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. Love it. Pinned ya. How did you go about the larger bokeh in a couple of the shots?

  2. Thank you Cathy, that is why I shot through the “messy” strand that I showed on the front pole :)

  3. Lindsay- I was just wondering if you used natural light from the windows to the left in your studio or if you used studio lighting. If you use natural light what time of day do you think is best to shoot in the studio? Thanks!

  4. Love this!! Thanks so much for sharing! Approximately how far is your subject away from the lights? And I would assume that your f-stop number would have to be really low in order to get the backdrop blurred so much, right?

  5. Oh, not that I could ever take photos like these, but I saw this on PInterest and had to come and visit and see how you did this. I really enjoyed seeing the wide perspective of your studio too. what beautiful photos and such a fun backdrop. Thanks and have a wonderful Christmas.

  6. this is just what I was looking for – thanks!! what apperture were you shooting with?

  7. Love it, But why photography thru the mess strand of lights?

  8. What a super cute and easy idea! Not to mention way thrifty! I just might try this! Thank you!

  9. Nice! I did this last year and it was a huge hit! Happy holidays! :)

  10. Wow I just love it! What a beautiful effect it gives! & I’m totally lusting after your studio! x thanks for sharing x

  11. Thank you for the inspiration!!! Awesome set up. Love the results.

  12. Christina says:

    Great idea!!! What type of backdrop is that? I use paper so I don’t think that exact setup would work for me so curious as to what you used. Thanks again!

  13. Could you please give a little detail on your camera settings? Love this idea!

  14. Lacy Beck says:

    LoVe it!! You RoCk ;))

  15. Great idea! I shall have to make a stop at my local dollar store and see if they have lights! :)

  16. Nicole Lucas says:

    Thanks For sharing I have been trying to figure out a simple but cute Idea and I think this will work for me

  17. I love this. How much editing did it require to achieve this look? How far back were you when you shot through the first set of lights?

  18. Thank you for this post. I was just wondering this morning what I was going to to for our family Christmas pictures this year.

  19. Amanda Dolan says:

    Wonderful Idea and so creative, thank you for sharing it:)

  20. Thank you for sharing your backdrop idea – I love the outcome and might just have to try it. We are in the process of PCSing so I don’t want to order anything new for the Holidays. Thanks again and Happy Holidays from Italy.

  21. Great idea; love it! Are you willing to share your camera settings for the photos you shown here? :)

  22. Love this!! Thanks so much Lindsey for sharing! Approximately how far is your subject away from the lights? And I would assume that your f-stop number would have to be really low in order to get the backdrop blurred so much, right?

  23. Lindsey Mills says:

    Thank you, Christina, take a look at the pullback….that is just my wall :) I have it painted an off white, so that I can use the wall as my backdrop. I use paper also, but haven’t tried the paper with the lights…but it should work the same way. I’ll have to try it now :)

  24. LOVE — and will definitely be using!

  25. Will this work if the messy set of lights is eliminated? Tia

  26. This is a great idea…just brilliant.

  27. Christina says:

    Oh my gosh Lindsey! How did I miss that! Thanks again!

  28. brilliant! thankyou :)

  29. So you shoot THROUGH the first stand…??? Just wanted to clarify…i really didnt get that part…

  30. And what stands do you use?

  31. Wow, that’s really neat! Love the magical glow :)

  32. omgness! That is BEAUTIFUL!!

  33. This is beautifully, beautifully done! Thanks for the idea!

  34. So awesome! Found ion pinterest! Im new to photography and teaching myself. What lens would be best? Thanks! Kelsey :)

  35. Thanks for the pull back! I have something like this planned for my holiday mini sessions coming up this weekend! It couldn’t have come at a more perfect time!

  36. I love these pics. You are very creative & so talented.

  37. Love it! You got great effect! What did you use for lighting natural or flash?

  38. Great idea! Thanks for sharing. I am going to try to incorporate this into my studio, but I have no natural light so will have to see how it works with studio lights.

  39. Darlene Hall says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this…very cool! Never thought of it!

  40. Awesome shot! Just wondering what camera you have and what lens you used?

  41. Hey Lindsey! I am a huge fan of your work!! Just curious if this would work if your studio space is much smaller than yours. I don’t have enough room to use the two stands and place the subjects in the middle. Anyway to achieve the same look without the front one?

