Photographing Christmas Lights Redo

Note from Scott: I am republishing this post from late November, 2010.  I know information gets buried in blogs and wanted to bring this back up to the top for you all.  

Right about now I am still out doing some Black Friday shopping.  Thought this would be a good time to review how to photograph all the Christmas Light displays from your neighbors to large community celebrations.  You know me, what better place to demonstrate photographing light displays than Walt Disney World.

Lighted bicycles at the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights on the Streets of America city backlots in Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Lighted bicycles at the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights on the Streets of America city backlots in Disney's Hollywood Studios. Nikon D70/18-200VR, 1/4s, f/4, ISO 200, EV +0.3, 28mm Focal Length, Rear-sync Flash at -3 Power.

Notice the Exif data for the above photo.  I was shooting in manual mode to keep the ISO at 200 wiht an aperture of f/4.  I experimented with different shutter speeds and the amount of power on the Nikon SB-600 speedlight.  I settled on a 1/4 second exposure with the flash set to its lowest power setting of -3.  Using the SB-600 in Rear-Sync mode allowed enough time for the camera’s sensor to gather in the colorful lights with the flash filling in the details of the sidewalk and bicycles right at the end of the exposure.  Otherwise, you would only see the bright lights.

Here are some links for more tips on how to get colorful Christmas lights in your holiday photographs:

Photographing Christmas Lights at Disney and Photographing Christmas Lights at Disney II are articles I wrote for which are applicable to photography of all kinds of light displays at any time of the year.

16 Digital Photography Tips for Christmas – A set of tips from the Digital Photography School blog covering parties, children, lights and more.

How to Photograph Christmas Lights by Strobist – Tips from the popular Strobist blog by David Hobby.

This entry was posted in Photography and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Photographing Christmas Lights Redo

  1. lyndajeffersphotography says:

    I love this shot!


  2. Anna says:

    Oh, I really like the lighted bikes! We haven’t truly tried photographing Christmas lights, so maybe this year. I’ll check out those links. I really like this particular theme and it looks good here. Also, the header photo is beautiful!


  3. Karma says:

    I’m taking in the new blog format, and I’m not sure! I don’t have an iPad, so I can’t say from that perspective, but this format seems less “busy.” However, your old format was unique – I never seemed to stumble across another blog that looked like it did. I’m not ready to start thinking about photographing Christmas lights, but I will keep this post in mind when the time comes. Hope your Black Friday shopping is going well!


    • Well, I wasn’t thrilled with giving up the old format. However, keeps coming up with new themes all the time so I will keep my eye out for something better. The iPad is becoming a new tool for pro photographers and for clients. First impressions count, you know. 🙂

      Shopping went very well.


  4. Nye says:

    Scott, if that’s at the store I want to buy it. 🙂 I hope to go out and shop later on today, but by then everything might be gone.

    Thanks for the links and great tips about photographing Christmas lights, this should be fun to do.


  5. Great shot Scott and I also like your new layout for your blog. It looks really good


  6. Kathy says:

    This is a great shot, Scott! Wow! (I really should read some of those links…really should…just after the manual…)


  7. Pingback: View 153: Lights on the Lake | Views Infinitum

  8. Life Normal says:

    Thanks for the links. Your blog is a treasure among the Internet that way.


  9. Patty says:

    Scott, I love your photo above. I was just up at Disney World and saw the Osborne family lights for the first time. I have a Nikon D-90 and an SB-600 Speedlight. I have never tried using the rear sync but will be experimenting with it more. Thanks for sharing.


    • Patty,

      I use rear-sync all the time. Even with faster shutter speeds. You’d be surprised in the difference that makes.


      • Patty says:


        I’ve experiemented with it. Problem is if your shooting in low light condidtions using a slow shutter speed you still need a tripod. Did you use a tripod for your shots?


        • The above photo was taken hand held at 1/4th of a second using the Joe McNally technique called, Da Grip (click the link to learn more about it). Many times I will put my camera in Manual and set the shutter speed to 1/50s, 1/40s or 1/30s and aperture around f/5 to f/8 depending on what I am shooting. Then I use the speedlight’s power setting to control the exposure. I usually start at -1.0 power and use the LCD to see how the photo came out. I’ll increase or decrease the power setting until I get a good exposure. That way you don’t have to use very slow shutter speeds.

          Now, I have also used a tripod for rear-sync as well. I do that for more controlled subjects like a building or portrait: A Monumental Portrait.


  10. Giiid says:

    Bikes should like this at Christmas. Nice idea and nice shot.


  11. Pingback: Photographing Christmas | Views Infinitum

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s