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Lights, camera, action

Lights, camera, action

In case you haven’t noticed, there are holiday lights everywhere, making it a perfect time to dust off the tripod and get outside for a creative holiday photographic adventure.

There are simply no rules when you’re talking about taking snapshots of the sparkling array of lights. Your fancy DSLR (digital single-lens reflex), compact point-and-shoot or cellphone is all you really need.

There are tools that should help with your nighttime adventure: a small flashlight, jacket, tripod and remote cable shutter release.

Flashlight – This is probably my most import helper. Even though there are plenty of Christmas lights against the night sky, your camera just doesn’t come backlighted nor do any of the dials you may need to set for that matter. Even though your camera may have a bright LCD screen, there are plenty of other dials, buttons and switches that are not illuminated. Trust me, cameras are not getting any simpler.

Jacket – Don’t forget this and even an extra sweater as you set out on this excursion. You’ll be standing around waiting for the perfect shot, getting colder and colder. You may consider gloves depending on your location. This is supposed to be fun, so keeping yourself warm is important. A thermos with hot chocolate or coffee is a nice addition to the adventure.

Tripod – If you have a tripod for your camera, be sure to use it here. There are plenty of lights out there but they seem to be getting dimmer, not brighter. The new low-power consumption LED lights seem to need longer exposures. I started by setting my camera at IS0 400; 1/2 second and  f/4. Depending on your lens, you may need to drop down to a full second. It is possible to get some good results as you hold your camera steady but if you want sharp and consistent photographs, I recommend a tripod.

Remote Cable Release – Using a remote cord to fire the shutter really helps with keeping the camera steady.  Without it you really need to be careful as you release the shutter with a soft touch to eliminate any camera shake. Unless your tripod is very steady and your camera is locked down tight, this can be a tall order.

Once I’m out I always like to experiment with my cellphone camera. It amazes me how good the pictures look. My iPhone adds the feature of touching the back of the screen to change the exposure. It usually picks the brightest lights to darken the overall exposure.

Holiday lights are a great time to try a little creative technique. Panning at a long exposure is one of my favorites. You can check out my post from last year “Holidays with a flair,” where I turn the light at the skating rink into a dazzling array of colorful streaks and patterns.

Most importantly, be careful while you are out in the dark, paying more attention to the light than a car full of spectators checking the brilliant displays.

I thinks it’s almost time for my New Year’s resolution. I could probably just use last year’s list. I don’t think I followed up on any of them. Maybe I should make the list shorter.

I would like to wish everyone the best for the holiday season.

Read more reviews and photography tips by Robert Lachman


  1. December 15, 2011, 9:22 am

    […] Lights, camera, action Even though there are plenty of Christmas lights against the night sky, your camera just doesn't come backlighted nor do any of the dials you may need to set for that matter. Even though your camera may have a bright LCD screen, there are plenty of … Read more on Los Angeles Times […]

  2. December 15, 2011, 9:48 am

    […] Photographing Nighttime Holiday Decorations ….My latest post on LA Times Framework […]

  3. December 25, 2011, 8:16 am

    Instead of a cable release (which most compact digitals don't support), you can also set your camera's timer. I usually set the 2-second timer on my tripod-mounted camera, press the shutter button, then remove my hands from the camera.

    By: crouchingbruin
  4. December 11, 2012, 9:34 am

    there is no information about the actual images on this page. where were they taken? who? with which camera? on what setting? on latimes front page, we are directed to click on a picture, and we expect to be directed to a gallery of christmas light photographs. what we get is zero information about the picture we clicked on. its practically a thumbnail. nor do we get a gallery or any information about any of the pictures. instead we get an article about bringing a flashlight with you to take pictures… this page is a disappointing experience.


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