Monday, December 22, 2014

Camera Settings for Christmas Lights

We've had so many gray cloudy days and nights this season so far! It's driven me outside to try to photograph anything resembling stars, in this case Christmas lights! Ok, the first thing I learned right off the bat is that Christmas lights are not stars, and do not use the same settings as stars. But I sort of have a reputation for being able to take photos at night, so it was definitely worth while to play around with some camera settings for Christmas lights to keep up that night-time photographer street cred.

1. Use a high f-stop number (narrow aperture) to get pretty lens flares around the lights. This also works with bright stars and planets! Usually when I shoot stars I shoot with a wide aperture to let in the most light (low f-number), but this is not the ideal setting for Christmas lights.

christmas light camera settings
Very high f-number, very low ISO to reduce noise, and adjust seconds until you have it how you like

2. You don't have to worry about star trails, so you can use a looooong exposure. I tend to use a wide open aperture for stars to maximize the amount of light I let in as quickly as possible before the stars move, but with Xmas lights this isn't an issue. Keep it narrow and long!

different camera settings for christmas lights
Variety of camera settings all using ISO 100

3. Low ISO to reduce background noise. You have all the time in the world, the house isn't moving, so use super low ISO and longer exposures. Let the individual lights show, or you'll end up with a big bright blob in the bushes.

xmas light camera settings
ISO 200, 22mm, f/9, 15 sec
xmas light camera settings
A little over-cooked! ISO 800, 22mm, f/9, 15 sec

4. Turn off indoor/window lights and porch lights, let the ambient light show the house. If you are doing a whole house shot, porch lights might drown out the Christmas lights. I prefer to let the glow from the lights reveal the house.

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