Today on The Slanted Lens, we are getting into the holiday spirit and are headed out to photograph Christmas lights. There are only a couple basic things you need to understand so you can go out and take great photographs of Christmas lights this holiday season.
1. Time of Day: The best time to photograph outdoor Christmas lights is at dusk while there is still a little daylight. Just as the sun is going down and there is still ambient light they will look great. If you shoot in total dark, the lights are too stark and there is no detail in the house and it does not separate from the sky. To solve this we are going to use the ambient light at dusk as a fill light on the house. We will get a great fill on the house and great color and depth in the sky.
2. The sky can be the best part: Wait until the ambient light and the sky are dark enough to match your Christmas lights. There is a very short window when these two will be the same exposure. You can keep lengthening the shutter to bring the sky into a correct exposure but the lights will eventually become too bright. The graph below illustrates this idea:
3. Use a tripod: Don’t be crazy, use a tripod for crisp sharp images or lean on something like a car. Sometimes I will use the timer setting for a real long exposure so I am not touching the camera as it exposes.
4. Don’t use an on camera flash: It won’t do much of anything and is silly. Turn it off.
5. Camera settings are critical. I am using a Canon 5D Mark III.
- White Balance – Set your white balance on Tungsten or Daylight. Tungsten makes the sky more blue and the lights more neutral or proper colored. Daylight makes the sky less blue and the lights warmer. Both can look great.
- Shoot Raw – I shoot raw because if I want to change from Daylight to Tungsten I can do it as I process the images. It gives me both options.
- ISO – Set the ISO at 620 or higher. I started at 620 ISO on the Mark III.
- Aperture & Shutter Speed – I set my Aperture at 5.0 and my shutter speed at 1/8th. This is a good exposure on the lights but the ambient was way too bright. I will just keep shooting until the lights and the sky become the right exposure.
Eventually it will get too dark to get a good fill on the house. Here is the image of the house at the ideal time and a couple more as we lost the light:
I hope you have a great holiday season and take some great photos. Our next lesson will be about combining strobes with great holiday bokeh. Keep those cameras rollin’ and keep on clickin’.
Don’t forget to enter our December 2014 giveaway to get a chance to win one of 50 prizes!
Jay P Recommends for this Shoot
Today on The Slanted Lens we’re going into the holiday spirit and headed out to take pictures of Christmas lights. Watch till the end of the video, don’t miss on the give away.
Hi, this is Jay P. Morgan. Today on The Slanted Lens we’re going to show you things you need to know to take pictures of Christmas lights. There are just two or three basic things you need to understand. We’re going to share those with you so you’ll be ready to go out to take pictures of Christmas lights this holiday season.
1. When shooting Christmas lights, time of day is critical. Christmas lights are constant. They’re not going to change. They have an exposure that won’t change. But daylight is very bright and as daylight drops there’s going to be a point where the daylight crosses the flat line of the Christmas lights.
2. During that 10 or 15 minutes is when you get most beautiful pictures of Christmas lights because you have just a little bit of ambient light on the house, so the house isn’t pitch black, and you have a nice exposure on your Christmas lights. But again, you’ve got to watch your daylight. As it goes down and gets darker and darker and darker until it hits that time where it’s exposed correctly your tungsten light or the Christmas lights on the house.
Dusk is a perfect time to photograph Christmas lights because we want just a little bit of light left in the sky. When I say dusk, it’s really late dusk, almost dark. You need to find an aperture and a shutter speed and then just simply wait until the ambient light matches your Christmas lights and then you shoot that short real window time when they’re matching. Sometimes it’s only 10 or 15 minutes.
3. Get a tripod. What are you, crazy? You can’t take pictures at night of Christmas lights without a tripod. I’ve seen people try, doesn’t work. Use a tripod.
4. Don’t use your own camera flash, it’s not going to do much and it’s just going to be annoying. Turn that thing off, you’re going to do this entirely on manual.
5. Camera Settings
The camera settings are critical. First light balance. Light balance is very important. You can set it on tungsten or daylight. They both will look good and can be good in different situations. I usually set mine on daylight and then I just allow the Christmas lights to be a little bit warm. But here’s the important tip.
Shoot Raw – Because now when you get back to your studio, or your house, or your computer, you can put that image on the computer and you can change the color balance to whatever you want it to be. Daylight, tungsten, or whatever you choose and it’ll make it work. So, shoot on raw. But when I’m in the field I usually shoot on daylight and then later on I can change that.
ISO – You’re going to see your ISO 620 or higher. I start at 620 ISO on the mark three, that’s a great place to start when it starts to get dark.
Aperture Shutter Speed – I set my aperture at 5.0 and my shutter speed at one eighth of a second. This was a good exposure on the Christmas lights but the ambient light was way too bright when I started out. I just kept shooting until lights on the sky became more and more properly exposed. It’s just a matter of waiting, and watching, and shooting, until they come together.
Eventually you’re going to lose all that nice light on the sky and your Christmas lights on your house can become a little too dark. Here’s a couple of those shots after a prime time of shooting passed. Just not near as nice looking. I hope you have a great holiday season and take some great photographs.
Our next lesson is how to combine strobes with great holiday bokeh. Keep those cameras rolling and keep on clicking.
Ho, ho, ho! Happy Holiday through The Slanted Lens. We’re giving away $5,000 … No, more than $5,000 worth of gear for the holidays. Make sure you go to The Slanted Lens and sign up. Over 50 people are going to win prizes. So go to theslantedlens.com and sign up. Make sure you win something on The Slanted Lens this holiday season.
Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell …
Ho, ho, ho!
Alright when you’re shooting Christmas lights, it’s important to go like this because if you don’t and Kate can’t make fun of me later when she’s arguing. All right, let’s get going here.