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Surrey Photography: How to photograph Christmas Lights

Its that time of year when the internet is full of pictures of houses covered in Christmas lights and excited children decorating their Christmas trees, visiting Father Christmas and doing lots of lovely festive things, but how do you capture those Christmas lights perfectly to make your pictures extra twinkly?  Here are our top 5 tips:

ONE: Don’t Wait Until it’s completely dark:

The best time to photograph Christmas lights is late afternoon, when the sun is just going down. Make sure it’s not sunny.  A slightly lighter sky (rather than pitch black) will make a more interesting background behind the lights, with textures from the clouds and different colours.  If you take the picture when it’s too light though, the Christmas lights won’t show up.  It’s also good to use reflective surfaces such as snow, water or ice to help lighten the picture.

Christmas lights1

Found on


TWO: Keep your camera as still as possible: 

If you can, use a tripod to prevent any movement.  If you are using a point and shoot camera try to lean on a wall or fence to steady it.  If your camera has a time shutter release, use it to keep the picture as sharp as possible.

christmas lights2

picture from wikihow

christmas bauble

picture from wikihow


THREE: Turn your flash off: 

Don’t use your flash as it will ruin the natural warmth and glow of the Christmas Lights. If you are using a digital SLR you can increase the ISO to 800 to give a bit more light. If you are using a point and shoot camera and want to capture your little ones in front of the tree lights, use the Christmas lights to light your subject.  You might have to play around with different posing positions but it will be worth it in the end.

Christmas lights3

 FOUR: Open you aperture 

To achieve perfect Christmas light Bokeh (Bokeh is a term used by photographers.  It comes from Japanese language, and literally means ‘blur’) you need to open up your aperture, but remember to keep your camera really still if you are focusing on a particular object. If you do this then the object should be sharp but the lights in the background will be perfectly blurred and look all warm and cosy!


picture from Sarah Alston Photography


Christmas Bokeh

If you are going to make a Christmas book then this would make a great background

FIVE: Close your aperture! 

Confused?!  If you would like your lights to have a starburst effect rather than be blurred then you need to do the opposite and close up your aperture to at least f/18. This will make your lights sparkle.  Remember to put your camera on a steady surface or tripod and use a high f/stop, a low ISO and a long shutter speed.  (example ISO 100, f/22, 30 second exposure).

starburst tree


Have fun, and remember to always have your camera ready to capture that perfect Christmas picture.



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