Yes it’s that time of year – the trees are going up and presents are being wrapped.
Here’s a few tips for capturing great photographs of Christmas lights:
Do a drive-by and scouting mission first then depending on what you were after consider photographing it later in the evening. Early evening (6.30-8.00pm) tend to be chocker block with people to the point where the lights may be obscured, especially any garden lights.
Setting wise, use a wide aperture (small number) to allow maximum light into your camera. Team this with a shutter speed high enough to be able to hand hold your camera, around the 1/60th-1/100th for most people. While a tripod will get you lovely crisp images at night it can be a weapon of mass destruction at a crowded house. If the light levels are too low to get your shutter speed up remember that you can always lift that ISO to make the sensor more light sensitive.
Make sure you apply plenty of mosquito repellent - they are out in force at that time of night.
All those pretty lights can mean the opportunity to play around a little as well. Bokeh photos are a source of delight for most photographers and Christmas lights make perfect bokeh. Ok, so what is bokeh you ask? It is little points of light that are out of focus, often in the background of photos, where there is a really shallow depth of field. Large apertures (small number) will often produce this effect but there are ways to get even more creative bokeh intentionally. This requires a little bit of prep usually best done at home. Trying to cut card in your car is not always successful, I know, I’ve tried.
Cut a piece of card the same size circle as the end of your lens eg:57mm diameter and cut or punch a shape into the middle of the card. I’ve done Christmas trees, Santas, stars etc. Then carefully tape the piece of card over the end of the lens so that no extra light can sneak around the edges. With the lens on manual focus and the aperture as large as you can get it start snapping. The effect will be lots of little lights totally out of focus but in the shape of your cutout. Very satisfying and very impressive for a fairly simple process.
Remember that while you hope to get good shots, these displays are really all about people getting into the Christmas spirit so be sure to be considerate of others while you get your shots and keep a sense of Christmas cheer.
Ho, ho, ho and happy Christmas shooting to all.
Image by Anita Bromley