Taking pictures of holiday lights can be challenging. You have to get just the right setting — not too dark, not too bright. Today I’ve got three tips for taking better pictures of outdoor lights that will help capture the holiday spirit of your home, festival or wherever you find beautiful lights this season.
Before we go any further, I used these settings to shoot the photo at the top of this post: a 5 second shutter speed, aperture at f/11 and an ISO of 800.
1. The best lighting for outdoor pictures is just as the sun goes down. This is when the sky is still a bit blue — in other words, at dusk. Because it isn’t fully dark yet, the sky still has enough light to outline the home or shape underneath the lights. It also adds some beautiful color to the sky, rather than pure black.
2. If you are not able to use a tripod, use a camera that is high ISO-capable. Different cameras can handle a higher ISO better. The more professional your camera, the better you’ll be able to shoot at a higher ISO. To take the photo below, for example, I cranked the ISO all the way up to 6400. My camera can shoot that high; some can’t. If your camera doesn’t go that high, you’ll need a tripod, because you’ll have to significantly lower your shutter speed to compensate for lower ISO.
3. Using a tripod, you can leave the shutter open longer and not have to worry about camera shake. In the photo below, my shutter was open for five whole seconds! That’s a long time to leave the shutter open, but it lights the image very nicely.
Using a tripod means you can mount your camera, frame the shot and take a bunch of photos, experimenting with your settings until you get the exposure you like. Try longer shutter speeds, and see the effect that larger and smaller aperture settings gives you to take truly remarkable holiday photos!
Photo credit: Kristen Duke