I love shooting the holiday lights because it is fun and rewarding. The reward comes from overcoming the technical challenges such as cold weather and very long exposures. With a little preparation, I find that I can manage all these issues without too much effort. These tips will make your own holiday light photographs look like a pro shot them.
I will use two Denver landmarks, the Denver Public Libary and the Daniels & Fisher Clocktower to illustrate my tips.
Denver Public Libary
The Denver Public Libary is always immaculately decorated for the holidays in Christmas themes. It is just a joy to shoot, but you need plenty of patience. I start shooting after 10:00 pm when the crowds have dispersed, and you can have it all to yourself. What you need are a camera, a wide angle lens, and a tripod. A remote shutter release is handy as well. Once you have the shot composed you will want to make sure your mirror lock-up is on as this is going to be a very long exposure, 13 seconds in this case. Because this is such a long exposure, I find a sturdy tripod a must; it is even better if you can add weight to the tripod to add to the stability. This shot earned me a spot in The Telegraph’s Christmas lights around the world.
Denver’s Daniels & Fisher Tower
Another Denver landmark is the historic Daniels & Fisher Tower on the 16th Street Mall. Built in 1911, the D & F Tower was the tallest structure west of the Mississippi, at a height of 393 feet. Again, you will want to get there after the crowds have disappeared. I shot the image of the clock tower with a 200mm lens set at f8 for 5 seconds, so you will want to use a tripod and don’t forget to use mirror lockup.
I hope you find these tips useful for photographing your holiday display or others. The formula for shooting holiday displays is quite simple. You need a wide-angle lens, a sturdy tripod, and make sure to use your camera’s mirror lock-up feature if using an SLR. Using your camera’s mirror lock-up feature on an SLR eliminates the vibration introduced when the mirror comes up before the shutter is opened. One last tip, if you do not have a remote shutter release, use your camera’s self-timer to reduce vibration. This will ensure that your photographs come out tack sharp.