  42. Great idea! Very cute!

  43. Hey there :) thanks!!
    I posted a couple of pictures that I shot over the top stand, they are the ones that only have the lights in the background….(the family one, for example). The ones with the large bokeh spots are the ones I shot through the front strand of lights.
    Yes, my studio is natural light, so I did not use flash.
    If someone has tried this with studio lights or flash…please tell us how it went :)
    I shot some of these with my 50 1.4 and some with my 70-200 2.8 (for close ups)
    I hope that helps :)

  44. Love it!! The results are fantastic!

  45. Beautiful! I’m going to try this on a shoot day I’m doing in our small town! Quick question, where did you get your large white fluffy rug? I’ve been looking for one like it!

  46. Thank you, Thank you! LOVE this idea. I did a session using this technique. I used a paper backdrop and didn’t have much natural light. I actually had to use my flash. I blogged about it because I saw some of questions regarding the light and and backdrop.
    Thanks so much!

  47. Heather Simmons says:

    What are your camera settings? For some reason, I am having trouble with the cords… Thanks soo much Lindsey for your help!

  48. LOVE IT!! such a clever idea!! :)

  49. I love it!!!

  50. Oh my gosh I LOVE it!!! So smart! 😀

  51. Looks great! I did a similar shots for xmas mini sessions in the studio. I put lights on a cstand behind similar to you. I used a softbox in the front left and fill card on the right , and shot w my 50 1.4.

    I love the idea of more lights in the foreground. I think I’ll try it this year!

    • Hi Sarah…I’m curious on your set up and settings on this using a softbox..ive been trying to get this to work, with not much luck…all the ones I keep seeing that look good are all done with natural light, and I don’t have natural light in my studio..I’d love to see some of your shots from your sessions and your set up info, if you don’t mind sharing…thanks!

  52. Roberta larsen says:

    I tried this in my studio which has no window light, but used my lights but not flash, Iam close but not quite there yet.

  53. Roberta larsen says:

    Thanks Anna Bartell, going to try my flash like you did.

  54. Your natural light studio is amazing! And great idea with the Christmas lights. Definitely going to try it.

  55. This is such a fabulous idea!!! Thanks Propsanity! After much practice I finally got it!!! Yay! I have a really tight studio space (only about 10 feet wide) so I used my 50mm 1.8. My subject was about 5 feet from the background and I was 2-3 feet away from my subject. My camera settings were 1/60, f/1.8, ISO 100. My space has white walls and a window so I fortunately did not have to use flash. Hope that helps.

  56. Um…I am so not a photography person..and this may be a dumb question…but did you put a sheet or something over the lights? Or is that just the effects of your camera?

  57. I am just getting into photography, and my prized item is my brand new Canon DSLR!

  58. What a great idea…..would be something fun to try for holiday mini sessions.

  59. Erin- no question is dumb :) what that effect is called is bokeh. you focus on your subject and the back round blurs.

  60. When you say you use a 50mm 1.4…is that the nikkor 50mm 1.4G or the 50mm 1.4D? Any info will be greatly appreciated. Thanks

  61. Absolutely LOVE IT!! Definitely going to try it!! 😀 Thanks for sharing!!

  62. I don’t have enough natural light so I’m using available light from spot lights and overhead lighting, I can’t seem to get the color temp right, I’ve tried custom and every setting on my camera. Are there any tricks to natural lighting that I’m not thinking of? Any suggestions? My shoot is Friday.

  63. Here’s a link to my best shot at it i think i am going to try again tomorrow at a different time i did this around 4 the first time ended up using camera flash and natural light .

  64. […] Every year I do the picture for our Christmas cards myself.  Some years they turn out great, some years not so great.  This year is just . . .  eh.  Not bad, but not the best.  I saw on pintrest (of course) this awesome idea for the background.  Mine didn’t turn out nearly as cools as hers but check it out at […]

  65. Wonderfully simple and effective

  66. OMG thanks so much for this mine turned out grrreeat!
    check em out at

  67. […] julig bakgrund för era julkort eller andra stämmningsfulla fotografier. Läs hela posten här för exakta instruktioner, jag lånade endast några foton för att illustrera resultatet. Prop […]

  68. BEAUTIFUL – thank you for the tips!

  69. […] of my favorite photographers posted a link to a fabulous DIY holiday backdrop how-to by Prop Insanity and of course, I had to give it a whirl.  This photo was taken with my youngest about 4 to 4-1/2 […]

  70. I can’t thank you enough for posting this idea. It came out wonderful this morning. I shot without a flash with a 50mm 1.8 ap. Here’s my version of the shot with my little boy Bentley!

    Thank you so much!

  71. I tried this out on my kids, and it worked great. I also used my 50mm 1.4 & my 70-200 2.8. Here is an example of the results.

    Thanks so much!

