Photographing Christmas Lights

Looking for something fun to shoot? Holiday lights make a great photographic subject! Here are some tips to create both realistic, magical shots, as well as abstracts.

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Video Transcript

Are you looking for something fun to photograph? How about holiday lights? Hi, I'm Julie from Ultimate Photo Tips. It's holiday season now, and my neighborhood is filled with beautiful and colorful lights on all the houses and trees. It inspired me to get my camera out and take some pictures, so I hope I can inspire you to do the same! I'm going to share a few tips to help you get some great images.

The first thing to think about is that when the lights are on, it's dark out, so your exposures are going to be long; long shutter speeds. The other thing is, I usually use ISO 100, since it gives me the least noise. I don't mind if the shutter speed goes long; I'm expecting that.

The big decision you have to make when photographing Christmas lights is whether to keep your camera still on a tripod, and go for a more realistic looking shot, or to hand-hold it, and move your camera during the shot. That will give you more abstract images. Let me share a few examples so that you can see the difference.

photographing christmas lights
© Julie Waterhouse Photography
30s at f/14, ISO 100

Let's start with a couple of shots on a tripod. The first is my neighbor's tree. I really love those blue lights! The exposure here was 30 seconds at f/14. The small aperture created the round spots that you see. They were water droplets on my lens.

photographing christmas lights
© Julie Waterhouse Photography
8s at f/9.0, ISO 100

Here's another shot of house and tree lights, with an exposure of 8 seconds at f/9.0.

photographing christmas lights
© Julie Waterhouse Photography
8s at f/9.0, ISO 100
Photographing Christmas lights up close

Here's one more, which is a closeup of the tree lights under the snow. This was taken with a shutter speed of 8 seconds at f/9.0.

photographing christmas lights
© Julie Waterhouse Photography
6s at f/7.1, ISO 100

Now let's look at a few more abstract shots! In these shots, I'm using a longer shutter speed, pointing my camera at some lights, then moving the camera during the exposure. This first one is a 6 second exposure at f/7.1

photographing christmas lights
© Julie Waterhouse Photography
3.2s at f/7.1, ISO 100

For this shot, I moved my camera around in a spiral pattern that was then traced out by the lights as lines in the image. This was a 3.2 second shutter seed at f/7.1.

photographing christmas lights
© Julie Waterhouse Photography
6s at f/7.1, ISO 100
Photographing Christmas lights gets funky!

This last one is another closeup shot of those colored lights on the tree under the snow. For this one, though, I zoomed the lens slowly while I was exposing. This is a 6 second exposure at f/7.1. I was actually on the tripod for this one, but zooming the lens so that there's movement in the image.

I hope those photos inspire you to try some of your own. The key when photographing Christmas lights, is to experiment! The beauty of digital is that you can see right away what kind of effect you're getting and what's working. Have fun with it!

Happy shooting and I'll see you next time!

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