So there are several techniques for Christmas light photography. If you want to do the blurry lights in the background (bokeh), Courtney from Click it Up a Notch has a good post on light bokeh with how she positions her light source. Basically you open up your aperture as wide as possible. I like to shoot at f/ 1.4-1.8 for daytime Christmas light bokeh. This post isn’t about bokeh though, it’s about light starbursts. Here’s an easy 10 step tutorial on how to photograph christmas lights for the starburst effect WITHOUT Photoshop.
1. You’ll need your camera switched to manual mode, dark room without extra light sources, and a tripod or something stable to set your camera on.
2. Change you camera settings. I start with changing my aperature (f stop) between 16 and 22. I usually go higher, but some cameras/lenses can only go up to 16 which is completely okay. Starburts = High f stop. Bokeh = Low f stop. We’re going high f stop here.
3. Adjust your ISO. Some DSLR cameras are not capable of handling high ISO for low light photography. Thankfully you won’t need a high ISO. Start at 100 and bump it up if you need to. You probably won’t need to go past 200.
4. Set your shutter speed between 10-20 seconds. Yep you read that right. Not 1/10, not 1/20. Turn it to 10 seconds and fiddle around with it until your have enough light. The goal is to keep the shutter open for as long as possible to get as much light in as your can. Fast shutter speed = less light. Slow shutter speed = more light.
5. Put your camera on a 2 second delay. Some pros insist on on wireless triggers, but you honestly don’t need it for this. Two second delay and done.
6. Set up your tripod or set your camera down on a sturdy surface. If you try to hold your camera, this will happen.
7. Look through your viewfinder and lock your focus on something near the lights (ie. an ornament).
8. Press your shutter and wait for the magic to happen.
9. If your photo is too bright, set a faster shutter speed. Too dark? Slower shutter speed.
10. Go around taking pictures like a mad person.
This would be a fun activity for a tree lighting ceremony or even photographing candles. Since the shutter speed is so slow, this tutorial isn’t meant for portraits of moving subjects like kids. BUT you can get fun light painting results like the following imaging using the same technique. Happy Holidays!