November 13, 2019

Taking Pictures of Christmas Lights

Tips for Taking Photographs with Christmas Lights

Christmas is nearly here!  Soon all of the decorations will be up. Christmas music will be played on every station, and the spirit of Christmas will be in the air!   I’ve put together my top tips for taking pictures of Christmas lights, whether you are out and about, or just in front of the tree.  I hope these will help you get some great pictures for you this holiday season.

Plan to take your Christmas pictures in the late afternoon, but before dusk, so you get ambient light.  By allowing natural light into the room your camera will be able to take pictures faster.  This will help you avoid blurry Christmas pictures!

Adjust your camera’s white balance

If I told you there are different colors of white, you might look at me funny.  But think about it, you can have bright cool florescent lights or warmer softer lights.  Well, your camera is able to change how it reads the warm or cool colors in your picture.  If you have the option change the setting to Tungsten or Incandescent.  It will give more of a glow to your lights.  Holiday lights are typically made from incandescent lights, so you will have less of the yellow or greenish tint you might get from from the automatic setting. 

Get out of Auto!

If you don’t know how to take pictures outside of the automatic functions, try to start with Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority modes.  Choose Aperture Priority (Tv for Canon or Av for Nikon) if you want to set the depth of field or how much of your image is sharp and in-focus.  A higher number will allow more of the picture to be in focus.  If you set it to a number about f16 or higher, you will be able to start seeing starbursts from the lights. Meanwhile, a lower number will close down how much of the image is in focus.  A lower aperture value will give you the soft glowing effect to the lights.

Crank Up Your ISO

If you shoot in Manual, you know that ISO is the sensitivity of your cameras sensor to light.  When the ambient light around you starts to get dark, you want to raise the ISO enough to pull the details of the area surrounding the lights as well.  If you open up this picture and look above the angels, you will be able to see noise or grain in the pictures.  This happens when there is not enough light around, so we adjust the sensor to pick up more light particles in the atmosphere.   

Don’t be afraid to pull out the old tripod.

Taking pictures in the dark requires your camera to keep the shutter open for a longer period of time.  What happens is that your camera’s sensor picks up motion while it’s open.  If it needs to be open for a longer duration, it’s going to pick up any little bit of movement and your pictures will turn out blurry.  You will need to keep your camera as steady as possible.  You don’t need something fancy, you can always use a counter or a barstool if you’re taking pictures at home.  Anyway you look at it, using a tripod is super helpful when your shutter needs to drag a bit to get the right amount of light in! 

Taking Pictures in Front of the Christmas Tree

Taking pictures in front of the Christmas tree is a time honored tradition. If you haven’t yet seen this floating around the internet, it’s definitely a must see! https://www.papermag.com/were-obsessed-with-this-vintage-archive-of-women-in-front-of-christmas-2149445634.html. Before you go snapping away, take a minute to plan out what you want your picture to look like. By following a few quick tips you can easily get some great pictures for your Christmas Cards! Better hurry though, the clock is ticking!

Point your family in the direction the largest light source in the room.

By putting more light on their faces, you will be able to see more of the detail on their face without having to use your cameras flash.  Thereby allowing the picture to still have a moody Christmasy feel to it while not losing their face in shadows.  You won’t want to use a flash when it comes to taking pictures with Christmas lights.  It takes away from that magical glow!

Get down on the same level as your kids for their Christmas pictures

If your children are sitting on the ground, get down to their level.  You may or may not get the whole Christmas tree in the shot.  That’s ok. As a result of getting on the same plane as them, you will be able to see them as they are at this stage in their life.

Place your family 2-3 feet in front of the tree

If you have the space in front of your tree and can get a good shot, pull your family out in front of the tree a few feet.  Strategically placing your kids or family members out in front of the tree creates a necessary separation of foreground and background.  This separation will allow your camera to give you the colorful light orbs in the background.

Want to Create a Magical Effect to Your Pictures?

Have you ever seen pictures of lights in little shapes of stars or hearts? Well you can create a cool effect to your lights in your house. All you need is a piece of cardboard, an exacto knife or scissors, and your camera!

Take the cardboard and cut out whatever shape you want to make. Hearts, stars, Christmas Trees, whatever! Wrap the cardboard to the front of the camera, and VOILA! Little Bokeh shaped light!

How cool is that! Give it a try and let me know how it works for you!

I hope these tips help you when you’re out taking pictures of Christmas lights. Christmas lights are always so full of wonder and awe, I don’t even mind bearing the cold to get out and see them!

Like these tips? Share them on Pinterest for later!

You can also read more of my photography tips and tricks here!