How to Photograph Christmas Lights

Christmas is undeniably the best day for so many reasons. One of these reasons that brought you here is the Christmas lights that make everything pretty but are tricky to shoot. Let us help you how to photograph Christmas lights not only outdoor but also in indoor settings.

Photographing Outdoor Christmas Lights

Christmas lights make even the most mundane surroundings magnificent. However, you need to understand a few obstacles before we talk about how to photograph Christmas lights in outdoor settings. 

Challenges in Shooting Outdoor

If you are shooting in the daytime, it will be very hard for you to properly expose the Christmas lights when they are flooded by sunlight. However, nightime also comes with its own set of challenges. The first one is that if you focus on the lights, the background becomes too dark. The other is that if you focus on the surroundings, the lights may not appear good enough.

Golden Hour:

The main reason for these problems is unbalanced light. This can be fixed by shooting at the golden hour when the ambient light is enough to complement the Christmas lights. Also, at this time the light is not too much and helps to properly expose the lights as well as gather all the details of the surroundings. Although twilight is called the golden hour but out of dawn and dusk, the latter is preferred. The time during sunset and till 30 minutes after sunset is perfect for shooting outdoor Christmas lights.

Exposure Triangle - How to Photograph Christmas Lights

Now, you should use the Exposure Triangle to understand how to photograph Christmas lights. The Exposure Triangle is basically composed of shutter speed, ISO, and aperture and is used to control the exposure. First, let us start by setting the ISO. Now, that we have established that we are going to be shooting in low light conditions, your first thought would be to raise the ISO. Contrarily, ISO should be as low as possible to keep the image from getting grainy. That is why set the ISO around 400.  For balancing the low ISO, we are going to set the aperture low as well. This will help to get more light in without using high ISO. Shutter speed should also be set comparatively. You need to keep the shutter speed slow so that the shutter remains open for a longer time. This will allow more light to get into the lens.

Use a Tripod:

Since you are going to keep the shutter speed slow, the camera needs to be super steady. That is why you must invest in a sturdy tripod. It will not only keep you from shaking the camera but also give you more room to move around and study the surroundings. 

External Lights:

A thumb rule for how to photograph Christmas lights in outdoor settings is to never use any flash. If you are hoping to properly expose the surroundings using a flash, let us stop you. It will only mess up the temperature and the mood of the whole image. 

How to Photograph Christmas lights - Photographing Indoor Christmas Lights

Photo edited in Lightroom.

Photographing Indoor Christmas Lights

Other than great things, there is no greater joy on Christmas than to decorate your own home. Although, they look very pretty, however, capturing them can get quite tricky. Read along to understand how to photograph Christmas lights in Indoor settings.

Challenges in Indoor Shooting

Unlike outdoor photography, there are not as many obstacles while shooting indoor. However, it is even more difficult to master because the challenge is not to make the image lifeless and flat. It happens when the flash outshines the Christmas lights

Light is your Ally

When you are shooting outdoor, you cannot control the ambient light. Rather you have to adjust to the available light. The major advantage while photographing indoor Christmas lights is that you can control the light. You can use external lights to liven up the surroundings but remember not to use the in-built flash.


Similar to outdoor shooting, you should keep the shutter speed low in indoors as well. That is why you will definitely need a surface to stabilize the camera. A tripod is not necessary for homes because you can always find a spare table. Other than that, you will be depending more on your creativity while shooting indoors. You can even make use of the shallow depth of field to get a more aesthetic feel and warm colors. 

How to photograph outdoor Christmas lights

Important Tips to Remember - How to Photograph Christmas Lights

White Balance

The one thing that will make or break your image is the color and temperature of the image. For outdoor images, you should use the Incandescent white balance. This is done because the Christmas lights are incandescent lamps and this setting will give them a more natural feeling. Whereas, for indoor images, you can use the Auto White Balance. However, if it gets too yellow or warm, you can use the Tungsten white balance.

Bracketing Technique

Since the ambient light will be gradually changing, you can use the Bracketing technique. It allows you to take a couple of pictures having different exposures. This will give you a selection of images to select from. 


Of course, the Christmas lights are the main feature, however, some negative space, as well as structures, should also be added to the image. This will make the image more pleasing.

Post Editing Process

Post-processing can be undoubtedly useful to improve the quality of these photos. For this purpose, Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom are the best software programs.

Conclusion - How to Photograph Christmas Lights

This guide is enough comprehensively answers how to photograph Christmas lights. Now, you must get out and start practicing. Also, do not forget to enjoy the views while you are out there.

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Have a nice photoshoot! 

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