This is the time of year when just about everyone with pretensions towards being artistically inclined (or who are really, really proud of their house) starts decorating their homes and yards with Christmas lights. Strands of lights, tinsel, garlands of pine or holly, seasonal displays — all of these things can be found in just about any suburb in the United States. Investing in power companies would be wise this time of year since the way that people like to light up the night with their holiday arrangements has to have the power meter spinning.
Many of these arrangements are beautiful and well worth taking photos or video of them. However, actually capturing them can be difficult — much like capturing images of lightning or fireworks can be very tricky. But, if your heart is set on this, we’ve got some tips to help you out!
1) No flash, please — And here’s the killer. Flash partly allows you to capture images in lower light settings by providing enough light for your camera’s sensor to “see” the scene. However, though it will need to be dark (or at least the sunlight will need to be very, very muted), flash is the last thing you want because it will overwhelm the lights you’re trying to photograph.
2) Take longer exposures — Since you are shooting in a low light setting, you need to leave the shutter open longer, using a slower shutter speed to do this. Note that this works best on non-blinking lights since blinking lights can create “ghosts” in the photo.
3) A tripod is required
— With no flash, longer exposures, and a lower-light ISO set, you really can’t have the camera move. At all. So get a tripod
and use it. Holding the camera isn’t going to work unless the thing holding is a lot more immoveable than your arms.
4) Change the white balance — If possible change the white balance setting to “tungsten” or the like as that will help you with the metering. Tungsten is the kind of setting you would use indoors with just normal household lights for lighting.
5) Tinker with background and foreground contrasts — Sometimes letting the lights appear as blurred dots while you focus on something in the foreground can make for a better photo. Don’t be afraid to experiment and find out!
Christmas lighting displays are something that many people take a great deal of pride in arranging. Follow our Christmas light photography tips and take a bit more control over your camera’s settings to help you to capture the fruits of their hard work and share those photos with others!
— da Bird