Photographing holiday lights

I haven’t had much of a chance to blog in the last week, since life & work got in the way. I had an awesome time Monday night when my friends took me out to dinner at 101 Ocean for my birthday.

People are already starting to put up their Christmas decorations – they don’t even wait for Thanksgiving any more. One of my neighbors put up blue lights & butterflies, as you can see from this photo.

Shooting holiday lights can be a challenge, since the camera will try to adjust the exposure for the background, which will make the lights disappear. Instead, you want to underexpose the picture enough to darken the background and make the lights stand out.

You might be able to get good results using exposure compensation, but to really get it right, you need to use manual exposure. It’s difficult to apply any standard exposure rules, since the ideal exposure depends on how dark it is and the color, size, and brightness of the lights, so you’ll probably need to experiment to get the best results. I took these pictures shortly before sunset tonight and I found that I got the best results using shutter speed 1/30 at f5.6 with ISO 1600. A good way to start is by using one of the semi-automatic modes and noting the shutter speed or aperture it chooses, and adjusting it from there.

The D90’s excellent high ISO performance makes it a lot easier to get good results in these conditions. With a lot of cameras you wouldn’t want to go above ISO 800, so you’ll need to adjust the shutter speed & aperture accordingly.

Blue lights & butterfly

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