Light up the (holiday) night

When I was growing up, my family would have a Christmas tree every year (albeit a fake one), but we never had a tradition of putting up any holiday lights. But secretly I wished we did and always marveled at the homes that had them. To this day, I love looking at the holiday lighting displays around my neighborhood and put up a fair to middlin’ one myself.

There are a few tips you can use to get some great shots of Christmas lights. First, use a tripod. The ability to keep your camera steady is paramount in getting a clear, shake-free night photo. Secondly, take the camera off auto and use the manual settings. The bright lights and dark background are likely to play havoc with your camera’s autoexposure system. Over expose the photo just a bit. This will give the lights a nice glow and avoid them looking like tiny pinpricks. A starting point would be about 5 to 10 seconds at about f/8 to f/11 with an ISO of about 200 to 400 (don’t be afraid to “chimp” or review the camera’s monitor). Lastly wear something warm and go with a friend. Not only is there safety in numbers, but it’s nice to have a companion along to enjoy the lights.

I’ve been working the late shift lately and during this time of year I see many Christmas displays as I drive to and from my night assignments. Many have been fantastic and I’m sure there are many more that I just haven’t seen. Here are some of the more eye-catching displays I’ve come across in my travels this holiday season.

The lights on the house on Miner Avenue at E Street are only average. What makes this house stand out is its vast number of Christmas inflatables. Dozens of them cover nearly every square foot of the small corner lot. Tiggers, Poohs, Mickeys, penguins and snowmen of every shape and size fill the yard and cover the roof.

2507 Angel Drive in North Stockton may not have the sheer number of inflatables but there are several perched the roof of the two-story home.

3909 Estate Drive is a winter wonderland of Christmas lights. The most impressive features are the strings of lights that go up into a tree that has to be at least 50 feet tall.

3810 Fort Donaldson Drive has some tastefully done lights but only one inflatable, but what an inflatable it is. A giant Santa, glowing from within and also illuminated with a spotlight, is nearly as tall as the two-story house.

When driving by 122 Gibson Street the first thought I had was “you can see it from space!” mini lights wrap around the trunks and main branches the four large trees in the front yard and define their shape. Each are a different bright color. Bright white lights fill each tree’s canopy, and a Christmas tree-shaped pole in iridescent blue acts as a focal point.

The pièce de résistance of my travels is the house at 3606 Northstar Drive. In a neighborhood where there are a lot of great displays (indeed the houses on Angel and Estate drives are only a few blocks away in opposite directions), one has to do something to stand out. And if one would just look at the lights alone one would say that the Northstar home was nicely done, but there are a lot of nicely done houses around. What sets it apart is its multimedia experience.

The lights are set to dance and flash to Christmas music. Speakers play several songs (or one can listen to a simulcast on a car radio) and each song has its own custom light show. A single still picture just doesn’t do it justice. The best way to appreciate it is in person, but in lieu of that, here’s link to a video that captures some of the display’s visual excitement.

Merry Christmas!

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