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  Photographing Christmas Lights
by Barry Baker

One of our customer’s most commonly asked questions during the Holidays is, “What do I need to do to take great photos of Christmas lights?” Barry Baker, UTA Photography Instructor, and one of our own staff members, addresses several methods for successfully capturing the beauty of the season.

Option One: The simplest way to photograph lights after dark is the hand held  method. Treat the exposure as you would a normal daylight shot. Select an aperture from f8 to f16 and a shutter speed from 1/30 to 1/25 of a second. This will create an image that will consist primarily of the outline of the lights. Adjusting your ISO up or down will also increase or decrease the amount of dark areas in the finished photograph.

Option Two: Use your flash! Why, you may ask? Well, if you don’t have access to a tripod, the use of your lights at night will help open up the dark areas. So try turning on your flash and turn the fill flash exposure compensation to -2 to -2.5, keeping the ISO at 100 or 200. Also, try several different apertures. Start with f8 and adjust to a smaller setting if need be to keep the flash from overpowering the Christmas lights. The distance you are from the lights will also affect both which aperture to use and how much you should turn down the fill flash compensation. Remember, you do not want to overpower the scene with the flash. You just want to lighten the dark areas enough to look to viewing the lights in person.

Option Three: Try a tripod! This is really the very best way to photograph lights at night. The tripod will allow you to use a low ISO, such as 100 or 200 and will give a clearer, brighter image of the lights. The tripod will also allow longer exposures which will open up the shadowed areas without using a flash. The lights will look more diffused and less sharp during a long exposure, but this can also be a very desirable effect. Many good photographers are made using this method.

Option Four: Take your photos at twilight instead of dark. If you want to see the entire area clearly and still have well defined lights, try to photograph the lights just as the sun has gone down. Since the timing will be crucial, be certain to plan ahead so you can be at the right place during the right time.

Option Five: Take advantage of white balance settings. I set my white balance setting to daylight to render the color of the lights accurately. If I want to warm up the lights, I set the white balance to fluorescent, which will add red to the overall spectrum. To cool off the color spectrum and give a bluer hue, I set the camera to tungsten or incandescent.

Click here to download a printable version of Photographing Christmas Lights.

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Arlington Camera, Inc.    544 W. Randol Mill Road    Arlington, Texas 76011
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