Photographing Christmas Lights at Night

Several strings of large icicle lights resemble snow, while several other displays can be seen through the curtain of lights.

Photographing Christmas lights and other lighted displays at night can be challenging and rewarding.  The challenge is how to capture something that is different and unique, as well as using the correct camera settings.

Making a unique image happens by walking around the display and looking at the lights from different angles.  After a few minutes of walking around, I found that by shooting through the curtain of lights towards the other light displays the image had more depth and a variety of colors.  The composition also kept the main elements within the rule of thirds.  The photo has the unique look that I wanted, rather than photographing each of the different displays individually.

The image here is just one that I created while walking around the annual Christmas lighting at the Sanders County Fairgrounds, located in Plains, Montana.  To see more of my Christmas lights go to my Holidays and Greeting Cards gallery at my website:

Camera settings will of course depend on your camera.  The above image was made with my Canon Rebel XS DSLR and a kit lens (18-55mm 3.5-5.6 IS).  The settings on my camera were as follows; ISO of 400, camera flash was turned off, Program in the manual settings, F5.6, lens was at 48mm, and no tripod.  It is better to use the ISO of 400 if you are not using a tripod and you’d like to keep the lights and the dark night sky.  If you use a point and shoot digital or a digital SLR make sure your flash is turned off, as that will keep the harsh glare off the lights and keep the scene looking like it should.  A tripod can help you with composing and keeping the images from having too much camera shake (or “noise”).  You will want to be careful when walking around the outdoor displays, as there will most likely be several cords and extension cards that can become trip hazards.

Think about your own Christmas lights and the photographs you can create.  How can you make a unique image by changing your camera position?  Could your photograph be one that you could turn into a greeting card?  What variety of colors from your lights and displays will make the photograph stand out and be noticed?


About Douglas Wilks Photography

I am an advanced photographer who lives in western Montana. I create a variety of strong images using a DSLR, computer, and digital software. I am available for hire for full time, part time, or projects. Most of my images are of landscapes, still life, and events. I am always looking to improve my skills, network of friends and professionals, and portfolio. I look forward to creating new friends, contacts, and others who are interested in photography.
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