There's a couple of options here depending on what you want to capture, whether you want the lights to have a "starburst" affect to make them sparkle more, or whether you are happy just catching the lights. Either way, to get the lights sharp and clear it's your aperture again that is the main factor. Instead of using the lower aperture number (widest aperture) you need to close it up by using a higher F Stop.
Here's a picture of my christmas tree (If you have a beautifully decorated tree this would look lots better!) As you can see instead of having bokeh, each light is sharp and clear and looks like it is sparkling, with lots of individual starbursts of light.
Settings: F22 / ISO 1600 / 32 seconds
Here's how to do that.
- Set your camera to AV (aperture priority) or Manual Mode.
- Select a small aperture (Larger number) - around F18 to show the lights as "starburst" effects.
- Your ISO will need to be quite high as the light levels will be very low. I was using 1/1600 here.
- Ideally you want just your tree lights lighting the room, so turn off all the other lights.
- As you are letting in a lot less light into the camera, you will have a slower shutter speed so a tripod is essential. (If you do not own a tripod, you can try setting the camera on top of a table or chair) This photo was 32 seconds (yes, half a minute!) so you definitely need to have something for the camera to rest on.
- You will need to focus on something that has contrast, like the edge of the lights.
- If any of the lights are flashing, this won't work - you need the lights to be steady.
- If you are looking to photograph your children next to the tree with this type of starburst affect you might be able to pull it off, but your children would need to stay very, very, very still - the slightest movement will cause blur as your shutter speed will be so low (I would crank up my ISO to get faster shutter speed if I was doing this) You can turn it into a game if you think you might just be able to pull it off. (Absolutely no chance for me - didn't even attempt it!)
(Photo by Strobist.Blogspot)
- If you are looking to photograph homes that have been decorated for Christmas, the same idea applies. You will probably not want so much of the starburst affect, so you can lower the aperture number but you will probably need this around F8. The most important factor to getting this right is to wait until the correct time of day - around or just after sunset. You don't want it to be too light, but you definitely don't want to wait until it's totally dark. You'll probably only get about a half hour window (if that) when the light is just right.
There is a great tutorial on photographing christmas lights over at Strobist which is particularly helpful for photographing houses with their christmas lights, so rather than reinvent the wheel I'm going to send you over there to take a look. You can do this with a point and shoot too - they even have a video tutorial so I recommend giving it a look if you are interested in photographing lights.
It's nice to photograph something different for a change so give it a go if you have the time!
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