Christmas lights, with all those incredible glowing decorations, just beg to be photographed, but usually they come out as colored pinpricks or a jagged blur of out-of-focus chunks of light. There are some easy things to fix all that.

The first thing you need is something to steady your camera on. A tripod is best, or gorilla pod. You can use a small beanbag or, in a pinch, set the camera on something solid. You will be working with longer exposures than you can hold without blurring.

For outdoor shots, the time of day is critical. Just around dusk or just before sunrise. By having some ambient light you can fill in the unlit areas of the trees and homes but still have the glowing light dominate.

Set your ISO speed to 400 or 800. If you go much higher you might start to get some grain or digital noise. You should test this; you will see the issue appear first in the shadow areas. Some of the newer cameras can go to higher ISOs, so do some testing.

Set your camera to manual for photographing Christmas. Set your aperture or f-stop to F8. This will give you a good depth of field for the focus. Going to f5.6 or f4 will give you more selective focus.

Start by setting your shutter speed at 1/30th of a second. As it gets darker you will have to slow it down to 1/15th, then 1/8th and so on. When you look at your LCD display you should see shapes in the shadows. A trick to help avoid camera shake when you press the shutter release is to use the camera’s self-timer.

If you are advanced enough to change the color balance you can set it on daylight to get the warm yellow glow or on tungsten to get the lights closer to their natural or real color. This setting will also increase the blue cast to the rest of the image but that’s okay, since it increases the tonal contrast of the image.

Use the Rule of Thirds to give your image powerful composition. Mentally divide your viewfinder into thirds vertically and horizontally. In the four points of intersection you should have something of interest in one or more of those points. A brighter or more interesting light or shape.

Indoors, you will still need the tripod but have a few of the room lights up, so there is some ambient light to fill in the areas the lights don’t illuminate.

So to recap:
1) Use a tripod.
2) Set your ISO to 400 or 800.
3) Set your camera to manual – start with F8 and shutter speeds of 1/30th of a second, slow that down as needed.
4) Set your colour setting to either daylight or tungsten depending on the effect you want.
5) Use Rule of Thirds for composition.

Happy Holiday shooting. If you follow these tricks you will get some great Christmas Lights photographs.

Author's Bio: 

Mark Laurie is a Master Photographer, international speaker, author and studio mentor. He teaches extensively in England and Canada. His Revealing Venus Photography Workshop is run in Italy. You can find information on his books, photography, and training at He is on Facebook at