Christmas lights are so magical in person, but they can often look lackluster in a still photograph. When I photographed my DIY Monogram Wreath, I was determined to make it shine. I wanted my photo to have more movement with rays of light radiating out from each bulb on my marquee light. You know, a little twinkle!
Let me start by saying I am not a photography expert. I take all the photos for this blog, and get most my experience just trying to bring you the best possible pictures of my projects. I still have a lot to learn. I am always working to improve my photography skills and one way I do that is to try to teach myself tricks like the one I have to share with you today. Periodically, I set aside time to play with the settings on my camera to get different effects.
To show you how this trick works, I am going to show you the good, the bad, and the ugly…photos straight out of my camera. When you are learning photography tricks…lots of bad pictures are bound to happen. They are mistakes to learn from. Below are unedited photos straight from my camera to illustrate how the f/stop and shutter speed affects the twinkling of the lights.
I took these photos with my camera on a tripod just before sunset with a cable release (you could also use a remote or self-timer to avoid shaking the camera when you press the shutter).
On my first attempt, my camera was set to f/5.6 and a shutter speed of 1/15. Besides it being too dark, it also had no twinkle.
Then, I increased my f/stop to f/16 with the same shutter speed of 1/15. Now, my picture was really dark and still no twinkle. The picture came out dark, because the shutter speed was too fast (not a long enough exposure at a high f/stop).
Then, I kept my f/stop at f/16 and changed my shutter speed to 20.0 (20 second exposure). The result had some twinkle, but with such a slow shutter speed letting in a lot of light, the picture was completely blown out.
Finally, the winning combo was f/16 with a 6.0 shutter speed (6 second exposure). With the high f/stop and slow shutter speed, I was able to capture the rays of light radiating from each bulb.
After messing with my settings for a few minutes, I figured out the trick to twinkle lights. To get rays of light in your photos, you need to use:
- High F/Stop
- Slow Shutter Speed
- Take the photo at the golden hour (hour after sunrise or hour before sunset, when ambient light is equal to the lights you are photographing)
- Use a tripod and a cable-release/timer/remote to avoid shaking the camera
Was my last picture perfect? No. Remember, I am not an expert, but I was able to figure out the technique I was after. I had to edit my picture to try to correct the white balance. The Christmas lights I was photographing were Warm White LED lights. My camera, like most, has white balance settings for incandescent, sun, shade, fluorescent, but not LED lights. I selected the WB setting that looked best on the camera, but the lights still came out a bit orange. You can see the fully edited photo at the top of the post.
Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving! I love you all very much, but I plan to take the next two days off from posting. I am looking forward to a long, relaxing weekend cuddling up with my family. I hope you get to do the same. Oh, and lots of Christmas decorating. I can’t wait to try this twinkle light photo trick on the Christmas tree! I hope you have a chance this holiday season to try this trick when photographing your Christmas lights.
Thank you! I am guessing you just saved me a lot of time in the future with these tips. I love taking photos but never had the time to play with the settings on my camera or actually take a photography class. Your examples above are a true testament that I need to take the time… Happy Thanksgiving – glad you are taking time off to be with your family. And I look forward to seeing the pictures of the twinkling lights on your Christmas tree!!!
Thank you for that helpful tip! When I first started following your blog I thought that you had hired a photographer for your pics since they look so professional. Have a Happy Turkey Day with your fam and a wonderful four day weekend (as we call it in the corporate world) ;0)
Albuquerque Real Estate Sales says
Thank you very much for the tutorial! You just saved me a lot of trial and errors by giving us the camera settings. Love you how you showed the results per camera combo too! Happy thanks giving!
Laura @ The Turquoise Home says
Love this tip, Jackie! I had so much fun taking pictures of my tree tonight. :) I’ll be sharing some on Tuesday and I’ll tell everyone where I learned my awesome night-time tree photography skills!