Holiday Scenes & Portraits

The holidays are here, and no matter what you celebrate, you’re sure to enjoy photographing holiday lighting displays. Here are some easy tips to make good exposures.

1. Use a tripod. Tripods make almost every image better, but for night and low-light indoor exposures, they’re essential. If I don’t have a tripod, I’ll settle for resting my camera on an available surface, like the hood of my car atop my camera bag. Doing that, though, requires extra care—like following Tip 2.

2. Use a cable release. Miniscule camera shakes become huge blurs when photographing holiday lights. With a cable release, you don’t have to touch your camera to shoot. Failing that, the self-timer can circumvent camera shake in an equally effective—if slightly more time- consuming—way. (And if your camera has a mirror-lockup function to further minimize shake, put it to use.)

3. Shoot at just the right time. For outdoor photos of holiday light displays, the sun sets early this time of year, making it more convenient to shoot when the sky is perfect—just past sundown when the sky still glows a deep blue. It looks amazing juxtaposed with a bright lighting display.

4. Pick the perfect white balance. Avoid auto and experiment with presets (like daylight or tungsten) to find your favorite. Early-evening skies may require a daylight preset for an accurate color, while late-night scenes may look better balanced for tungsten bulbs. With white- light subjects, photographing a neutral-gray card makes the most accurate custom color balance possible.

5. Choose Aperture-priority mode. A narrow aperture like ƒ/16 or ƒ/22 creates starburst effects out of pinpoint light sources. Set the aperture to at least ƒ/16 and let the camera determine the shutter speed. Be careful not to blow out the high-lights or you’ll never get them back.

For low-light portraits mixing flash and ambient lighting like the image here, you’ll want to use a larger aperture to soften the background and get the most out of the available light. Either use your camera’s night portrait mode, if available, or remember to dial down your flash intensity to balance it with the ambient light.

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