Photographing Christmas lights is always so much fun, and who doesn’t love December and the end of the year holiday season.
For many, photographing Christmas lights presents some challenges.
Here are a few steps and tips you can follow to improve your technique and take some stunning pictures of Christmas lights.
How to Photograph Christmas Lights Indoors
Every year I can’t wait to have our Chrismas tree with all the lights and decorations up. You know why? That’s where all the sweets and gifts will be!
But also, those Christmas lights give our living room a sense of warmth and comfort that makes me pretty happy. I feel inspired and it’s always a good moment to take my digital camera out and snap a few pictures away.
Use a Tripod
To photograph Christmas lights and your Christmas trees, you’ll need a tripod. Or if you don’t have one you can just place your camera on a table or chair.
The best thing to do is to dim the lights in the room so that the lights on your beautifully decorated tree will stand out more.
Your camera will need to be stable on a tripod to avoid camera shake since your shutter speed has to be set to a slow value a little bit. Try with a 1/125 of a second to start with. Slow it down if it’s not enough, but make sure there aren’t moving subjects or they’ll be blurred in your image.
In low light conditions, if you don’t want to use a very slow shutter speed raise your ISO value, but don’t go over ISO 400 to avoid losing quality and introduce digital noise.
Avoid Using a Flash
Even though a flash wouldn’t normally ruin an indoor picture (if used correctly), try to avoid it for Christmas lights.
Camera flashes tend to wash the other lights out.
Let’s try something creative. If you play with your aperture, you’ll be able to produce a starburst effects by closing down your aperture. Try to start from a value of f/16 and down to f/22 for maximum results. Be careful though that at f/22 all the impurities on your lens and sensor (hopefully you kept your sensor clean!) will be visible.
Pay attention though, at f/22 usually, most lenses don’t perform at their best. But experiment with it first and see what’s your result.
Play With Bokeh
Now do the opposite with the aperture.
Open up the aperture to a value of f/1.4 or f/2.8 and you’ll see the magic of the bokeh effect appear. This effect is particularly nice when you want to use your Christmas tree with the lights on as a background for example.
You can also have a lot of fun with the shape bokeh effects provided by the easy to use Bokeh Master Kit. Or you can make your own shapes by simply following this tutorial.
How to Photograph Christmas Lights Outdoors
Some of the tips above can be used for outdoors photos of Christmas lights too. But you’ll also need to choose the perfect timing when shooting outdoor and select the right subject.
Find a Great Spot
Every year all around the world there are countless amazing spots beautifully decorated with Chrismas lights, both in cities and suburban areas. I’m sure that where you live there are many too.
Walk around in your area and a Christmas tree with lights or even a house with Christmas lights at the front will be a great subject for your shooting.
If you feel creative, create your own composition using led string lights. Place them in front of your camera as the foreground and blur them out focusing on the background and a shallow depth of field. It’s easy and effective. The lights are super cheap on Amazon.
Wait Until it’s Dark but not too Dark
You need to plan this out. If the sun has not set yet, the lights won’t be visible, if it’s too dark you’ll lose a lot of details in the surrounding.
The perfect time for shooting Christmas lights outdoors is around dusk, 20 or 30 minutes after sunset. A bit of light in the sky will help your photos allowing you to introduce surrounding elements in your composition.
Camera Settings for Taking Photos of Christmas Lights Outdoors
Your camera settings will be very similar to the ones you used indoors.
Avoid using a flash, set up your camera on a tripod and slower your shutter speed. ISO value up a little bit but not too much to avoid ruining your image and then be creative playing with aperture.
If you want you can also capture car light trails by slowing down your shutter speed even more, to at least 1 second.
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Stefano Caioni is the founder of Pixinfocus. His passion for photography helps him discover new places and live new adventures.