How to Photograph Christmas Lights

One of the things I love about Christmas is the beautiful lights on display - either on your tree, or lighting up your home. Here's some tips, tricks and ideas for photographing your Christmas lights this holiday season.

Turn off your flash

If you are still shooting in AUTO (or an of the "assisted" modes like AV) you need to make sure that you have your pop up flash turned off. We want to capture the soft glow of the lights at this time of year, and the use on an on-camera flash will just rob the photo of any christmassy feeling! If you are shooting in manual mode, then the flash won't come on regardless - and you'll want to be shooting in manual mode anyway for photographing your christmas lights, so turn that dial to M!  

Shoot with a Large Aperture (small F number) 

If you want to create those lovely round orbs of light in the background (called bokeh) then you want to use a small F number to get a nice big aperture. This helps create that out of focus areas in your image.  The same rules apply here as does when photographing anything where you want that background blurred - try to get some distance between the subject and the background and moving yourself physically closer to the subject will give you better background blur. 

Alternatively, Shoot with a Small Aperture (Big F number) 

You can also go the other way when photographing lights, and that is to have them look like beams of light. For this, you will need to use an aperture of F16 +, which means you are going to have low, low shutter speeds - usually too low to handhold. This is where you are going to need a tripod to rest your camera on so you don't get motion blur through camera shake. 

Try an Out of Focus Shot 

You could also try this little trick of getting a lovely photo of your Christmas tree - switch from AF to MF on the little switch on your lens, to change over to manual focusing.  Then simply turn the focusing ring on your lens until you get the scene out of focus (but still recognisable) Then click the shutter! 

Capture Your Child in Front of the Tree

The secret to capturing your child in front of the tree is to photograph during the day.  If you photograph at night, you won't get a high enough shutter speed to freeze their movement, so you will end up with a soft and blurry image.  Your tree needs to be next to a window, or near an area where you can get a lot of natural light onto the scene.   Place your child in front of the tree, but a good distance away from it,  and use a large aperture.  That's it!

If you would prefer to photograph your child in front of the tree at night, then I would suggest reading this excellent tutoral by Shalonda Chaddock - the best guide I've seen for it! 

I  hope you enjoyed these tips for photographing Christmas lights - you can find links to some useful Christmas tutorials around the web on this post I did last year too!

For some ideas of what to photograph this Christmas, you can also download my free holiday photo checklist