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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Photography of Christmas Lights...Making Night Shots Work

This group of night time photographs of Christmas lights and store fronts may give you ideas for this year. The photos shown are from 2009  through 2012. Three lenses were used: 1) Nikon 18-200 VR f/3.5-5.6; 2) Sigma 30mm prime f/1.4 and 3) Tokina 11-16mm, f/2.8 wide angle.  There was a tradeoff between having vibration reduction and using the Sigma and Tokina with more open aperture.  Even with aperture getting closed down with zoom* on the 18-200mm lens, the steadiness allowed with vibration reduction was highly appreciated in hand held photos over the faster lenses without vibration reduction.  The Tokina was fast enough for most home shots and the wide angle was very helpful in getting the large view.

*Zoom lenses with an aperture range such as  3.5 - 5.6 limit the maximum opening as the zoom changes. At 200 mm, the max aperture would be f/5.6 while at 18mm aperture opens  with up to f/3.5  available.  Remember, the higher the f/ number, the smaller the opening for light through the lens.

While a couple of the store front images were shot with camera on tripod, most photos were handheld and sometimes braced for steadiness.  The storefronts were an afterthought after doing yard light photos.  Do you agree the storefront photos are neater overall than the yard shots? Hindsight says we should have found more decorated store fronts to photograph! Perhaps this year... 

These photos may be classified as better than average snapshots, yet snapshots none the less.  The photographer had no say in lighting or arrangement of the scenes and could not control traffic flow when photos were taken form a slowly moving automobile! Photos in this post are the result of fun evening drives around a small town, camera in hand with a wish to get a few better snapshots of how the enthusiastic and talented folks decorate and we have the chance to enjoy it .  You might find a short drive or walkabout just before or after Christmas a fun family event.  Take the camera! If you have a camera capable of user controlled exposure, the suggestions in this post can help produce better photos.

In writing the post, comments from the author are left to a minimum. You are asked to comment all you want and your thoughts are encouraged and appreciated.


Time for a small commercial break..after all, we do want to
 generate photography business!

If a business contracts us to photograph their store front, planning includes arrangement of lighting, staging of the scene, time of day and custom white balance as totally necessary. Also, cameras and lenses would be chosen along with distortion correction to provide the cleanest photograph possible.  That is not what happens in this post, although we might demonstrate our professional marketing style photos in a future posting. Contact us about photography you need, personal professional photography or for your business. Use the email box at the right.   We will get right back with you and open the discussion and planning, face to face as needed. 
Commercial Over 

Shown is the ISO, aperture and shutter speed of each image and if important any other editing used. One form of editing used on a few photographs is noise reduction. This is because two cameras were used from 2009 and 2012 with the most recent scenes taken with a Nikon D7000.  The other camera is a D200 and is a fine camera but does not handle high ISO or slow night time shutter speed as well in regard to digital noise.  The D7000 showed essentially no noise in the night photos while some of the D200 captures needed slight noise reduction applied to get grainy noise spots out of the photograph.

small town market street, dusk light, thomas haynes
Small town, market street of many antiques stores, shot just prior to Christmas 2012. This is where store front photos in the post were taken.

This post is for fun and to possibly help others in taking nice snapshots of holiday lights.. first up are basics to consider when on your quest for holiday light photos:
1. Turn off the camera flash.  Just like the useless deluge of audience camera flashes at a sports arena, the flash will not be strong enough to light the subject. In fact, any light added by a flash will totally ruin the scene...it is like turning off the Christmas tree lights. NO flash is the first rule.  It is easy to overlook this basic rule. You want colors and lights to show and must turn off the flash.
2. If your camera allows it, set the ISO manually and do not use automatic ISO. The interaction of a changing ISO "film speed", shutter speed and aperture may create too much variance in your photos and also cover your photos with the speckles of digital noise, a result of using too high an ISO. You have time to go out one evening soon and take photos outside a shopping center or other lit area.  Try starting with 500 or 600 ISO and aperture adjusted as you shoot until you find the best combination.  You can always change the settings if needed when actually doing Christmas lights.  If not using a tripod, try to keep shutter speed set at 1/50 sec and not slower. Having vibration reduction may allow you to shoot slower and get away with it.  Try this before you actually go out to shoot the Christmas lights. 
3.Higher ISO makes for more sensitivity to the light available, allowing a faster shutter speed. However, in some cameras  serious digital noise in the photos is the result.  Try it at night before the event.
4. Take in the whole scene and also closer shots. When done, you can select which shows the best view and crop wider shots for a different point of view as in the photo below.

