How to Photograph the Vibrant Glowing Christmas Lights

So you want to photograph Christmas lights and don’t know where to begin?

We get asked for tutorials on how to photograph Christmas lights every year just after Thanksgiving.  So rather than reinvent the wheel, we will share a popular MCP post. Enjoy!

Hopefully your busy season has wrapped up and you are ready to play.  I love the lull of winter for a few different reasons.  Since I’m in Michigan winter means cold and snow and long dark nights.  One great thing about winter is having more time to photograph for myself and my family.  A favorite over the past few winters has been capturing the holiday lights to bring back memories for years to come.  One thing most blog posts on the topic will say is use a tripod (or maybe a bean bag on a car ledge).  But beyond that we want to show you how to get the most out of lights, and how to control the look and feel of your images.

Holiday lights come in many forms from colorful strings of lights, to white lights and the glow of candles.  I’ve been trying to get more creative than capturing ordinary snapshots and I love to experiment with my camera and take control of my photos.

I took these images while exploring Rochester’s Big Bright Light show last year.

Understanding aperture to photograph Christmas lights:

A wide open aperture (like f/2.8) will help you blur the background.  You will need something in the foreground to focus on to get a more dramatic effect.  Your distance to the object or person in focus and the distance between them and the background will have an affect on the final image as well.  Notice how the shape of the lights changes as they fade further into the distance.

holiday lights by pArt of Life Photography LLC

 

 

create holiday lights bokeh by pArt of Life Photography LLC

 

With no image in the foreground the point of focus is in the distance, in the midst of the lights here causing less bokeh but a great representation of how your eye sees the scene.  The aperture setting for this image is f/8.

big bright light show photography by pArt of Life Photography LLC

 

To get a starburst effect to lights, like the lamp post light below, you will need a more closed down aperture like f/16 – f/22.  Once again experimentation is key!  Have fun!

starburst effect by pArt of Life Photography LLC

 

 

Bring this technique inside and you can capture some special objects or people with soft lights in the background.  You can get great effects and get more attention to your object(s) when you experiment with placement and aperture settings. If you open up to f2.8 or f4.0 your lights will blur in the background.

capture your holidays by pArt of Life Photography LLC

holiday details by pArt of Life Photography LLC

 

 

I hope you found this information helpful and are inspired to play around with your camera to capture some creativity with the lights around you! For more tutorials on photographing lights, read:

 

I am a metro Detroit photographer, specializing in families: from newborns to seniors and families.  You can view more of my work at pArt of Life Photography or check out pArt of Life Photography on Facebook.   When I’m not working with clients I love to photograph nature, both in landscapes and in detail with my macro lens.  I will be providing some more guest posts here with tips on capturing winter with macro, and hopefully more!

Jodi Friedman

Jodi Friedman is the founder of MCP Actions. She designs popular Photoshop actions and Lightroom presets that make editing faster, easier and more fun.

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