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Christmas Lights at Night
Old 12-06-2002, 08:24 AM   #1 (permalink)
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How does one photograph christmas lights on buildings, parks. and etc. at night? I need a good starting point so I can bracket around it? probably be shooting ISO 400 film in 6X7 format. Only light will be from the christmas lights.

Jay Blackwood
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Re: Christmas Lights at Night
Old 12-06-2002, 10:56 AM   #2 (permalink)
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I love shooting at night. The lights can be very interesting. Here are some variables.

How much IN FOCUS do you need? That will determine the aperture. If you want to do an angled shot down the street and capture lots of the lights in focus, you'll significantly increase the shooting time.

How much flare do you want in the lights? You can get the lights so they have kind of a warm glow, or so that the lights appear VERY bright. That is a preference and an experiment.

How much ambient light is in the scene? You really need to take a good look at the scene -- particularly if it's a LONG exposure. It's amazing what little light is in the scene can become very bright if you leave the exposure go long enough!

Is there any motion or wind? Do the lights change color or flash on a schedule? You can get cool effects from the wind moving lights or having a pattern of movement. Again, the length of the exposure makes a real difference. A short exposure will minimize movement, longer will emphasize it. Too long and you loose it all together.

Here are a couple of examples.

This image of Dani Perterson was taken on a bridge over a highway. The camera was a Fuji S2 set to 1600 ISO for incandescant light. The car headlights are the right color temperature for the white balance setting. The reddish light on Dani was a mercury vapor street light on the bridge. The expoure was f4 at 1/45. Just enough to freeze action and not let the headlights burn out whlie getting Dani reasonable exposure. Look at how bright the sky is even on such a fast setting. You're starting to see a little of the blue of the sky in the reflected ambient light.

Here's another from later that same evening. Same camera settings. Exposure f4 at 1/20. I have three light sources here I was working with. First are the building lights in the background. Second was the street light on the bridge causing the greener looking light on Dani. Third was the reflection of the city lights off the bayou behind Dani. It's on the left of her in the image. The longer exposure brought in the reflection as well as the primary lights.

If you're using film at ISO 400 for lights on a residential street, start with f4 at 2 seconds and f16 or f22 at 10 and 30 seconds. Using film you'll have to bracket and re-shoot once you see the effect. Depending on environmental conditions, things could change. For example, the amount of snow will create more or less reflection and the cloud cover could brighten or darken the scene. If you really want to emphasize the lights, look for a relatively clear night and wait until at least 3 or four hours after sunset. You'd be surprised how much light remains in the sky for a while after sunset.

Best of luck!

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Re: Christmas Lights at Night
Old 12-06-2002, 03:33 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Here is an image I shot recently for a magazine cover. I shot inside a very dark but beautiful Christmas museum, (National Christmas Museum here in Lancaster County) using my Ringflash and exposed at 1 second at f/8. I had the assistant shining a flashlight on our model prior to the actual exposure in order to assure focus due to the darkness of this set, and I have found that it is imperative to bring a flashlight for night shots to get the subject crisp. This was metered for both the ambient background light and then the appeture set for the ringflash metered reading. I didn't mind the blurred ornaments and branches, as I thought they added to the ambiance. If shot at a faster setting, they would not have brought out the color of the lights. I could have shot on tripod, actually I did a few tripod images, but they were too static for my tastes. the Editor was with me on the shoot and she agreed with the longer exposure hand-held. Nikon D1X, 125 ISO, 85mm 1.8 glass, a little Photoshop saturation, Broncolor Ringflash on A4 portable pack.

By the way, I really shot this cover, but its in English, not German.

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