How to Take Better Photos of Festive Lights

Tis the season to be jolly… until you find yourself running out of memory from failed snaps with nothing but blurriness instead of the magical lighting that’s everywhere.

The Christmas lights are lighting up the high streets, shop fronts are glowing in fairy lights, your own living room has, or will have, its gloriously lit Christmas tree, maybe some fairy lights around the mirrors, and colourful decorations abound.

All the things that make the season fun, good-spirited and brings on the festive cheer. The perfect environments for snapping fun pictures of the entire family, spending time together going out and doing the things we love.

  • Seeing a festive movie at the cinema
  • Christmas shopping
  • After dinner mince pies and snowman shaped gingerbread
  • And if you like to travel, there’s going to be plenty of fairs and markets to visit with loads of hand-crafted goodies on the go, most with festively lit and decorated stalls.

Whether you get out and about, or you’re shooting the festive photos indoors with loads of artificial lighting around, there are a few tweaks you’ll need to make to digital cameras and the one on your smartphone to account for the additional lighting.

How to Take Photos of Lights that Won’t Blur

  1. Take Photos of Outdoor Christmas Lights before it Goes Dark

It’s no secret that Christmas lights look great when the lights are down. In the dark though, your camera can only shoot the lights because the objects they’re on, be it your entire house lit up, Christmas trees or the lights lining the high streets… when it’s dark, you’ll get photos of blurry lights with nothing in the background.

The best time to take photos of lights outdoors is around dusk, just as daylight’s winding down.

You can put whatever area you’re in into Google to search the phrase “when is dusk in ___” (without the quotes) and it’ll give you an estimate of the time of day for dusk in that area. For most of the UK, dusk is before 5 pm.

If you’re out shopping, around 4:30 pm is when to be at the spots with the lights you want to capture, whether it’s just the lights or the family in front of Christmas trees, or the kids at a lit-up Santa’s Grotto or playing in a massive snowdome under fairy lights.

Photograph the lights at dusk, and you’ll get low daylight with maximum visuals of the lights with the objects in the background instead of lights floating on nothing.

  1. Use the F/8 Aperture Setting

Image quality is controlled with your camera’s aperture setting. The f/8 setting tends to give a good balance of light. Not letting in too much, but just enough to limit image degradation. The lower the number is in your aperture setting, the more light it’s going to let in. Go higher, and it’ll start to filter the light.

  1. Lower the ISO Setting

Set your camera’s ISO to 400 as that’s not too sensitive to light. If you find your photos are still being taken darker than you want them, you can increase it, but you’d be sacrificing image quality. What to try instead is decreasing your camera’s shutter speed. What to be aware of on a slow shutter speed setting is your pictures will be more sensitive to motions. Anything that moves in the scene will likely turn out blurry. Essentially, you could swap blurry lights to blurry people if they won’t stand still. Although for people moving in the background you don’t want, the blurriness can help the people in your photos stand out better.

Don’t forget…

Check is to see if you have Tungsten, sometimes called incandescent white balance on your camera. Most festive lights are incandescent lighting so using this setting will help balance the lights you’re taking, avoiding (in most cases) blurred lighting.