Wondering why you don’t see the wires from the lights and just the white lights – is it a setting on more expensive cameras to make the background a little less in focus?

  6. Thanks to my amazing husband we were able to shoot the following with our alien bee studio lights:

    Canon 5D Mark III, 70-200 lens, ISO 3200, f 3.2, 1/160

  7. Beautiful. I am just a mom trying to learn photography in my very limited spare time. Here is my attempt:

    I am hoping to do another shoot with my kids before the holidays. Has anyone tried this with a boost from off camera flash. Also, any suggestions for getting the great bokeh affect without the strings showing in a small space. I am shooting in my living room with very little natural light (this time of year) and not a lot of space to work with. I have a 50 mm 1.4 and a variable 15-85mm zoom lens. I usually use the 50mm because of the low aperture for inside winter shooting.

    • I figured I would add a few additional notes. I am hoping someone has some suggestions on achieving this in a small space. I have a rectangular shaped living room with a fireplace on the far wall – I clamped a white sheet doubled with the lights clamped straight onto it. I have natural window light from two small windows framing the fireplace and a picture window on the wall to the left of the fireplace. If it isn’t bitter cold I can also open up our front door at the far end of the left wall to add a bit more natural light. I was planning on setting up an off camera flash facing the kids to give a boost of light if the natural isn’t enough (not sure whether shoot through umbrella or bounce off ceiling would be better)? I set up an air mattress on the floor with a comforter on it about midway in the room – which brings the kids between 6 to 11 feet away from the fireplace and lights (it also keeps them contained to the mattress area for the most part – usually they are pretty much bouncing off the walls – (can I squeeze them a bit closer to the lights and still get the bokeh?) My room is a total of 16 1/2 feet long – so ,with the mattress this gives me about 3 1/2 feet to shoot from which I can stretch about another 2 feet if I shoot in a doorway and on an angle. This is very tight with my canon 7d APS-c sensor and 50mm. I guess a good starting question after all this info is what is the minimum I should have the kids from the lights to achieve the bokeh effect and eliminate the strings? Also suggestions of where and how to set up the flash would be greatly appreciated. Also is there a way to achieve this shooting al servo but keeping the focus on the kids so my camera doesn’t change and focus on the lights. I have a 2 1/2 and 9 month old. Al Servo/continuous shooting is usually the only way to capture them without benadryl being involved [kidding :)].

      • Jess: I don’t know the answer to your question, but you could do a test using a doll or something as a subject, learn how to get the lighting just right, and then use the kids.

      • So I set up another session. I shot using my canon 7d, 50mm 1.4 prime lens. I used an external flash to boost the natural light bounced off ceiling. ISO 400. I set up the kids on a comforter about 5 ft away from the lights and then shot about 5 feet away from them scrunched up against the far wall of my living room. Here are the results:

        • I love your results! The sock monkey photos are great. I have similar space challenges and you have inspired me. Thanks!

        • Hi Jess, I am a mom that is just taking pics of my son and may I just say I love your pictures. My question though is how do you get the picture so clear? Do you use a editing software or are you just that good of a photographer :) they look hd like i said im not a pro i just would love to take pictures of my family that looks as great as yours. Please help.

        • OMGee! I love your results Jess! So that is WITH a bounced flash?
          Did you shoot at 1.8?
          I have a very small studio and I am wondering if I should use natural light to be able to get my aperture nice and wide.

          I guess I need to just set it up and try!

        • Jess! These were gorgeous!!! I am new to photography and just beginning to feel confident and everyone here has truly inspired me to keep going. I have a baby granddaughter who will be 8 months this Christmas and I cannot wait to try this background!

        • this came out great. i hope i can achieve this with a 2.8 lens if not i just have to wait until next yr. i have a 20×30 studio but no natural light except for a small window on my door that i keep covered with a black curtain most of the time. so i have to use a light source. i tried to do this but i don’t think i had my subject far enough from the backdrop of lights. my light source is soft-box. i have umbrellas too but i thought the softbox would be the best thing to use. i also have a beauty dish so i have lots of light and modifiers it’s just to get the right one without blowing out my twinkle lights.

    • Love your photo Jess! Turned out great!

