Capturing Holiday Lights With Your Digital Cameraby Anita Cross
nce you've done your homework, you're ready to go out and meet the challenge head on. Be sure to keep it fun, and go home if you get too cold.
If your schedule permits, and the weather cooperates, start out early on a weekday. There will be fewer cars (with headlights on) driving through these neighborhoods.
Early in December and the week after Christmas are also less crowded than the week before. However, not all the displays will be lit after Christmas, so plan accordingly.
Experience is the best teacher, so plan on several trips during the holiday season. Your first attempts of bright lights on a dark background will probably be disappointing, but don't be discouraged. You're sure to see continued improvement from your first photos to your last.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Turn Off Your Flash!. Unless you're taking pictures of your kids with the lights in the background, you don't need the flash. In fact, using the flash will drain your battery faster.
- Set Your Camera's ISO. It may be convenient to use a high ISO setting, but digital cameras produce noise in the images at the higher settings. I prefer the lowest setting, 100 ISO on my camera. This setting requires longer shutter speeds, so use a tripod and remote shutter release to prevent movement. If you don't have a tripod and remote shutter release and you must use a faster ISO speed, don't worry about it. You'll still learn just as much from the experience, although you may find the pictures don't print well larger than snapshot size.
- Use Manual Mode. If your digital camera has a manual mode, use it. Set your Aperture to F8.0, or higher (larger number). Adjust the shutter speed for optimum exposure of each scene. It may help to set the image size to the smallest setting, and take a few test shots to find the best exposure setting. Then set the image size back.
- Experiment With Composition. Try different angles by moving to the left or the right of the scene. Use your zoom lens as little as possible. For close ups, move as close as practical, and only then zoom in if you're too far away. And remember to use the "rule of thirds" to make things more interesting.
- Keep Your Camera Warm. Electronics are affected by the cold, so keep your camera in a warm place under your jacket as you walk around, lens cap on to protect the lens. Your camera battery will last longer, too.
- Bring a friend. Besides the fact it isn't always safe to be out alone at night, your friend can stay in the car with the engine and heater running as you step out to take a few shots. When you get back in the car, both you and your camera can warm up before the next stop.
Perhaps the most important tip of all: Take time to just enjoy what you see. Let the emotions of the moment flood over you. Then try to capture that feeling as well as the holiday lights.