Tips from Photographer Kim Hill: Ideas for taking great pictures of Christmas lights
Interview by Jess Gordon
While looking at some of my photos of last year’s Christmas tree, I remembered that I had read a really helpful article by Kim Hill in the December 2006 issue of DST Insider (newsletter of digishoptalk.com). Actually, there were lots of great tips from several photographers in that issue, but my favorite part was this section about how to photograph your Christmas tree. Here are the tips from Kim as they appeared in that article:
I like to use a tripod for the camera, but you could also just set the camera on a stable surface if you don’t have a tripod. Once you find the angle of the tree that you like the best, turn off all other lights in that room and any adjoining rooms where household lights may interfere. Then I set the camera to the bulb or manual setting and adjust for a long exposure – bracketing in increments of a 5 seconds. Last year, I took several shots of my tree until I had one where the lights appeared to have a star-like look to them. The setting I found that created this appearance was ISO 100 at F22 for 30 seconds.
I tried these tips last year and I’m so happy with the results – click here to see a page I made with my photo of last year’s tree. I recently contacted Kim, and she was nice enough to answer some more questions I had about how to take photos of Christmas lights, I think you’ll appreciate what she shared…
Firstly, could you tell us a bit about your photography background and experience?
Photography has been a love of mine for over 20 years. My parents gave me my first 35mm camera, a Pentax K1000, on my 16th birthday. I went on to college at Fashion Institute of Technology and then started assisting a wedding photographer for a couple of years. After moving across the State, I started up my own wedding photography business which kept me busy for about 8 years. Hubby and I moved again, and started a family, so my photography business was put on hold for a number of years. Then in 2005, I got the itch to start up again. At that time, I made the decision to switch to all digital format and set up a home studio where I have been working ever since.
What are your top three favorite ideas for photos of Christmas lights?
(1) Set up a small display of your favorite ornaments. Try nestling them in a base of pine branches wrapped in lights.
(2) Using a tripod, set up your camera fairly close to the tree and zoom in on just one ornament. Have a couple of the tree lights pointing toward it so you can get some glow and look for interesting reflections of other ornaments on the tree.
(3) Outdoor lighting displays can look really nice if you photograph them right around sunset. You’ll still get the glow of the tree lights, but will also get a beautiful color to the surrounding sky.
What are some common mistakes to avoid when taking photos of Christmas lights? Any other ideas or pointers for us?
I think a lot of people want to get a picture of their tree with the lights glowing, but don’t want the yellow color cast. If you have a DSLR, you can set the white balance to Tungsten which will help a bit. After you’ve captured the image, you could address any additional color cast concerns by using software such as Photoshop or Lightroom to make some adjustments.
A tripod or other stable surface is really an invaluable tool to capturing that beautiful glow. If you try handholding the camera, your image will be blurred.
Using a flash will give you a crisp look, but the glow from the tree lights will be lost. So remember to turn off the flash.
If you have a built-in timer, use it. This will keep your camera from capturing that little bit of shake when you would normally press the shutter release.
Keep in mind that there is not one perfect setting for your camera. Each situation will have a unique lighting situation which you will need to experiment with to find the exposure that works best for your desired result.
I got great results following your instructions for photographing Christmas tree lights, even though I have a simple point and shoot digital camera. Do you have any other good tips for those of us who don’t have digital SLRs?
Since each camera is different, you’ll need to read your instruction manual to see if you can turn off the flash or change the ISO, shutter speed, etc. Even with a point and shoot camera, some of the tips I posted above can be applied. If you can, turn off the flash. Set the camera on a stable surface or tripod and use the timer so there is no shake from pressing the shutter release button.
Thanks so much Kim!! I think I’m ready to go take some photos .
If you’d like to know more about Kim Hill, her photography, and her digital scrapbooking sites, please be sure to check out the links below!
Owner and Designer, CG Essentials
Owner, DigiScrapping Tutorials
Designer, A Cherry on Top
Blog, A Day in the Life of Kim
Photos by Kim Hill