December 2, 2009

Photographing Holiday Lights

When I was a kid, my parents used to bundle up me, my sister and my brother, stick us in the car and drive into town to look at holiday lights. The place where my dad worked always had an elaborate set-up on the front lawn, complete with sound. (But we had to roll down the windows to hear it! Brrrrrr!) If you like to photograph holiday lights, whether indoors or outside, here are some suggestions for better results.

Inside Lights
Indoor photos can be challenging because there is not much light for your camera to make a picture. Usually the camera uses the flash, which gives you a picture but not necessarily the look you wanted. If you want your photo of the decorated tree or holiday dinner table to look as it does when you turn off the room lights, your first step is to turn off the flash.


Indoor photo with flash

With the flash turned off, your camera will take extra long to make the photo. If you are holding the camera, this usually means you get a blurry image. To have a sharp picture without the flash, set your camera on a small tripod or some other sturdy surface during the exposure. Then no matter how long the camera takes to record the scene, it will be sharp.


Indoor photo without flash hand-held

In addition, sometimes when you press the shutter button to take the photo, you wiggle the camera just enough to cause a bit of blur. All cameras have a self-timer feature which creates a delay (usually 10 seconds) between the time you press the button and when the camera actually takes the photo. If you turn on this control, the delay lets the camera stop moving before it takes the image and you get a sharper picture.


Indoor photo without flash, self-timer on, camera on a chair

Outside Lights
These same suggestions apply to taking photos of outside lighting displays.
  1. Flash off.
  2. Camera on a tripod or other support.
  3. Self-timer activated.

Outdoor photo without flash, self-timer on, camera on a tripod
 

Batteries in the Cold
In addition, the cold weather affects your camera's battery, making it appear to go dead before very long at all. The battery is not really expired; it's just too cold to operate. The solution is to carry a spare battery inside your coat, next to your body, to keep it warm. When the first battery quits, swap it for the warm spare battery and keep shooting. Eventually the second battery will quit too, but by that time the original battery should have warmed up. Just exchange the batteries again and keep working. This can go on at least until you get too cold!


Outdoor photo without flash, self-timer on, camera on a tripod
 
So be adventurous this holiday season! Turn off the flash on your camera and make memorable pictures of the pretty lights whether indoors or out!