Add to Your Treasure Trove of Christmas Memories with Professional-Quality Christmas Light Photos

Christmas comes but only once each year. And each passing holiday season offers you the opportunity to add to your stash of precious Christmas memories. But there's no better way to supplement those memories than through the magic of photography.

The Christmas season provides many photographic opportunities. But perhaps no other offers quite the combo of allure, brilliance, and breathtaking beauty as Christmas light displays. Untold amounts of labor and money are poured into creating spectacular Christmas light displays each year. And their viewing - as well as the opportunity to create stunning, memorable photos - is free for the taking.

But capturing the brilliance and magic of Christmas lights through photography can be difficult. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of that opportunity…

DIY Professional Quality Christmas Light Photos

Tip #1: Choose Your Time Carefully

Though it may seem counterintuitive, full-on nighttime is not the best time to photograph outdoor Christmas lights. That's because photos taken after dark will show the Christmas lights floating in a black blob, and little else. But the most dramatic photos are achieved when there's enough ambient light to reveal some of the surrounding details accompanying the lights.

Early evening and early morning are when you can catch the light at optimum levels. The best approach is to arrive at the scene of the photoshoot a bit before you expect the light to be at its best. Then just wait for the light to become picture-perfect as the sun rises or sets.

The best camera settings for dusky light levels? Select an ISO (light sensitivity) setting in the range of 400 to 800. Be sure to disable the automatic flash. And you'll want to set your camera's white balance to one of two options:

  • Tungsten: This setting will cause clear bulbs to appear white. And the dusky sky will be captured with a royal blue hue.
  • Daylight or Cloud Cover: These settings will cause clear bulbs to appear as more of a warm white, and colors will be more saturated (richer, but possibly trending toward overly bright). Sky colors will tend to be more natural in hue.

Tip #2: Feature the Lights, But Don't Ignore the Surroundings

Christmas Light Photos

The Christmas lights will obviously be the primary subject of your photo. But your picture will be much more interesting and appealing if it shows more than just the lights. Look for items that you can include in the shot that will add depth and drama to the photo, such as:

  • The Sky: Angling your shot upwards so that it includes a significant portion of the sky can add depth to your photo. And under certain conditions, the sky can also add great drama to your photo, showing perhaps the remains of a brilliant sunset, or the moody effect of clouds, or the moon and a few bright stars.
  • Trees, Foliage, Lampposts, etc.: A massive oak; a snow-covered pine; a lamppost that casts an enchanting, accompanying glow. Survey the scene with a critical eye to see what you can include in the shot that will enhance the scene without upstaging the star of the show: the Christmas lights.
  • A Reflective Foreground: If you're fortunate enough to be able to include a reflective surface in the foreground of your picture, the result can be startlingly dramatic and beautiful. A surface of water or ice in the foreground can offer a mirror-like reflection. And in the right circumstances, an unbroken plane of snow can also offer a surface that will reflect the glow of the Christmas lights.

Tip #3: Keep it Steady, Freddy

Keeping your camera rock-solid still when you're taking photos of Christmas lights is absolutely critical. That's because even the slightest movement as the photo is snapped will cause deterioration in the clarity of the image - particularly in the low-light conditions you'll be facing. And even the steadiest of hands can impart enough movement to the camera to impact photo quality.

Night Photography of Christmas Lights

The best way to keep the camera steady is to keep it out of your hands by using a tripod. If a tripod isn't available, try leaning against something solid like a fence or a wall as you shoot the photo.

And whether the camera is tripod-mounted or handheld, try using either a timer or shutter release cables instead of your finger to trigger the shutter. That will help to reduce the movement of the camera and will minimize blurring.

Tip #4: For Indoor Lights…

Not all Christmas lights are outdoors, of course. You might want to take photos of lights mounted on a Christmas tree or lights that serve as interior décor. But when shooting indoor lights, there's a greater risk of overexposure.

Indoor Photography of Christmas Lights

So for shooting indoor lights, you'll want to turn your flashback on - though you might need to experiment to find the right intensity setting for the flash. In certain cases, you might also need to use supplemental strobes.

And you might also need to adjust the shutter speed or the f-stop setting, or possibly both. Try various combos of settings until you find the just-right balance.

Experimentation is Cheap and Easy!

Not so long ago photography was an expensive hobby. The film wasn't cheap, and having the film developed was costly. So expenses could mount quickly. And you had to wait for days to see the final results of the photos you had taken.

But in this digital age, things are certainly different. You can experiment to your heart's content. Taking 100 photos and deleting all but one costs you nothing extra. And instead of waiting for days, you can get instant gratification in seeing the results of your experimentation with photo subjects and settings.

So when you're staring in open-mouthed awe at the brilliant displays of Christmas lights you'll be seeing this season, why not capture their images forever? After all, doing so is easier and cheaper than it's ever been!