Tips For Photographing Holiday Lights


It’s that time of year when the night skies are lit up, not by a full moon or aurora borealis, but by the twinkle of holiday lights adorning houses, utility poles and municipal buildings.

Photographing holiday lights isn’t always the easiest thing to do, especially if one is working with sub-par photographic equipment.

Professional photographer Dave Tavani, of Philadelphia, shared some tips on how to ensure that the images captured are worth sharing.

The type of camera used makes a difference, he said. Tavani prefers the use of SLRs, or single lens reflex cameras, the type typically used by the pros, or at least those with a more serious interest in photography.

SLRs offer more options for changing how the picture is being taken, but most of today’s point and shoot cameras some sort of manual or preset options too.

One of the best ways to ensure a quality photograph is to turn your camera to the “manual” setting, Tavani said.

“What you would want to do is underexpose,” Tavani said, highlighting one of the most important aspects of nocturnal photography. “Light meters try to give you a middle-of-the-road gray tone. If you’re taking shots of your house, you will get a brighter image than you want, so your lights are going to be way overexposed.”

For the amateur photographer without a light meter or the knowledge or desire to change the F-stop or shutter speed of the camera, light is controlled by the subject of the picture, its lighting and the flash on the camera.

One of the most important things to do is to make sure the flash is turned off. Most, if not all, cameras offer that option.

“That (leaving the flash on) will completely wash out the contrast between the light and dark,” Tavani said.

Another tip is to mount the camera on a tripod. With less light to take the picture, a camera will automatically leave its lens open longer to capture the light it needs to take the picture, but it also means any movement will show up as a blur.

The tripod helps to prevent shakiness, which, in turn, will cut down on the production of blurry images, Tavani said.

Sometimes, it’s OK to have blurry images of things like holiday lights, Tavani said. He’s been known to take his share of blurrier shots.

But this is usually done on purpose, he said, and the goal is one of artistic creation.

“One of the things I like to do is blur things on purpose,” he said.