Learn to take great photos


There are wonderful holiday light displays in almost every town in the world. You can easily find a light show in your area by Googling for "holiday light shows" and including the name of your area.

Holiday light shows make for a fantastic nighttime photographic opportunity. There are all kinds of over the top, colorful, joyful and just totally fun displays out there for the photographing.

Most of the shows light up just as night is falling and that is a good time to get there when there is still a bit of light in the dusky blue sky. Dress warmly and plan to stay as long as you can.

Shooting after dark requires some experimentation. Because shooting after dark requires long exposure times you need to be concerned with supporting your camera and holding it steady.

Use a tripod or other camera support

Support is the key to success for nighttime photography. A good, sturdy tripod will make shooting at night much easier. Using a tripod keeps your camera steady. The only motion you will be concerned with will be the motion of your subject not camera shake.

If you are shooting a drive through light show from your car and cannot use a tripod then a beanbag support works great. There are beanbags designed just for window support, too. You can get a good beanbag from the camera shop for under $20 or make your own. All you need is a bag and some filling. You can use a Ziploc bag in a pinch. You can fill your bag with dried grain, beans, peas, rice, foam peanuts, sand or anything similar. You can buy a 5 lb bag of rice at the grocery store for about $3 and you are ready to go!

If you don't have a tripod or a bean bag try a rolled up towel or sweater.

Use a cable release or the self timer

When you are making long exposures you will shake the camera a bit when your finger presses the shutter button. This will give you blurry pictures even when your camera is on a tripod. The answer to this problem is to use a cable or remote release to trigger the shutter. By using a remote release you are not touching the camera at all. If you don't have a remote release use the camera's self timer release mode.

Use your flash if you are within 15'

If you are close to your subject you can try using your flash. This can be a big help getting sharp photos. Just remember, flash does no good if you are far away from your subject. Using a flash in a big outdoor scene is pointless.

White balance and the color of light

You will probably be dealing with many different colors of artificial light in your scene. Try setting your white balance to Auto which is likely to give you the best results. If Auto isn't working for you try Flash white balance which is normally a little on the cool and neutral side and well suited for night shots.

How to meter

If there is still light in the sky then meter off the sky and set your exposure accordingly. When we say "light in the sky" we mean there is still some dusky blue color that you can see. If the sky is black then there is no light in the sky.

Metering outdoor nighttime scenes after there is no light in the sky can be tricky because you may have large areas of black dark with relatively small, bright lights. Use matrix metering and take some test shots.

Check for blown out highlights by looking at your camera's blinking highlight warning in your test shots. Some extremely bright lights like headlights are going to blow out no matter how what you do.

Ideas about camera settings

Use a small aperture like f/11 to f/22 to keep everything in sharp focus.

Is your subject in motion? Are there animated lights? If there is motion then you have to decide how you want to photograph it. For colorful streaks of light use a very slow shutter speed.

Higher ISOs can give you faster shutter speed but it is a balance. High ISOs and long exposure times both will contribute to noise in your photos.

If you try to focus on the dark, blackness then your camera will hunt for focus without locking. Focus on an area or edge of contrast to get a focus lock.

Go take some pictures!

Beginning the day after Thanksgiving there are Christmas parades, tree lighting ceremonies, light shows, retail displays and a myriad of other holiday celebrations and light shows. Get out there and take some photos! We would love to see your photos so please post a couple on our Facebook page www.facebook.com/learntotakephotos or in the student forum.


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