How to Photograph Christmas Lights and Energy

For many, the Christmas Season can be the most joyful beautiful time of the year. But for all of us living up in the northern climates this time of year can also be the most cold, brutal, challenging time of the entire year to get out and photograph. So with that in mind, how do you capture the lights, the energy and the joy of the Christmas season especially without losing fingers and toes?

In this article we will be giving you some great ideas for how to do it, how to stay warm doing it and how to get some great results along the way.

Get out in the Weather

Believe it or not, with just a little bit of preparation you can easily get out in the weather and photograph the beautiful lights and people running to and fro all around you.

How to photograph Christmas Lights and Energy


Have the right clothes

Pull out all of your warm winter clothes. Bring out your parka, your hats, your boots all the things you wore when you went out as a kid.  Yep it’s okay to look like the Abominable Snowman when you’re out photographing this time of year.  In fact, you will be glad you did.

How to photograph Christmas Lights and Energy

One little tip be sure to bring hand warmers and or toe warmers for those really cold days.  By using this little trick you’ll be able to stay out in the most brutal weather and stay comfortable and warm.



Don’t be too warm

Keep in mind while you’re out shooting, you’re actually working hard and believe it or not you will be quite warm both because you’re burning up energy, but you are also excited about capturing all the beauty of the Christmas season

Protecting your Camera

Cold weather can be very hard on the batteries on your cameras. What will actually happen your camera will use up batteries very quickly while you are out in the cold weather. What you can do to fix that is keep your camera warm by either wearing it inside your coat or secondly use a hand warmers on your camera.  I know it sounds weird but it can indeed prolong the life of your battery.

You don’t really have to worry about your camera I’m being out in the cold. Most cameras can handle the weather pretty well.  Get out and shoot in the weather and just see how your camera performs.

Capture the Warmth

By this concept of, capture the warmth of the season,  what I am referring to is using white balance adjustments on your camera.  By setting these you can warm up the light or add more yellow to the light which warms up the scene.

How to photograph Christmas Lights and Energy

Capture the Warmth by Adjusting the White Balance Settings

All you have to do is take a few test shots after adjusting the white balance on your camera and see the results you’re getting all the pictures looking more golden and warm if so you found the right spot.  You can do that with either the factory settings four different types of light on your camera or you can I just white balance manually also.

You can also just shoot these images in camera RAW and make these adjustment to white balance in post-production.  Many will argue for capturing the image correctly at the beginning to reduce post production work that is fine.  You will find your balance.  The point here is knowing you can make these adjustments and they can make a huge difference to your final image.

See this article on What is White Balance and Why Should I Care.

Capture the Lights

The Christmas season is significantly about all the lights you see everywhere. So how do you capture those lights in interesting ways?

Blurred Lights

How to photograph Christmas Lights and Energy

Narrow Depth of Field Creates Magical Christmas Bokeh

Use a narrow depth of field to put the lights out of focus and have a subject in front of the lights.  This type of shot makes for magic and people really love them.

Star Lights

A second great way to capture Christmas lights is to turn them into stars.  To do that, use a longer exposure on the lights with a higher F stop and make the lights turn into beautiful stars.  An F stop above 15 with a 15 second or so exposure starts making your lights into stars.  See golden warm image above for example of star lights.

This is another technique that people respond to very well. They really love images with that type of magical feel.  For more details on how to make star lights, check out the video How to Use My Camera ~ Setting Aperture Priority.

Capture the People You Love

Often times the most difficult thing to do is capture the people this time of year.

Setting up a large group family photo is challenging from a people perspective.  Try to get a bunch of people happy all at the same time.  But it’s also exceedingly challenging from a technical photography perspective.  Here are a couple of ideas for resolving those issues.

Capture your loved ones in Photo Journalistic Style

To do this just have your camera with you for the entire Christmas season and just snap your loved ones while doing the things they love to do.  These images are not contrived and they often produced some of the most memorable images of your loved ones.   Try to remember not to just focus on the most photogenic easily captured individuals.  Try to be “Fair and Balance” as you capture the crowd.

Create a quick fun family photo

Being large groups can be so difficult one way to make that easier is to capture the group in a funny situation as opposed to a boring serious one.

How to photograph Christmas Lights and Energy

 Merry Christmas from all of us to all of you ~ Silly Ugly Sweater Fun

Use a Tripod and Timer

But even if you do that, there are few techniques that you have to keep in mind to capture the image well. First of all use a tripod and camera timer to set up the shot.  That way you’ll be able to shoot the shot in a darker condition and still get great focus and you’ll probably be able to be in the shot also.

Use a Flash

Most likely you will need to use some type of flash or lighting to light up the situation a bit because this time of year its darker in general and you often times need to add some light.  If all you have is the on camera built in flash, try some methodology for reflecting that light up into the ceiling or over to the walls so it’s not going directly on your subjects making for very harsh light.

Increase your F Stop

You will have to use a larger F stop like F 11 to try to make sure most of your subjects are in decent focus. That will cause your camera to get less light to the sensor so you’ll need your shutter to be open for a longer time or you’ll need to turn up the ISO so that your sensor is more sensitive.  This is another reason why you will want to be using the tripod.

See the article on how to capture large family photos for more details on this subject.


So I hope this article has encouraged you to have that camera out an available and capture the warmth and energy of the Christmas season.  When you get some of these great shots be sure to share them with us,   we love to see your work.

You have more questions don’t hesitate to ask our job is to help you learn and grow and improve in your photographic adventures.

Other Resources:

Check out this video “How to Use My Camera, Shooting in Aperture Priority Mode“.  That will help you dramatically improve your a architecture photography.

Remember your first 1 million pictures are your worst so get out and shoot so that you can learn by experimenting. There is no way to make mistakes or do it wrong, this is all learning by experimenting so have fun and shot.

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Until next time, get out and capture the adventure!!


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Written by Wayne Moran - Visit Website