Season of lights

The start of the holiday season is just a week a way and with it comes the season of lights. The next Readers Photo Challenge assignment is Christmas lights. While it might seem a bit early (Christmas is still several weeks away) there are already holiday commercials playing on television and some stores have put up their Christmas displays even before Halloween was over. Many neighborhoods have at least one house that goes all out with their lights.

There are a few tricks to photographing Christmas light displays. Essentially they’re night shots so the first and most important rule is to use a tripod. This will ensure you’re your photos will be sharp and shake-free.

Don’t use a flash. If you’re too far away it will be ineffective. If you’re too close it will wash out the scene and make your photo look artificial. Capturing the ambient glow of the Christmas lights should be your goal and using a flash can be counterproductive.

Avoid using your camera on any automatic settings. Either the darkness surrounding your subject will fool your camera into thinking it’s too dark and thus it will overexpose your shot or the intense lights will make the camera believe that the scene is too bright and cause an underexposure in your photos. Although it may be intimidating for some, using your camera on manual is usually the best way to go. Most point-and-shoot cameras don’t have a manual setting but they may have a night photography function that can work for you.

Depending on what kinds of lights are used and how many there are, exposures for Christmas lights can vary quite a bit. A good starting point for your exposure is an aperture of around f/8 with a shutter speed of about 10 seconds. Check your camera’s monitor to see how close your exposure is and then you can adjust your settings accordingly.

If you have a zoom lens one advanced trick is to try carefully zooming the lens in or out during a long exposure. This will turn the points of light into colorful streaks and give your photo some visual movement.

Some people like shooting during the twilight of the so-called “blue hour.” It’s the time just after sunset when the sky turns a deep indigo blue. It helps define features such as trees and rooftops that would otherwise blend into the dark night sky and adds even more color to your photo. Other people prefer have the lights stand out against the inky blackness of later in the evening. The choice is yours.

Go out with a photo buddy. Not only is there safety in numbers, but it’s more fun to share the experience whether you’re taking photos or just out to look at the lights.

Lastly, it can get pretty chilly when the sun goes down this time of year. Make sure that you dress appropriately.

Due to the earliness of the season and many displays that are yet to be put up, you’ll have an extra few weeks to get your photos in. The deadline will be Dec. 18 with the best examples published on Christmas day, Dec. 25 along with a gallery of all the entries on the same day at


Here are the rules:

1. Entries can be emailed to Type in “Christmas Lights” in the subject line.

2. Photos have to be shot between Nov. 20 and Dec. 18. The photos must include nighttime exterior holiday displays.

3. Include your name (first and last), hometown, and the kind of camera/lens you used and where it was taken (eg: “John Doe, Stockton. at Gibson Street in Stockton. Canon EOS Rebel Ti with 24-70mm lens”).

4. If there is a recognizable person in the photo, please identify them (name, age, hometown) and where they are and what they are doing. (eg: “Jane Smith, 25, of Stockton, looks at the Christmas lights on a house on Northstar Drive in Stockton”)

5. Please feel free to include any interesting anecdotes or stories on how you took the picture.

6. The deadline for submission is Thursday Dec. 18. The top examples will be published in The Record and my blog at on Thursday, Dec. 25 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day.

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