Capturing Christmas Lights


Christmas… it truly is the most wonderful time of the year. From enjoying the scents of a real pine Christmas tree or savoring a cup of hot cocoa to hearing the soft melody of Bing Crosby gently crooning I'll Be Home For Christmas… this time of year brings out a magical and whimsical feeling in us all.

One of my favorite parts of Christmas, aside from seeing the awe and wonder on my kids' faces on Christmas morning, is the lights! The pops of color on my own tree to the vibrant lights strung across the tropical landscape of 30A, the lights truly take center stage.

The biggest question I hear is how to capture the Christmas lights in such a way that evokes that magical feeling. I totally get that shooting at night can be a challenge… so hopefully today some of these tips will help you be able to tell the story you are wanting to tell. 

christmas decoration background palm tree.

Since you will be shooting at night you may need to use a high ISO setting. Keeping the ISO as low as possible will help to reduce the risk of grain. An ISO of 400 is a great starting point, and you can increase it for images that are too dark. 

Shutter speed
A slower shutter speed keeps the camera shutter open for a longer period of time, allowing more light to reach the sensor. Try starting with your shutter speed at 1/50 and adjust it to be lower as needed. If you do not have a tripod available or the photo is too light, you can increase your shutter speed. If you’re using a slow shutter speed you will need to use a tripod to avoid camera shake. For Tripod recommendations, check out this blog post 

A lower aperture setting is recommended to allow more light to enter your camera’s sensor. An aperture between f/2 and f/4.6 can capture the Christmas magic of the twinkling lights…. no matter if you are standing in white sand or white snow while enjoying these sparkling lights. 

blurred light bokeh with coconut palm tree background on sunset, yellow string lights with bokeh decor in outdoor restaurant.

Timing is everything
When you take photos of Christmas lights, it can impact how your photos look. A pitch-black background will offer a different look than capturing lights with a dark blue background, as you would experience during blue hour (the short time just before the sunset). The blue background can make lights look extra vibrant. Just remember, blue hour only lasts for about 10 to 15 minutes before sunset so plan accordingly! {Or as my favorite side-kick, Rich Coleman, would say… just plan to arrive a few minutes early before sunset}

The Magical Bokeh effect
Christmas lights are a great way to experiment with bokeh. To achieve the blurred bokeh effect you will need to use a wide aperture. Start at f/2 and adjust lower to be wider, if needed. Curious to know even MORE about Bokeh? Head to this blog post. 

decoration lights lighting effects background for new year christmas holiday bright and colorful

No matter how you celebrate… from making snow angels to building “sand” snowmen… the magic of the Christmas season can be found everywhere you look. If you find yourself getting frustrated practicing these techniques, remember that enjoying your time practicing is more important that getting frustrated… and with every shot you take and every setting you adjust you are growing in your photography skills…and if you get really stumped, we are just an email away at [email protected]

4 thoughts on “Capturing Christmas Lights”

  1. Thank you David once again for.probiding easy to understand instructions. I’m getting ready to practice that theory later this week, so your blog couldn’t have come at a better time.
    Thank you again, Merry Christmas to you, your family and TPM Team

    1. David Molnar - Your Photography Mentor

      Merry Christmas to you, Patty! I hope you were able to capture the Christmas lights! I would love to see any good shots you had!

  2. I’m just getting started with photography, and that’s purely for the soul, but photographing Christmas lights is pure magic. Yes, you need to deal with the nuances a little, but it’s worth it. I’m not sure if anyone should show their work, but I think Christmas is the time to master a new hobby. Thank you for your good advice!

    1. David Molnar - Your Photography Mentor

      Photographing Christmas lights is pure magic, I agree! It is such a magical time of the year!

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