See the Light.
Prepare for “Magic Time.”
Camera: You can use the technique explained in this article with either a point-and-shoot or DSLR digital camera.
Scout your shooting position: Spend a few evenings looking for the best position to shoot digital photos of outdoor Christmas lights and watch how the lights and the fading ambient changes.
Set-Up for Success.
Make sure to set up your equipment while the sun is still above the horizon.
Turn your Christmas lights on early.
Use a tripod because during your magic time, your shutter speed will probably be at one-quarter to a few seconds. You’ll also want a remote shutter release device, so your finger on the camera body release won’t move the camera.
Spend some time finding the best framing and focus. The best angle is usually low, so there is plenty of sky, especially that part of the sky where the last sunlight can be seen. You may even want to take a few test shots when the light is not yet right, so you know that you like the framing and focus.
It’s very important to set the white balance correctly. Use the “tungsten” setting because your outdoor Christmas lights are tungsten-balanced just like regular indoor light sources. In the tungsten setting, the barely lit sky will become a beautiful blue and the Christmas lights will look more crystalline.
Capture the Magic.
Now, that you’re ready, you want to take test shots every 30 seconds to a minute, so you’ll know when those magic 10 minutes begin.
Don’t trust your eyes because they will adjust as the light fades. Instead, observe how the Christmas lights become more in balance with the low ambient sunlight by looking through your viewfinder after each digital photo you take.
Once you reach the beginning of “magic time,” take as many images as reasonably possible. There will probably be some pictures you’ll discard, but don’t waste time doing that during magic time.
Look for a composition with snow or ice in the foreground that includes a reflection of the Christmas lights.
Professional photographers and movie directors know that the two best times of the day to shoot is during dawn and dusk. They call those few minutes “magic time.” Dusk is the most magically time to take digital photos of outdoor Christmas light displays. Don’t make the mistake of the rank amateur and try to shoot your Christmas lights when it’s totally dark. You can expose for the lights, but they’ll just appear as a series of colorful dots with no other details in your pictures. Recognizing “magic time” is only the first secret you’ll learn in this article about capturing the wonder and color of Christmas lights.
The secret to magic time and amazing digital photos of Christmas lights is to know when the continuous ambient (or existing) light is balanced with the fading ambient light. The Christmas lights are considered continuous ambient light, while the fading ambient light occurs from sunset to the total dark of night. For approximately 10 minutes, those two sources of ambient light will combine in a magical way, and that’s when you must be ready to take as many digital photos as possible.
Photo copyright PhotographyTalk member Peggy Sue Zinn
With these tips, you’ll capture amazing digital photos of your Christmas lights, and your neighbors will be envious.