Here are a few fun ways to get some cool photos featuring your Christmas lights.  You should be able to achieve these effects on any dSLR, and even on many high-end point and shoot cameras if you know your way around the manual settings.

Silhouette Photos

Taking photos of the Christmas tree with the lights on can be really frustrating, because all of the normal rules of exposure don’t totally apply.  You would normally want to choose a higher ISO in such a low-light situation, but we’re going to go with a lower ISO.

Make sure your scene is lit only by the Christmas tree by turning all other lights off.  Set your camera to Manual and choose a lower ISO.  Try using 200, but it’s a good idea to fiddle with the settings, because no lighting situation is created equal.

Then, choose the widest aperture you can.  If you have a 50mm lens, 1.8 should be the lowest f-stop so start with that.

Finally, choose a slower shutter speed, but not too slow.  What works best will depend on the focal length of the lens you are working with, but somewhere between 1/10 and 1/20 should work well.

Here’s a rundown:

Silhouette photos in front of the Christmas tree lights:
1.  Manual mode.
2.  Low ISO.
3.  Large aperture (lowest f-stop number).
4.  Slower shutter speed.

Boken Christmas Light Photos

Bokeh is the background blur that happens in photos shot with a shallow depth of field.  When lights are in the background bokeh, it is especially beautiful.  This first technique is the easiest way to get Christmas light bokeh, but just if the lights are the only thing you are photographing.

For these photos, use Aperture Priority mode (AV) and manual focus.  There should be a switch on your lens to switch it from auto focus to manual.  Then you can control the focus by manually turning the focus ring on the front of your lens.

You will need your aperture to be wide open for these to work.  If you don’t open your lens all the way, you will get hexagon/octagon shaped bokeh.  Using a 50mm lens, open it to f/1.8.  The ISO should be at 800. The shutter speed will be chosen by the camera since you will be shooting in aperture priority, and my camera chose 1/160 for this particular lighting situation.

Here’s a rundown:

Christmas light bokeh with manual focus:11264398984_0ce0b7170b_z
1. Aperture Priority mode.
2. Switch your lens to manual focus.
3. Widest possible aperture (lowest possible f-stop number).
4. Choose an ISO appropriate for your lighting situation.
5. Play with your focus ring until you get the bokeh you like.

Christmas Light Boken in the Background

Christmas light bokeh in the background of actual pictures of your family is pretty cool.

You will want enough natural light for these photos to turn out well.  Try taking these photos with the tree lights on and in the middle of the day.  Have your subject facing a window for natural light.  You will also want to sit your subject fairly far away from the lights, depending on your lens.

Have your camera in Aperture Priority (AV) for these photos, and open your lens as wide as it can go.  Still using the 50mm f/1.8, so 1.8 is the aperture.

Once you have chosen your aperture, choose an appropriate ISO for the lighting.  Even though we were sitting in front of a window, the light was may not be very bright so take the time to play around with the ISO for the best.  My rule of thumb for shutter speed is to not let it go lower than the focal length I am using.  Since I was using a 50mm lens, I couldn’t let the shutter speed go lower than 1/50 without compromising the focus of my photo.  That is how I decided to go with 800 for my ISO–if I had chosen a lower ISO my shutter speed would have been too slow.  Remember the camera is choosing the shutter speed for you, but do watch it to make sure it doesn’t fall too low.

Go ahead and focus on your subject (I like to switch the focus points around for the best possible results) and snap away!  Depending on the lens you are using, you may have to play around with how far your subject is from the lights.  Also, if you are using a zoom lens, you will more easily achieve bokeh in the background if you zoom it all the way in–just make sure you are always shooting wide open.

Here’s a rundown:

Christmas light bokeh in the background of a portrait
1.  Aperture Priority mode.
2.  Situate subject a good distance away from the lights.
3.  Widest possible aperture (lowest possible f-stop number).
4.  Choose an ISO appropriate for your lighting.
5.  Make sure your shutter speed doesn’t fall too low by adjusting the ISO up if necessary.

Now you’re totally ready to go shoot some amazing photos featuring your Christmas lights!


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