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Five Tips for Taking Fantastic Photos of Christmas Lights

Simple tips anyone, photographer or not, can use to take their holiday photos to the next level.

The Christmas season is upon us, which means Christmas light displays are popping up everywhere. While Christmas light-festooned houses and trees look beautiful, they can be tricky to photograph. Follow these tips, courtesy of Dan Landau — photographer and Fairleigh Dickinson University PR assistant — and take your holiday photos to the next level:

Shoot in the right light

During daylight Christmas lights don’t stand out to us, but cameras see things differently than our eyes do. At this time of year, the sun sets around 4:30 in the afternoon, meaning that it is usually fully dark by 6 p.m. The best time to photograph Christmas lights is just after sunset — think dusk, not dark.

The sweet spot is when it is dark enough for the Christmas lights to “pop” in the photo, yet still light enough for the sky to turn a beautiful blue. Depending on the weather conditions, this time is roughly about 5–5:30 p.m.

Take your time

Literally, take your time. To adequately capture Christmas lights, you will need to use a long exposure time (perhaps up to 1 second). 

If you’re feeling adventurous, try out the camera’s manual or shutter-priority modes (usually called “M” and “S,” respectively) and experiment with long shutter speeds (1/4 second, 1/2 second, 1 second, etc).  If you camera doesn’t have a have a manual mode, look for a “night exposure” or “low light” mode.

Support is key

Because you will be using a long exposure, “camera-shake” will be a big obstacle if you don’t have anything to support your camera and keep it still. Half a second may not sound like a long time to hold your camera steady, but even the smallest movement of your hands will make for blurry photos. The best way to deal with this is to set up a tripod for your camera. If you don’t have a tripod, rest the camera on the roof of your car, or brace it against something solid.

Don’t be a flasher

Turn off your camera’s flash. The flash will light up the foreground and turn the background into an infinite darkness. Instead, use the long exposure techniques listed above and the photo’s foreground and background will look beautifully exposed and balanced.

Keep on clicking

Zeros and ones are free, so take a lot of pictures. Some of them are bound to be blurry or otherwise imperfect, so when you think you’re finished, take a couple more just to make sure you have a good photo.

After you’ve taken your photos, don’t forget to enjoy the pretty lights yourself!

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Donna Marki December 24, 2012 at 03:12 AM
Absolutely breathtaking photos of the tree in Hennessy Hall at FDU! Beautiful!
Chuck December 24, 2012 at 06:05 PM
This guy sounds like he is still using film! With digital it's simple if you miss the first shot, delete and do over. No need to wait to get film developed digital made taking pics a snap.

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