The look in the wide, excited eyes of a child, staring up at the old man with the full white beard, tells the story completely. There is magic in that man with the round belly and red suit. With his soft smile and gentle voice, the children are mesmerized by him and the dream of what’s to come on Christmas day.
At our photography studio in Canandaigua, NY, we’ve been working with the same Santa for the last 17 years for our annual Santa shoot. For many of our clients, he is the only Santa they’ve ever known. For them, he is the “real” Santa. Having used the same gentleman year after year, we have built a rapport with sayings, antics and timing to be able to capture some incredible, if not truly magical images for our clients.
“See if Santa’s beard is real,” I encourage the kids. “Go ahead, pull on it,” he says. With a little tug and a great surprised expression from Santa, the families Christmas card photo is immortalized.
We first met Skip Thomas (A.K.A., Santa) by replying to an ad in the Penny Saver for Santa. Our first four or five years with him were at a barn that doubled as a flower shop in the small town of Bloomfield, NY. It didn’t take long to gain a sell-out following year after year. Due to changes at the floral shop, we moved our holiday shoot to our studio in Canandaigua for about 10 years, allowing for more sets and greater control of the light. With this year’s photos, we ventured back out of the studio, going full circle back to a rustic barn setting. We do our photos in 15 minute sessions, allowing us time to get creative with multiple angles, different settings and a variety of Sigma lenses.
Through out the years, our sessions with Santa kept creeping earlier and earlier in the season to allow for editing and lab production times to ensure holiday delivery. As the date crept closer and closer to Halloween, our chances of a snow-blanketed Santa shoot began to disappear. In the earlier years, we had days in the barn with temperatures hovering a few degrees above zero.
When I came on board as one of the Sigma Pros three years ago, every time a Sigma box would show up at my door, it was like Christmas any day of the year. I would open each box with the same wide eyed excitement of a child on Christmas morning. As one gets older, the belief in Santa may fade, however, the wonderful, exciting world of photography brings with it a magic of it’s own.
I relished the opportunities in between clients to create some of my own magic with Santa with some of my new Sigma lenses. With the sculpted studio lighting and my go to Sigma 24-105mm f4 Art lens, I was able to capture some amazing character portraits of Santa, then enhanced them in Photoshop for the final look. This year, I used the 24-105mm with studio strobes in the barn, but took the opportunity to play with my newly acquired Sigma 135mm f1.8 Art lens with some window light filtering in to a small corner of the barn. The shallow depth of field softened the Christmas lights hanging in the background, while the incredible sharpness of the 135mm picked up each strand of Santa’s magnificent beard. I then brought Santa out to a stand of pine trees near the barn to capture him with his Victorian Santa suit, also taken with the 135mm for it’s compression and beautiful Bokeh. If only we had a fresh layer of snow.
I love keeping the magic of Santa alive for a child. It makes my job extremely satisfying, even if it’s for just one more year for a child on the cusp of doubt. Between you and I, I think Skip really is Santa. Hopefully he’ll leave a Sigma 24-70mm f2.8 Art lens under my tree.
“Twas the night before Christmas and all through the land photographers had dreams of Sigma lenses in hand.”