The same store front is shown as below. The lamp post turned out to be distracting rather than a strong element in the composition. Background of the upper post spoils it in my opinion.
The store front from above, emphasis on windows: I believe this is a better photograph than the previous one. What would your choose? The Sigma 30mm is a gem for this type of photo.

Here is an example of a an old photo from the "almost deleted" files, salvaged to be acceptable by cropping off the blurry deer lights.  The slow shutter speed led to blur which was much more apparent in the lights than on the Santa figures.  The  full image looked ok in the camera viewer but seen larger on the computer monitor it did not cut it.

Mr. and Mrs. Claua Characters on front porch

Blurry reindeer lights made for a poor snapshot and the composition is off balance overall. Remove the deer and the photo is still a snapshot but much better than the one below.  A tripod would have improved the photo and help eliminate the blur from camera shake.  All houses were photographed from a passenger side of the vehicle.
Mr. and Mrs. Clause on evening front porch wiht reindeer yard lights
5. Use a tripod or other support when possible for a steady shot at slow shutter speed.  Walking around the antique stores in this town, the more  dimly lit shots were done  with a tripod to minimize shake,  even with vibration reduction on the lens. The wider lenses do not have VR and the tripod was very welcomed.
When shot, the intention of these photographs was to tell a piece of the story of Christmas lights and outside decoration found in an older small town.  Often the older and smaller homes boasted the most elaborate lighting schemes.
6. Notice the camera settings used in these photos. The settings are a balance between depth of field and shutter speed. Depth of field determines what is in focus.  At a distance, you can use a more open aperture and still have good focus form the front to the back of the photo.  Up close, a wide open lens will leave some areas out of sharp focus...that is the nature of rules of optics.  The settings used allowed a reasonable ISO combined with acceptable depth of field and shutter speed.  Slow shutter speed calls for resting the camera for support, using a tripod and or using a lens or camera with vibration reduction. 

Following are photos from 2009 and 2012.  Enjoy the snapshots and notice and notes and hints.  That is it, essentially.  So, we at Thomas Haynes Photography wish you a wonderful holiday season, Christmas and New Year's are left to celebrate.  God Bless and Joyful Peace to All.

If you get some neat holiday decoration photos email us and we might post your image on this blog.  Use the email box here and we will write back with an email address you can use to attach a photo, or email us with a safe link to your photo.  Please include description and approximate location( country and state or province).

Looking down street, lighting gives warm tone to all.
 The street of stores at night. Notice color from street lights.  Since lighting in store windows was different, auto white balance was use and did ok.  The warmer color was suited to the evening scene on a cool night.

Small town street near Christmas Eve

A walk down the street revealed Christmas in almost every window, done nicely in what was expected for antiques stores...nostalgia.

An older small home with lights on the roof
The front yard was quite small so they lit the roof !

All the following photos were shot at the same settings of  1/40 sec., f/3.2, ISO 500 and camera steadied on the auto window ledge.

House with christmas lights adorning home and yard, many candy canes

House with christmas lights adorning home and yard

House with christmas lights adorning home and yard; the home is lit in blue

House with christmas lights adorning home and yard

House with christmas lights adorning home and yard
This older neighborhood always takes pride in presenting a fun display of Christmas lights.  There is a lot of traffic on the street where these homes are located, one next to the other or across the street.

Monday, December 9, 2013


Thomas Haynes Photography is  the place to get great professional photos of your pets and animals in 2014.  We are starting the year with a greater emphasis on cat, dog, horse and other animal photos of the quality you will want on your wall and will be happy to display.  Our professional photo lab provides excellent work in prints and also provide booklets, novelties and other photographic applications. 

Our work is generally within the Tennessee counties of Knoxville, Anderson, Roane and contingent area.  Think Knoxville, Oak Ridge, Clinton, Kingston...and somewhat beyond. Exceptions may be made and photography work done beyond our normal range.

We like to show the animals in their home habitat, where they live and how you interact with your pets. These are the events from which memories are truly made.  Formal photos? Sure, we do those but you need to know about the "at home" touch for your family and your animals.

Email Today and let us know what you are thinking about...we will get right back to you. (The email form on this blog is primarily for the first contact; after that, normal email is used.)

Rehabbers...if you rehab animals or birds and need pro photos of your work, contact us. 
  We are regulars at Clinch River Raptor Center, a wonderful rehab and educational center based in Clinton Middle School.  Some raptor photos may be seen on the Facebook Page for the center or on our casual blog:  Landing Heron
There are short galleries about the Clinch River Raptor Center