Capital Photography Center | Photography Classes in Washington DC, Maryland, Virginia and Online

Fun with Holiday Lights

December 15, 2016 by Marie Joabar

At no other time of the year do we have so many opportunities to capture Holiday scenes with colorful twinkling lights and holiday bling.

A few helpful tips to help add some sparkle to your Holiday captures.

Fun With Family and Friends In Front Of The Tree

Capturing friends and family in front of the tree always makes great photos and in low light they’re even more magical.
  * Capture them with the tree blurred or with it sharp and twinkling.
    -  To blur the tree in the background get close to your subject and put some distance between them and the tree (try about 8 to 10 feet). Use a wide aperture of at least f3.5, f4, or f5.6. Focus on your subject with the tree lights in the background.
    -  To capture everything sharp and the lights as starbursts, use a small aperture like f16 or f22. Twinkle, twinkle.

  * With backlit subjects (like your child in front of the lit tree) our camera usually makes the brighter area look great and as a result, our subjects show as a silhouette. Nothing wrong with that, in fact it can make a beautiful image as shown in this example here.

  * Once you have the silhouette shot, you might want another showing their smiling faces. To do that, you’ll need to turn on the flash. 
    - Set the exposure for the lit tree, then turn on the flash. If using the pop up flash, it can be a bit harsh so try backing up about 6 or so feet so the light falls softer on your subject. Also see if your camera offers Flash Compensation and dial down the strength of the flash. Don’t forget to turn on red-eye reduction for your people shots.

Fun With Holiday Lights

  * Capture the fun in a frame filled with bokeh (out of focus lights). Find a colorful strand of lights and shoot it softly out of focus. Use manual focus, fill the frame with these “light balls” and use a wider aperture like f2.8, f4 or even 5.6 for good results.

  * Play with long exposures and zoom your lens while aiming at the lit tree. A two or three second exposure should give you enough time for a fun effect but there’s nothing wrong with using a longer time. This usually works better in Manual exposure mode.
    -  Set your aperture to f16 or 22, your ISO to 100 or 200 and you shutter speed to 1 or 2 seconds depending on how bright the scene is. Then, take the picture while rotating your camera or zooming your lens. Also try moving your camera vertically or horizontally instead of zooming. If the image is too bright, try a slightly faster speed, use a circular polarizing filter or Neutral Density filter to darken it, or try again at night or when there is less light.  If it is too dark, use a longer shutter speed or raise the ISO a little.

  *  Seek out places that offer exciting photo opportunities.
    - The US Capitol with the Christmas tree is stunning to capture against the royal blue sky of civil twilight. The scaffolding is all gone now making this once again a prize photo. 
    - Endless opportunities can be found at Meadowlark Winter Walk of Lights, The Momon Temple Festival of Lights, ZooLights at the National Zoo and more.

* Tripods are a must for any low light photography, you’ll have sharper images and so many more exposure options by using one. If you’ve got a tripod on your Santa list, here’s an article that can help Santa pick out a good one. Tips For Choosing A Tripod.

Happy Holidays, and happy shooting. We’d love to see the magic you capture so please share with us on FaceBook or tag us on Instagram (#capitalphotographycenter).

Special thanks to Instructor Donna Vance (of Donna Gail Photography) for her contribution of images for this article.