  8. This is so ingenious! So dang cute :)

  9. This is Awesome! I’m so using this for Grandbabies this year!!!! Thanks for sharing! ~Tammy

  10. Ceci Harper says:

    Very nice!! Exactly what I was looking for…. BUT…. How do you plug all of them in?! :)

  11. We used large outdoor lights, and our christmas lights are far too bright in the background. What we did was use a white sheet in front of the subject to reflect some of that light back onto the subject’s foreground. Low f, high ISO, as much light on the subject as I can get. I also set white balance to “tungsten”.

  12. What about on a regular Nikon point and shoot?

    • Ceecee: it will be difficult to get the background lights attractively blurred out with a point-and-shoot. This “bokeh” look is one of the reasons people get fancy cameras.

      If you want to try, I would set your background lights as far away from the subject (that is, the people you’re photographing) as possible and make sure that your camera focuses just on the subject. This might produce a similar effect, or it might not. If your camera has any sort of manual controls, try setting the aperture to as low a number as possible before taking the picture.

      I hope it works out for you!

      • Boooooo, haha. I figured as much. I am working on getting a fancy Nikon one, just so expensive! I will give that a try though, thank you so much!

        • CeeCee… I realize this is a year later, but with a point and shoot, I have heard that some people put it in “macro” mode to help get the blurred background… just in case you were ever to try again.

    • You will need the aperture to be 2.8 and lower- which is why you need a DSLR.

  13. So jealous of your studio!!! Thanks for the tips. I will try them out today in a much smaller space.

  14. I have to ask…. what company Dollar store did you get these lights at!???? I need to find white on white, and they are soooo hard to find! Never tried a Dollar store… but that would be great if they carried them!

    • Jez's Granny says:

      Stephanie, I found white on white at a thrift store! I got 5 strands for $2 Look around, I’m sure you’ll find something!

  15. Has anyone tried putting white paper drop in front of the lights? Can you see the lights through it?
    I only ask because then you wouldn’t see the wires through it maybe?

  16. Great idea, I was searching for something unique but inexpensive,and I love it! Have only tested it at home so far, but I feel very confident about the outcome

  17. Jeff, I’d love to see a sample of your outdoor lights. Maybe a sheet in front of the lights would work too to soften the effect.

  18. Jessi, How did you use your Alien Bee. I’m shooting dance portraits with an alien bee and HUGE light box. I can either use my 50mm 1.8 or my 70-200 2.8. Also, what is that soft vertical sheeting in the photo?

  19. I am running out the door right now to get some. I have a photoshoot at 4EST!

    Thank you so much for the wonderful idea!

  20. These photos are amazing!!! I don’t know much about photography. The lens and lighting seem to be the trick. I have a digital Canon Rebel XS with an 18-55 lens and the pop up flash. That’s all the equipment I have. Any suggestion for me to get some good portraits?

  21. Can you explain how you shot through the lights in the front? Not quite sure what you mean by that and how there arent any lights shining in front of the subjects if they were in front of the lense. Wonderful idea thanks for sharing!

  22. […] reading,  here are a couple of links to tutorials that I found helpful before trying this myself. Prop Insanity has a great one with pictures of their actual studio set up using this type of background and […]

  23. I like them all. Especially with the little girl. I like the bunch in front of the camera. I love the glow it gives her up in front of her.I actually got lights to put up 2 years ago never did. I used it for my doghter’s 1st christmas shoot.

  24. I just love this idea but I am VERY new at this and I could use some help. I set up a backdrop in my living room. I have minimal natural lighting but I have ceiling lights. I am using a Nikon 3100 with 18-55mm lens. What settings should I use? I cant seem to get that glow look. Help!!!

    • natural light, or can lighting? you NEED to have good light… must have the shot “in camera” first, then give extra love in photoshop.

      the “glow” is from teh lower fstop (aperture).. it has to be below 2.8 (and you close to the subject)… or a 1.8-2.0 is best. I dont theink the 18-55 goes below 4.5

  25. […] Taking pictures in a front of twinkling lights is a festive idea for Christmas photos.  For a few tips on taking pictures with twinkling lights in the background, check out this post and this post. […]

  26. what would you shoot this at with a nikon and alien bee lights in a studio ?

  27. […] 3) HOLIDAY LIGHTS bokeh, from Prop Insanity (Lindsey Mills)!  […]

  28. Danielle Hall says:

    I love it! Thank you for posting!

  29. Amber Griffin says:

    Love this! Can someone please tell me how to do this with a Canon PowerShot SX130IS? If possible, or closest thing to it! Thanks!

  30. […] Family Picture with Christmas Lights as Back Drop […]

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