Twinkling Christmas lights are one of the most beautiful parts of the holiday season, but getting the perfect shot of them can be tricky.
CBC Hamilton is asking for your best Christmas light pictures — we'll build the best into a photo gallery on our site — and we want to give you a hand getting started. Whether you're going for a shot of your home's decoration, or the public display at Gore Park, there are a few things that can really improve your chances of getting a frame-worthy photograph.
Here are our top 3 tips for shooting those twinkly lights:
Keep your camera steady. Everyone knows Christmas lights look their best when it's getting dark out. Unfortunately, that's when it's getting hard for your camera. To keep your pictures in focus and bright, put your camera on a tripod (or on a table, or on a beanbag, or in a snowbank — anywhere steady that isn't in your shaky hands, basically.) A solid base will allow the camera's shutter to stay open longer, allowing more light in, without creating blur.
Plan that photo. You spend hours decorating your house and tree. Why not put equal thought into taking the photo? If you're outdoors, aim to take the picture around dusk*, which photographers call "magic hour" for a reason. You'll get a nice soft light** over your scene, but there will still be enough contrast to make your Christmas lights pop. If you're indoors, create the same effect by dimming your lights or using table lamps to light your tree instead of bright overheads.
*Magic hour should be from 4 to 5 p.m. today.
**Another great time to shoot Christmas lights, though it seems odd, is during sunrise. It'll be a similar light as dusk, and if there's a fresh dump of snow overnight that will add to the picture.
Nail the white balance. Christmas lights come in all different shapes and sizes. Some are cool blue LEDs that look like glowing ice, while others are classic bulbs with warm multi-coloured glass. Play around with the white balance settings on your camera until you find the right look. If you don't, you picture may come out too blue or a muddy pink colour.
Want more? Here are 5 bonus tips to try:
- Lose the focus. Try shooting some photos with a shallow depth of field, or deliberately throwing the image out of focus altogether for a neat abstract image.
- Smudge the glass. Applying some nose grease to your camera's UV filter (you could apply it to the lens but that would be a pain to clean up) makes a nice streaky effect with Christmas lights.
- Use flash. If you're a fairly advanced photographer, you can use off-camera flash to light up objects or people while still keeping the Christmas light glow. If you're a newbie, avoid your camera's normal flash because its direct hit of light will wash out the contrast that Christmas lights thrive on.
- Move the camera. If you have the camera on a tripod, you can experiment with zooming in or out during a long exposure to create a neat effect that lends some action to an otherwise still frame.
- Use RAW files. If your camera has the ability to shoot RAW files and your computer can edit them, use it. These huge files allow you to tone down bright spots that may have happened while you were shooting.
So from the team at CBC Hamilton, happy shooting. We can't wait to see your houses, trees and creative spirit this month. Email your photos to firstname.lastname@example.org.