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Shooting Christmas lights

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I thought I would throw out a few tips to make your holiday lights stand out from the crowd. This is a resurrected post from last year.

1. You will need a tripod or some type of good support. A remote shutter release will be a plus as well, though you can get by with using your cameras self-timer, this works for point and shoots as well as DSLR cameras.

2. Most people shoot Christmas lights when its dark, what you really want is to catch the lights when the ambient light is close to the Christmas lights themselves. Another words you should be out shooting just before sunset. You will be taking a a lot of shots and you will find that there is about a 10 minute window of really good light that balances out your Christmas lights. Your colors will pop off the screen.

The problem with shooting them when it is dark is that the camera will overexpose the Christmas lights and underexpose the dark scene around it. If you expose for the Christmas lights you will have points of light in a sea of dark. Get out and catch the lights when you have some color in your sky.

3. Christmas lights are tungsten balanced light. If you are shooting in AWB you normally will end up with white lights yellow, red lights orange, etc. Set your White Balance for tungsten or indoor lighting. Your bulb colors will be close to what they actually are. Your sky, since you are shooting with some ambient light still around, will take on a nice blue color as well. This one tip will make your shots stand out from most others! Many point and shoots have the ability to set WB so you can get beautiful results with them as well.

This is not the greatest, shot a bit early. You can see the blue tinge caused by the adjusting the WB, but the sky should have been a bit darker to bring out the blue lights in the tree to the left.


4. Use some interesting angles, a lot of sky, experiment if you have a zoom by zooming in or out while tripping the shutter. Use reflections from sheets of ice and bulbs to show objects or yourself. Shots that use the environment around them make the most memorable photos.


These two photos are not my best efforts but they illustrate some of the ideas from this post.

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Nice post. I've found that the same principles apply when shooting neon lights as well. Years ago I did a series of unique and colorful neon lights in the area around where I lived. Back then I was shooting Kodachrome and had to bracket pretty wide but all in all got some really nice results.

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Thanks Dan, this is a very nice tutorial. I've never played much with shooting lights because I've never been very happy with my results. You've given me the itch to try again.

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Thanks, Dan.

It's always good to review this because I only seldom shoot these and unfortunately at my age, remembering isn't my strong point.

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