Tag Archives: photography

Photographing Outdoor (and Indoor) Christmas Lights


It’s the Christmas season.  That means it’s camera time, because you won’t see this much nighttime splashing of color again until July 4, and that’s only if we’re all still around come Mayan dawn on December 21 (remember — those west of the International Dateline get it first).

Taking pictures of Christmas lights requires special care and preparation.  Regular readers of my blog know that I don’t usually advocate taking the camera out of JPEG and shooting in your camera’s Raw format (especially for beginners or those who haven’t the time to fool with post-processing the conversion), but this may be an exception.  The biggest reason for this is White Balance and the transition from incandescent (tungsten) lighting to the newer high-tech LED lights becoming increasingly more common, but more on that in a moment.

Equipment you’ll need:  A camera that allows you to control white balance, and preferably one that allows storing images in Raw format for processing later.  You’ll also need a good tripod.  If you don’t have a tripod, then review my article on Available Light Photography Without a Tripod for tips on how to get around long exposures without camera shake and resulting image blur.  A remote camera release makes things easier, but if don’t have one then just use the time-delay feature on your camera so that your finger is off the shutter release button when the picture is taken.

Camera settings:  Use the highest ISO your camera can handle without giving you too much noise or too little resolution.  The pictures below were taken with a Canon G1 X at ISO 800.  That’s pushing it for most cameras smaller than a DSLR, so my may need to set ISO 400 or lower.  Use Raw format if your camera has that capability.  If it doesn’t, see the White Balance Considerations section below.  Set your camera to Evaluative Metering and the shooting mode to Program — today’s cameras can probably judge the exposure much better than can you, so take advantage of that.  You can try bracketing the exposure, but if you don’t know what that means then forget I said anything about it.

White Balance Considerations:

  • The older style incandescent Christmas lights emit to the eye a rather warm-looking light.  Even the white incandescent lights are actually in the yellow to orange range, but your eye automatically corrects for this which is why they appear white.  When you set your camera’s white balance to the Tungsten setting (often pictorially indicated by a light bulb), the camera takes this into account and corrects the colors accordingly.
  • LED lights have the opposite problem.  They emit cooler light biased toward the blue end of the spectrum.  Older LED systems are the worst offenders, but even the newer “true white” LEDs are not really that close to neutral (defined as sunlight, or about 5200 Kelvin).  Your camera most likely doesn’t have an LED balance.  White Fluorescent will get you close, but Raw and manually setting the white balance in post-processing is the real answer to getting the best looking color.

Below are three different white balance settings of the same image.  The image itself is rather challenging in that the left-side lights are incandescent and very warm in color, and the right-side LED lights are far into the blue spectrum.  The top picture is incandescent balanced using the camera’s default Tungsten setting.  Note how blue the LEDs are as a result.  The picture on the in the middle was manually balanced by me to neutralize the blue tint of the LEDs.  I did this by setting the color temperature to 6800 K (Kelvin).  How do I know that this setting is LED-neutral?  Check out the now tint-free aluminum foil encasing the fountain.  The problem here, however, is that now the incandescent lights are horrendously in the red.  Check out the rock wall behind and the cement on the driveway to see what I mean.  The trick in post-processing is to find a happy medium, which is represented by the last example set to 4800 K.  The blue tint has returned to the foil, and red is slightly in evidence on the light reflected off the wall and driveway to the left, but both are now much closer to acceptable and the colors between these two very dissimilar light sources are much more in harmony as a result.  As always, click on an image to view it enlarged:

Tungsten Balance

LED Balance 6800K

Compromise Balance 4800K

Another white balance tip:  Sometimes balancing incandescent bulbs to true white appearance doesn’t look quite right.  Sometimes, you want a slightly warmer appearance.  In these cases, take your pictures with the camera set to Tungsten, but add a little warmth in the color balance later to warm up the lights should they appear too cool.  Below is an example of that.  The picture at top is technically “balanced,” but it’s rather stark and cold looking.  The lower image has been warmed up a bit, and is much more visually appealing.

Technically Correct Balance

Visually Appealing Balance

One more tip:  Many of the techniques used here for outdoor lights will also work quite well for those indoor Christmas Tree shots.  Just make sure you turn down other room lighting so as to not distract from the tree lights.

But enough of the technical stuff.  Now let’s just enjoy the show from this year’s Christmas lighting displays:

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Fun Photo Friday — Almudena Cathedral and Royal Palace Favorites


The Lamppost

I hate selfies. Nobody knows how to take them, especially when incorporating the portrait in a tourist shot. Additionally, nothing gets my goat faster than some idiot with a selfie stick ruining my composition because they insist upon standing in front of the best view while holding that stick high above his head. If you must take a shot of others in your group, compose the shot while remembering the rule-of-thirds, snap the picture quickly, and get the heck out of everyone else’s way. Remember, the people in our group are secondary to the scenery:

Dolores and Earl Daniels posing with Ursula

That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun, though:

Ursula standing guard

Here is today’s gallery/slide show:

So concluded our tour of Madrid. Next up is a tour of the Norwegian Epic as we board the first of two cruise ships on our back-to-back voyages. But next week I’m going to take a break from this trip and rerun some holiday articles on Christmas lights and how to photograph them, as well as present my annual Christmas poem written in the style of Edgar Allan Poe and a Christmas detective short story written in the style of Mickey Spillane. If you enjoy those, you might want to check out some of my murder mysteries for that new Kindle or Nook eReader you got under the Christmas tree.

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Madrid — Day 3; the Royal Palace of Madrid


Royal Palace of Madrid

A short stroll across the Plaza de la Armeria takes you from the Almundena Cathedral to the Palacio Real de Madrid (Royal Palace of Madrid). Looking back toward the cathedral from southeast corner of the palace grounds, just outside the gates to the courtyard, will give you this view of the cathedral:

Almundera Cathedral as viewed from the Royal Palace

The Royal Palace is an incredible complex that has been a work in progress for around 1,000 years. The site began as a fortress. Following various military battles and changing of hands, the palace really began to take shape in 1735 after the original structures were destroyed by fire. Today it looks like this:

Royal Palace of Madrid

You can spend quite a while photographing the exterior details:

Royal Palace of Madrid

Royal Palace of Madrid

Royal Palace of Madrid

But you’ll also want to step inside. Above the grand staircase is a magnificent fresco created by Italian Rococo painter Corrado Giaquinto:

Royal Palace of Madrid

Other sights you’ll find inside the Royal Palace of Madrid:

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Filed under Photography, R. Doug Wicker, travel, vacation