Better Christmas Photos
By Dan Eitreim
This time of year, everywhere you turn there are pretty displays – ones worth capturing on film.
I was going to write an e-book about all the various types of photos we can do at Christmas, but I waited too long. I felt it would be a rush job and the quality would suffer, so I’ve tabled that until next year.
Instead, here is an article describing how you can get better photos of Christmas Lights. I’ve focused on the tree, but these concepts will work for most any lighting display.
Christmas lights can be fairly tricky to capture since they are so dim. If we use our Flash (on Camera or off) we get a nice Image of the base subject – the tree for example. But the flash totally overwhelms the Christmas lights and we either can’t see them at all, or they are nothing but a dim glow that adds nothing to the photo.
If we DON’T use a flash and opt for a long Shutter speed (to capture the tree’s lights) we get a nice festive image of the lights, but the tree and other decorations aren’t properly exposed and don’t look as good as they should.
A middle of the road approach will give you results that are unsatisfactory at both extremes.
Here are three options you can try…
First – If you have a camera that is capable of doing a double Exposure you have it made! Do one exposure with the flash turned on, then another with the necessary settings to maximize the lights!
Second – If you don’t have a camera capable of double exposures, you can still take the two images described above and combine them in Photoshop or some other image program that will allow you to do such a thing.
Third – The third method requires a little bit of camera mastery and I highly recommend you take advantage of the season to learn how to do this!
You WILL have to take the camera off automatic and actually employ a few advanced techniques. Here we go…
To begin with, you must have a tripod. Don’t even try to shoot Christmas lights without one.
Next, you need to determine the settings necessary to best record the lights.
Turn off all the other lights in the room so that the tree’s lights are all that are lit. Start with your ISO setting:
I recommend 100 or so. The lower the setting, the less “noise” that will be introduced into the photo.
On the Aperture, there are two ways to go. If you have a high quality Lens, open up your aperture to the maximum
size. (This will be the smallest F stop number. i.e F2.8 not F16.)
If you have a lesser quality lens (lower quality lenses tend to have aberrations at the extremes) or if you want more depth of field, most lenses have a sweet spot in the middle range – around F8.
Once you’ve decided on the aperture you want, then set the shutter speed to be long enough to get enough light from the tree’s lights to be properly exposed on the film or Digital sensor.
This will be a very long shutter speed. If your camera isn’t able to give you a long enough shutter, if you MUST you can make adjustments to the ISO. Going from 100 to 200 will cut the needed shutter speed in half. Going from 200 to 400 will cut
it in half again – and so on.
Be careful… under exposure will eliminate the beauty of the lights, over exposure will blow them out!
Once you have the combination of ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed you need to capture the lights, we need to turn our attention to the tree and other items in the photo.
While we now have a proper setting to record the lights, due to their strength and placement, they are not going to be enough to show the tree.
Like any other low light situation, we need to add a flash.
Our shutter speed is a long time but our flash isn’t! That is OK. Our flash will give us a burst of light that will properly expose the tree then the shutter will remain open long enough to capture the lights!
Most of your better quality flashes will allow you to set them so that they will fire at the beginning of the exposure or at the end of the exposure. In this case, since there is no motion, it doesn’t matter which one you choose.
If you aren’t aware of these settings or don’t know how they work, it’s time to pull out your flash’s manual and read it.
It’s a pretty cool option that can give you some interesting and creative photos.
Then you are all set!
Decide what you want a photo of, set up your tripod and fire away! The flash will fire and show you the tree, then the long exposure will allow the lights to show.
BTW – Be sure your white balance is set to record the white lights as white and not the orange/yellow produced by low temperature lights. Unless that is what you want.
For more photo training, check out these links…
For more information on photo exposure:
For more information on mastering the aperture:
For more information on camera shutter speed:
I hope this article helps! Now I need YOUR help… if you have downloaded ANY of my Kindle e-books (whether you bought
them or got them as part of a free promotion) PLEASE go back to Amazon and leave a review.
I think my e-books can help a lot of budding photographers but if they can’t find my books, they will never be able to get them.
Reviews are vital.
Here is a list of all my photo books and links to the Amazon pages:
Thanks in advance for your reviews and for reading my musings…