How To Photograph Christmas Lights

I have several things I’ve been meaning to blog lately, but I’m going to go ahead and get this one up before Christmas, just in case anyone wants to try it.  🙂

One of the neat things about the holiday season is all of the fun decorations.  So many things to photograph, so little time!  One of my favorite things to do with holiday pictures is to throw in some out-of-focus Christmas lights in the background.  They are so pretty like that (the technical term for this effect is “bokeh”).

This picture is from last year, but it shows you what I’m talking about.

Here’s how to do it:

1.  On your camera, open up the aperture as wide as it will go.  If you have a point-and-shoot, these won’t always let you do this.  You might have to “trick” it by using Macro Mode; that will probably give you your best shot at being able to do this.

2.  Step back from the lights.  Now step back further.  You need to be pretty far away from the lights in order for this to work.

3.  Put something interesting in the foreground, get as close to it as you can, focus on it, and take the picture.  (If you’re doing manual mode, meter for your foreground subject, not the lights.)

4.  Admire your handiwork.

So to recap,  basically you just throw the lights several feet into the background, open wide (now I’m starting to feel like a dentist), and then pretend they’re not there.

Alternately, here’s the Cheater Method (which I have been known to use, on occasion):

1.  Take a picture of a person/object using a solid background.

2.  Take another picture of just the out-of-focus lights.

3.  Open them both up in Photoshop.

4.  Drag the “lights” layer onto the “solid-background” layer, select either Overlay or Soft Light for the layer blending mode, and adjust opacity to taste.

5.  Make a layer mask on the “lights” layer, and paint out your main subject with a black brush (so the lights don’t cover it up).

6.  Admire your handiwork, and revel in your Mad Photoshop Skillz.

(Note:  none of these pictures was done using this method, but I’m not above using it if the situation calls for it.)

If you try either of these methods out and you like the result, or if you have any questions, please feel free to leave me a comment below.

In case I don’t get back on here for several days, Merry Christmas!


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