  72. […] {images via Prop Insanity} […]

  73. Crystal Pham says:

    Wow. Love this. So. Much.

  74. Thank you, I really appreciate you putting this together. I tried it out with some friends and neighbors. I added some colorful Christmas bulbs and candy canes in between the subjects and the lights. Here is a 3 minute BTS video I put together of the shoot with some sample images at the end.


  75. HI love, love love this. Im going to try it. I had a question how far infront of the lights should they be? And I dont have white walls could I hand a white sheet and put the lights infront of that?

  76. Hi. If I have a 20 x 20 room with no natural light, what do my camera settings need to be. I have used strobe lights and it just isn’t working! I really want to do this for Christmas photos!
    Could you please tell me, ISO, fstop, the whole 8 yards. I have a Nikon D90 and Nikon D300. I have a nifty fifty (1.8), sb 600. I have things to try, just don’t know which to put together to make this work!
    Any help is GREATLY appreciated!

    • Hello Franky,
      The pictures were used in natural lighting… however I do use strobes myself. I have a 12×10 room… my backdrop against the furthest wall… my AB 400 set at lowest stop, facing 45 deg angle (not direct to the backdrop). Camera at iso100, f1.4, ss 1/200… hope that helps :)

    • So I did this last week however I used my bed for the base and set the kids at the front of the bed and i stood just out of frame and used my remote. camera on tripod D300 and 50 mm 1.8. the trick is the distance from the wall where the lights are attached and placement of your subject. my bed is a queen size.. so if you are trying this shot think of putting your subject that far from the backdrop then stand or set your camera up about another 4 to 5 feet back.

      Heres my shots!

  77. I meant whole 9 yards! ha!

  78. Ms Mayfield says:

    I have a Nikon L110. I’m not sure if I am able but does anyone know how to change the shutter speed? And also the “bokeh” effect? Is this done just in photoshop or can it be done on your camera?

  79. What if you done black mesh and had the people dress in white clohes?

  80. […] friend Viv shared a link to this really cool Christmas photo […]

  81. I love the tips for the twinkle light backdrops.

  82. This is sooo random…super adorable pics….but do you know the brand of that little girls outfit? The strip/polka dot/redish? lol =)

  83. What do you think I could use around my home as a stand for the lights? Two chairs and a curtain rod? Could I use icicle lights?

  84. Love this idea!!! Hope to do it this next year!!!

  85. Tried it out yesterday with my grandchildren. I see things I would change but I was pleased with this setup. Here is a link to some samples.

  86. […] inspiration for the images on pinterest from Pinkle Toes Photography, and used instructions from Prop Insanity / Lindsey Mills Photography, which also had some great example […]

  87. […] very similar to our HOLIDAY BACKDROP how to, just shooting with a lens cover in the shape of a […]

  88. So I was reading the recent email on DIY heart shaped bokeh. I made the cover for the lense and I do get the heart shapes, but only if my subject if very close to the camera. I have them sitting about 4 feet from the back drop and I back away from them about 2-3 feet.I have tried a few different variations with these distances but still the subject seems to have to be very close to the camera to get the effect. I have a 50mm 1.8 lens. Any suggestions?

  89. I have a rather large studio, but no natural light. It should still work, right?
    I’m definitely going to try this! Thanks so much!!

  90. Love this idea! Also for something different you can make a filter to go over your camera and use shaped hole punchers to give the lights shapes!

  91. Was anyone able to figure out how to set this up in a studio that uses studio lights. I don’t have any window light available but would LOVE to make this work! Thanks! :)

  92. I loved this! Thank you so much for posting it!

  93. Were you using a fixed lens? I tried this with my studio lights and everything but when I tried to shoot through the Christmas lights it made my subject come out too dark.

  94. Hi! I love the ideas you have on here and I want to thank you kindly for sharing. :) May I ask how you got the larger light spots on the bottom photo of the little girl? Thank you!!!

  95. I got it! Thank you…I was confused! LOL

  96. 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.

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

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

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

  100. 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?

  101. 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

  102. 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!

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

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

  105. Ceci Harper says:

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

  106. 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”.

  107. 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.

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

  109. 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!

  110. 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?

  111. 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

  112. 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.

  113. 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?

  114. 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!

  115. 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?

  116. 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!

  117. […] 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 […]

  118. 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.

  119. 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

  120. […] 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. […]

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

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

  123. Danielle Hall says:

    I love it! Thank you for posting!

  124. 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!

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

  126. I am in the process of setting this up, and can’t get the coloring right. Faces look great, but my lights look soooo orange. I have great light…maybe too much? It’s set up in a garage, facing the open garage door. Any tips?

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