Top tips for shooting beautiful photographs of holiday light displays
While I realize Jean Hodges recently provided us with a solid list of cliche phrasing to avoid when writing about the winter season, I also realize I’ve been listening to the Pop Christmas playlist on Spotify since before Halloween.
I’m not saying I can’t get through this without letting a “’tis the season” slip, I’m just saying it won’t be easy.
The holidays: a time for celebrating the year gone by, sharing a cup of climate-appropriate-temperature cider with friends, queuing up the fireplace channel on your TV and pulling out the large plastic bin of decorations that you’ve have hidden away in your attic/basement for the past 11-12 months.
Your bin could be stuffed with kinaras, menorahs or Christmas tree ornaments, but chances are, no matter the holiday you’re celebrating, underneath it all you probably have the same knotted coil of tiny lights on a string as everyone — the Rubik’s Cube of holiday decorations.
While storing and untangling them might be a pain, the end result of an artfully set up light display can be magical, which is why I reached out to photography pros from across GateHouse Media newsrooms to ask them for their best tips and tricks for shooting stunning images of holiday light displays.
Lola Gomez, Daytona Beach News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Florida
To get big dots of Christmas lights in your photo, you set up your tripod and camera with a telephoto lens to focus on your subject in the path of them, which should be far from you. Then you open the lens, in this case to f/2.8.
Since the photo is about the overall scene, you can set up your lens at f/2.8 with low ISO and leave the lens open for almost a second so you can capture the whole scene and brighter lights.
To focus only on one subject in a scene (like this fox), you open the lens. In this case to f/2.8.
To have the focus of the photo be throughout the scene, keep the lens closed. In this case, f14. Also, to have brighter lights, you use low ISO and leave the lens open like in this case ISO 200, speed 20 sec.
Fred Zwicky, Journal Star, Peoria, Illinois
- Most people wait until it is night to shoot holiday lights. That is way too late! Shoot when the day is heading toward dusk. Keep shooting as the sky gets darker and at some point, the mix between the twilight sky and the holiday lights will blend wonderfully. It’s usually much brighter outside for this shot than you would think.
- Try using a tripod, monopod, or simply brace yourself against a wall or pole. If you want a blurred effect, then experiment with hand holding the camera during a long exposure.
Jim Quigg, Daily Press, Victorville, California
• Choose something to be the central figure of the shot. Don’t try to shoot “everything and wind up with a picture of nothing.
• Use a secure placement of the camera. Preferably a tripod, but anything will be better than hand holding, use the hood of your car, a fence post, a table.
• Figure out how your camera adapts to low light. Smartphones allow you to tap on the area you want to make sure is correctly lit. If you’re using a higher-end camera read the manual on how the meter works. Some cameras even have settings for fireworks and Christmas light displays. And practice first “One good test is worth 1,000 expert opinions” – Wernher Von Braun