How to Take Pictures of Christmas Lights

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Decorating the house with colorful lights is a tradition at the holidays. From Christmas to New Year's, neighborhoods are illuminated by cascading rope lights, inflatable seasonal characters and evergreens draped in multicolored Christmas lights. Photographing these seasonal masterpieces is a good way to preserve the memory forever. Some take pictures of seasonal lights so they can recreate the look the next season or just to add to the family scrapbook. Whatever your reason for photographing Christmas lights, take time to practice, and you too can document the colors of the season.

Things You'll Need

  • SLR film or digital camera
  • SLR camera lenses
  • Tripod
  • Cable release or self-timer setting
  • Gather the camera equipment needed to photograph Christmas lights at night. Use a film or digital SLR camera. Attach a lens that will allow you to get the whole house in the picture. Select a wide-angle lens if you have to be close to the house when taking the picture. Use a mid-range zoom lens, such as a 35-135mm lens, if you are able to back up and stand back from the house.

  • Set up the camera after dark. Use a tripod to steady the camera, since it will take a long exposure to photograph the Christmas lights. Attach the camera to the tripod. If using an older manual-style film SLR camera, attach a cable release to the shutter. If using a digital SLR or newer film SLR camera, set the camera to release the shutter after a short delay.

  • Adjust the settings on the camera. Using the camera on an automatic setting will not give good results. Manually adjusting the camera aperture and shutter speed will allow the Christmas lights to expose properly. Set the camera to manual exposure mode. Select an aperture of f8 to get good depth of field. If using a telephoto lens, select f16.

  • Use the bracket method to capture a variety of exposures. Leave the aperture setting constant and take a variety of frames, adjusting the shutter speed slightly each time. For example, on the first exposure select a 30-second exposure. Be careful not to bump the camera during those 30 seconds, or you will get a blurry picture.

  • Try multiple exposures, such as 15 seconds, 30 seconds, 1 minute, 2 minutes and 5 minutes. The longer the shutter speed, the more light is recorded, and the brighter the picture will be. If left to expose too long, the picture will have a daytime appearance.

  • Practice with several exposures. Once the magic formula has been found for that particular scene, take a variety of angles of the Christmas lights. Photograph the front and sides of the house. Focus on illuminated trees, displays and yard scenes.

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