How-To: Taking Great Photos of Holiday Lights

Taking Photos of Holiday Lights

Halloween and the holidays are just around the corner. One thing that bothers most beginning photography lovers, is taking great photos of holiday lights at night time. While you can always get some breathtaking results with the best cameras on the market, you would be surprised at how nice some of the photos from digital cameras can look. Here are some tips to make your handheld camera take night time pictures that belong on posters.


Make Sure you Can Control Basic Settings

This includes ISO, shutter speed, shooting mode, and aperture. If you can’t find it in your camera’s settings, try checking under “custom” or “manual” mode. Most digital cameras should have this feature.


Slow Down your ISO

It may seem counter-intuitive to turn it down instead of up, but there is a good reason for it. When the film speed is faster, it improves the sensitivity of the electronic image. While it may seem that is what you are going for, in fact it just increases the number of defects and reduces the quality of the image. Instead, you should slow it down to begin with and take a few test shots. If the exposure isn’t good, then gradually dial it up until it looks the way you want it to. Remember, a lower ISO will result in a longer shutter speed especially at night time, so a tripod is highly recommended for night shots with a low ISO.


Reduce the Noise

While slowing down your ISO will allow for less defects, it can actually create digital noise in the meantime. You can reduce this noise in two ways: first, there may be a setting on of your camera for noise reduction. Second, you can use software after the fact. Your first solution should be to try to reduce the noise in camera, as the software options can produce uneven results.


Select the Right Timing

Whenever you are dealing with taking pictures outdoors, your timing is the most important thing. Try to snap your photo at twilight, right after the sun has set and before total darkness. This will help to balance shadows and light. Just make sure that you white balance the camera to deal with the changing light conditions. You may need to play around with the aperture and shutter speed settings to get the perfect balance in your photo.


Manually White Balance

The automatic white balance feature will wash out any colors that can be found in festive holiday lights. Using manual settings to find your color balance will allow you to pick up the extreme colors of lights.


Shoot Two Exposures

Another way to get a great final result is to shoot two exposures. This will extend the tonal range of the image. To shoot two exposures a tripod and remote control should be used to stop the camera from moving between the two shots.  Shooting two exposures in manual mode should be done in the following way:

1. Configure one exposure to capture the highlight details (brighter)

2. Shoot a second exposure to pick up the shadow details (darker)

3. Use Photoshop or any other editor to combine the two layers, then use the eraser tool to remove and of the areas with poor exposure.


Using these tips and a bit of practice, you should be able to take spectacular holiday photography.



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