How to Photograph Christmas Lights
Christmas lights are beautiful to behold, and it's not every day of the year that you get to see them. But how do you capture their beauty in photos? Dim light, flickering lights and various backgrounds can all make photographing Christmas lights a little tricky. Nevertheless, you can overcome these obstacles with a little preparation.
Photograph outdoor Christmas lights while it's still daylight but not too sunny.It's much harder to get good photos when the lights are in the darkness. At least for outdoor Christmas lights, use late-afternoon light to provide some depth behind already switched-on lights. It can make for a highly desirable effect in your photos. Photograph in the late afternoon, in the "magic hour" just before it begins to get dark (dusk).
- Taking pictures during dusk will often get you a lovely atmosphere shimmering with vibrant background colors — from grays and blues to pinks and reds.
- Plus, the background will still be slightly visible, adding textural contrast instead of that swarming sea of black beside the Christmas lights.
- Photos taken during the brighter part of the day won't show the Christmas lights very well unless the day is very dark. Experiment a little with when you take the pictures.
Fill your frame.Make sure your picture includes everything interesting and noteworthy that you can possibly fit in. Don't take a picture of a single, lit home far away and leave most of your picture wanting a subject. Fill your frame and your photos will instantly look more professional.
Include the sky.This is an important part of getting in more light and making the whole composition appear more interesting. Be especially alert to moody skies with layers of expressive clouds. Skies can provide truly effective backgrounds that set off the lights in a magical way.
- Be patient; you may need to take quite a few photos before the sky and lights appear "just right" together.As a rule of thumb, take a lot of pictures. In the digital age, it's probably best to take too many pictures than not enough.
- At the same time, don't let the sky steal the show. You're setting off to photograph Christmas lights, right? Make them the main attraction. Don't get so caught up in the sky that you forget what you were trying to take a picture of in the first place.
- Other objects such as trees, lampposts, buildings, and landmarks may also improve the composition of your pictures. Check around for the best overall appearance.
Prevent movement as much as possible.Use a tripod or lean on something solid such as a wall or fence to stabilize the camera. This will give you the best photo result.
- Time shutter release can also work effectively to prevent blurring, as can using shutter release cables. Couple these two techniques with a tripod for best results.
Set the camera settings to get the best photos.Your camera's settings have a profound effect on the style of your pictures. Don't just take pictures without thinking about what your camera is doing.
- Take pictures without the flash. You won't be able to get a very good image with flash in near- or total darkness.
- Have the ISO at 800 or over (this is because you can't use flash). If you want a lower ISO, try 200 ISO with an aperture of f/4 and an exposure of a 1/4 second. For this setting, you may not even need a tripod.
- Set the white balance for "tungsten." This will make the lights look their clearest, as tungsten is a manual setting used for shots where the main light source is household light bulbs.
- If you're more experienced using white balance, play around with it a little (experimenting with it will improve your experience anyway). Some people prefer incandescent while others are happy to rely on the automatic white balance (AWB).
Use a reflective foreground where possible.Think snow, ice or water here. This will increase the light and improve the look of the lights in the photo. Just be aware that it is possible to have too much reflection.
Be careful on photos of lights that are indoors.For indoor Christmas lights on a tree, for example, be aware that the camera meter is forced to choose between the dark tree and the lights. This can end up overexposing the lights.
- Ways around this include using supplemental strobes and a light box or simply using your flash to provide a fill light.If the flash is too much, reduce it to lower power settings for each shot until it looks right; you may need to use the lowest setting.
- As with outdoor lights, use a tripod or a sturdy platform to rest the camera on to minimize movement.
- Keep adjusting the shutter speed and/or the f-stop to get the right shot of the lights.
Try playing with foreground/background contrasts.Focus on an object in the foreground and capture the Christmas lights out of focus in the background. This looks really neat when you get it done just right. Try taking a picture of a snowman or an ornament, with your Christmas lights blurry and bulbous in the background.
- Always take a series of test shots to find out which settings, angles and compositions work best. Check the LCD screen repeatedly.
- If you want photos of Christmas lights in your street, ask your neighbors to turn on the lights earlier than usual and offer to email them the photos as mementos.
Things You'll Need
Christmas lights, either indoor or out
Sources and Citations
- David Hobby, – research source
- – research source
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