Christmas Light Photography

Here are some useful tips for photographing Christmas house lights at night time.

The end of the year when all the Christmas light decorations go up in the street, is a wonderful time for getting out your digital SLR camera and doing night photography.

With Christmas lights flashing and people randomly walking around the decorations, it’s important not to set a too slow of a shutter speed. The last thing you want is a decoration or person seen in your photograph as a slow motion blur. To get around this, you need to keep a low aperture and higher than normal ISO.

Recommended SLR camera settings for Christmas lights at night

  • Use either a macro or an all purpose wide angle lens. A macro is useful if you want to seclude any one ornament or decoration. Where as a wide angle lens is great if you want to get the whole house into the picture.
  • It’s also a good idea to use a tripod, as the shutter speed will be too slow for sharp hand held shots.
  • Set your camera on manual mode with a low as possible aperture f number. For example anywhere between f/2.8 to f/4.6 will be sufficient.
  • For starters set the ISO to 400. Depending on how dark you want the images to be, you can adjust this later on. It’s never recommend going higher than 800 however, due to loss of photo quality the higher the ISO.
  • There are two ways to adjust the shutter speed. Firstly, you can focus the camera at part of the house that isn’t too dark or too light and adjust the exposure. If you’re not sure what I mean by exposure we have a tutorial on it at: How to use manual mode. If you like a darker photograph, then underexpose the settings by around 2 or 3 stops.Or you can take a bit of a punt and initially set the shutter speed to around 1/50th of a second, then adjust it give and take from there. If the photograph seems too dark for your liking, then choose a slower speed (up to say 1/25th of a second). If it’s too light then choose a faster speed. As the night gets darker and light changes you may need to adjust this.

example of Christmas lights photographed at night time

Example of Christmas lights taken at night time 

Digital SLR Camera: Nikon D40
DSLR Lens: AF-S DX Zoom Nikor 18-55mm F/3.5- 5.6 G ED II (kit lens)
Exposure (shutter speed): 0.4 sec (2/5)
Aperture: f/4.5
Focal Length: 31mm
ISO Speed: 200
Exposure Program: manual

Digital SLR Camera settings for photographing Christmas lights

This shot was taken with the camera sitting on a tripod. This helped to avoid blurring due to camera shake. The lowest aperture for this particular lens was f/4.5. The photographer chose an ISO of 200 so he could retain high photo quality and he exposed the shot evenly at 2/5th of a second.

example of Christmas lights photographed with macro lens

Another example of Christmas house lights 

Digital SLR Camera: Canon 400D
DSLR Lens: Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM
Exposure (shutter speed): 1/8th of a second
Aperture: f/2.8
Focal Length: 100mm
ISO Speed: 400
Exposure Program: manual

DSLR Camera settings explained

Again, the camera was on a tripod. However this time, a macro lens was used with the lowest aperture f number for the macro set at f/2.8.

Another useful setting for photographing Christmas lights at night

Put your camera on aperture priority and set the lowest f number your lens will allow, for example f/2.8 up to f/4.6. Again, it’s a good idea to use a tripod.

When using aperture priority, make sure automatic ISO is turned off. You do want to choose this setting yourself, so you can keep it to around 400 ISO.