Friday, December 3, 2010

Phun Phriday - Christmas Lights

One bright oasis in a sea of gray, bleak, depressing, wintry days, (did I mention how much I dislike winter???),  is the holiday season with bright, cheery, colorful lights to brighten my mood!  As I mentioned in the last post, I love Christmas lights in all forms, colors and quantities!  But how do you photograph them?

The answer to this question should be a "Tech Talk Tuesday" discussion, except that the only answer I can really say with any certainty is, by trial and error!!  Thank heavens that is a fairly simple task with digital cameras and instant feed back!  Seriously, if you read about how to do this, you will get many different answers.  And my own experience is the same.  There are so many variables to consider.  For example, how much ambient light is there, such as, are you shooting your Christmas tree indoors, or Christmas lights outdoors on a dark night.  Do you want the lights sharp and in focus, or part of a dreaming bokeh background?  Do you want lights to look like lights, or different shapes, or something creative and altogether different?   You just have to experiment and have fun.  So below is my little experiment:

All of these photos were taken with a zoom lens at 200mm,  ISO at 200.  The first two were f/22 for 1.6 seconds and the last two were f/4 at 1/15 second.  I manually focused at different distances to create the different looks.  As you can see, I was going for a soft, dreamy look.  And because some were shot with a slow shutter speed, I used a tripod.   Interesting to see the different effects, shapes, sizes and even colors.  To create beautiful, big bokeh light balls, use a zoom lens and focus on an object close to the camera and your background lights will look similar to these.

Use this effect as a backdrop in a holiday composition you want to shoot, or take a series of bokeh backgrounds for future use.  Then, when your creative juices are flowing, combine two images in Photoshop, add a texture or two and see what happens........


The next image shows another effect that is easy to do.  If you want your lights to turn into star bursts, use the smallest aperture (big number), your lens will allow.  Then make sure you focus on the lights.  I hope you can see the light stars in the following image.  If the lights were bigger, the stars would be bigger.

One more hint.  If you are taking outdoor shots don't wait until the sky is completely dark.  Your lights will look brighter and more colorful, your exposure will be better and the sky will be beautiful when there is still some color in the sky. 
So now it'll your turn.  I would like to see your favorite Christmas light image.  Maybe it is a happy accident like Sandra posted yesterday, or some creative light painting or beautiful bokeh, or blurred action, or maybe it is just a beautiful light display, or your own Christmas decorations.  It is show and tell time, and if you can't decide between your two favorites, post them both!  Follow the directions below to post a thumbnail of your image here with a link to your blog.  P.S.  You can post anytime during the next week.

23 comments:

Sandra said...

i have been checking to see if you posted since i got up at 5 am, and here it is. lots of intersting info as always. I spent an hour this morning playing with settings and with this info will try again tonight just before end of day. i find right at breaking day or dusk the lights inside the house are more dreamy looking which I love. i will be linking, just have to decide WHAT

Sandra said...

forgot to say LOVE LOVE LOVE the fireplace shot.... with or without the stars in the lights.

Light-In-A-Box said...

Very good information Karen!
This year its on my photo to do list to hopefully get some X-Mas lights in the Camera... A tripod I think is pretty much a definate for these low light projects.
Michael

Scott said...

Me thinks you're getting your Phriday Phun mixed up with your Tech Tuesdays ;^) but this was both Phun and techy. Thanks for the good hints. Since I'll be down South for the next several days I'm going to link to yesterday's "Winter Wonderland" instead of dragging out one of last years from Temple Square. Maybe I'll get lucky and get another good one down there.

Scott said...

OOOOps I'm like Sandra, I forgot to say that the Fireplace shot was my favorite too.

joey said...

Love this, Karen. It's always a delight to visit and learn. Happy December :)

Rachel Cotterill said...

Those are so gorgeous - very warming scenes :)

Robin said...

Doesn't the season open up a variety of new things to shoot!
Love that last shot!

justine said...

what a great post, love this and have learnt a lot. I don't have a tree as yet but when I do hopefully I will now get the lighting right.

Denise said...

What a super post Karen. I don't have any Christmas lights up right now or any decorations for that matter, but this weekend I will take a walk around our neighborhood and get some shots to join in. Have a wonderful weekend and thank you for all the great tips.

Cher' Shots said...

Gorgeous mantel piece. Great post.

Lloyd said...

Looks like you and I had the same idea. I kinda like the first shot sometimes OOF works well!

Primes work well for this too.

Lloyd

Thoughtfully blended hearts said...

No Christmas lights shots here but I do love this post...getting the stars from the light is awesome!

ruma said...

The brightness are fantastic impressions.
The leaves have an elegant atmosphere...

ruma

Ginny said...

Wow, how many things you have done with the lights!! All beautiful! I may post a link, I'll have a look on my posts!

diane said...

If you hate winter you should move here. I would be always asking for help with photography. I like your fireplace decorations (no fireplace here). I love reading your hints for photography. I will have to get my Christmas tree out of storage first. Aren't I slack? I tried to take lights on Sydney harbour with a point and shoot.

Fly said...

good information, love to see the difference of bokeh..very nice editing too karen..

bluekat said...

I've been wanting to try some of these. Looks so fun. We just got the tree up, but I use white lights, so I'm hoping the tree & light show downtown, might offer me some more color.

I love the photoshop blend. Works well for backgrounds and textures. Thanks for all the great ideas! :)

Krista said...

These are really fun, Karen! I will have to try that light/star effect!

I LOVE the edit you did with the poinsettia. Simply gorgeous!

Tricia said...

I've been taking pics this evening experimenting w/ the star bursts of the lights & that's really fun - I'll try to post my fav later this week. thanks so much!

Linda Robinson said...

Your photos are wonderful.. I love the Poinsettias with the texture. But I am new with textures and have had some fun playing with them so I just love seeing what others do with them. But your fireplace shot is also beautiful.. Thanks for sharing your tips.. I need all the help I can get..

Hugs, Linda

Lisa RedWillow said...

I love Love this whole post. I missed this one. Glad I came down . Your in a festive mood. Hope it rubs off on me Karen.
Love Love this.

Lisa RedWillow said...

Darn I missed it. Come over and see my Bokeh. Its on glass.