Photographing Holiday Lights

Photographing Holiday Lights

By Mark Graeve

One of the best things about the winter holidays is the lights throughout the city. The warm glow of the lights is a great way to cope with the winter season's long cold nights. Properly photographing the lights can be tricky, so here are some tips.


Outdoor Lights and Exterior Displays

Outdoor Lights


The best time of day for capturing lights outdoors is at dusk. The advantage of doing this is to record the beauty of the lights while also capturing detail in the scenery around the display. If you shoot your images after the sun is down, it will be too dark to record anything but the lights.


A tripod is an essential accessory for this type of photography. Without it, you will get blur in your pictures due to camera shake. It is also highly recommended that you use a remote shutter release when triggering the camera, as this will minimize camera movement.


For your camera mode, Program (the letter P on your dial) will give you the easiest operation method. In this mode, the camera will set the Aperture and Shutter Speed for you. For ISO, we recommend keeping it low (100 or 200). Also, using the Program (P) mode will prevent the flash from popping up. You don’t want the flash on in this scenario because you will be too far away from the subject for it to be effective.


For Portraits in Front of the Tree

Portrait of little girl in front of the Christmas tree


The tricky part about this shot is getting enough light on people’s faces to see them in detail while also capturing the glow of the lights on the tree. One way to achieve this balance is to turn on all the lights in the room and then operate the camera without flash. Once again, we suggest using the Program (P) mode. If you have enough light in the room, this method will give you the desired look.

Another option is to incorporate flash by using the Night Portrait Scene Mode, which is among the Scene Modes in most cameras. In this mode, the camera adjusts the shutter speed down, and the flash pops up automatically. The slower shutter speed will give that lovely glow to the background lights, while the flash ensures that the person or people in front of the tree will be adequately illuminated.

For some more inspiration for creative holiday images, read our blog article 8 Simple Tips for a Memorable Holiday Card sponsored by Tamron Lenses.