Christmas lights are a beautiful part of holiday celebrations. They are also all too often the cause of temper fits by photographers. Christmas light photography really isn't difficult. With these easy tips you'll learn how to photograph Christmas lights quickly and easily.
Forget what you know about "good exposure."
In order to capture beautifully sparkling Christmas lights you'll actually have to overexpose the lights themselves. If you have manual control options on your camera this is done relatively easily by using a higher ISO and slower shutter speed. You'll know you have it closer to right when the light meter
reads a tick or two on the "+" side. If your camera does not have a light meter or manual controls you'll need to trick it. Try using the landscape setting
for your camera. The large depth of field
will help capture the depth of the lights while still slowing down the shutter speed. Then prefocus on a spot without lights. This will make the camera expose for the surrounding area and overexpose the lights themselves.
Ditch the flash
Unless you are trying to illuminate a subject in front of Christmas lights you'll want to turn off your flash. Remember we are trying to overexpose the lights in relation to the rest of the scene. If you fire a flash everything will be brighter than the lights themselves.
Pick the right time of day to shoot
Your lighting situation will be easier if you pick twilight to shoot. Just after sunset when there is still enough light to see surrounding items is a great time to shoot Christmas lights. The ambient light will help houses show in the image without flash while still letting you slightly overexpose the lights.
Remember to support your camera
Whether you use a tripod, beanbag, or other support, make sure you have sturdy support for your camera during the slow exposures (sometimes 5 to 30 seconds) needed to capture the glow of the Christmas lights.