We have all seen all the amazing ways you can create yummy bokeh with Christmas lights, but sometimes you may want to do something a little different!
Another option is to achieve a starburst affect, where the lights each look like they have beautiful beams of light radiating from their cores. It is a neat way to take the standard Christmas tree shot up a notch!
The creation of this effect is really quite simple. Here is what you will need:
- A tripod or level, stable surface on which to place your camera.
- A remote trigger or self-timer to release the shutter and avoid camera shake. Dig out that manual if you are not sure how to set your self-timer! Most have a 2-second delay mode that works really well for this project.
- A bit of knowledge on using Manual mode on your camera, but I am going to tell you how which settings are ideal, so all you need to know is how to change your settings.
- A lovely tree or string of lights to practice on and capture!
To begin, set your camera up on a tripod or level surface and frame your subject as desired. Make sure it is level and secure, so that you minimize the risk of disturbing it once you have set the shutter to release.
Making sure your camera is in Manual mode, adjust the settings to the following:
Aperture: f22 or higher – bear in mind that at this small of an aperture, everything will be in focus, so be sure that you don’t have distracting objects in the foreground or background. You can even go as wide open as f5.6 and still get some twinkling action, so feel free to try different apertures to see which you like the best! Just make sure you adjust the shutter speed to match the wider aperture, or you will have an image that is overexposed.
Shutter Speed: 25-30 seconds – this is a very long exposure, which is why we need to make sure the camera is level, supported and kept still through the entire process. Even bumping it gently will cause a bit of blurring or make it slightly out if focus. Sometimes it seems like your camera is taking FOREVER and it is tempting to check to see what is going on, but make sure that the shutter has clicked close before moving it!
ISO: 100 – even if you are shooting in low-light situations (like a dark room at night with just the tree or string of lights illuminated), keep your ISO as low as possible so that you get crystal-clear, noise-free images.
White Balance: Tungsten or Iridescent – most white lights emit the same light colour as a basic light bulb, so this setting should work fine. However, with the newer LED ceiling lights type bulbs, you may need to try a couple of different WB settings to find the one that looks the most natural. Flash or even Cloudy may be good options in this case, as LEDs tend to emit a slightly cooler light. For colored lights, again just play with the WB settings until you find one that suits. Auto White Balance is also an option if you want to remove the guess work!
Once your camera is set, use the remote trigger or self-timer to release the shutter and wait for the shutter to click closed again before moving or adjusting the camera.
In the first image, I used the following settings:
Aperture: f 5.6, Shutter speed: 2.5 seconds. You can see that while the lights have a bit of “burst”, but it is subtle.
In the second image, my settings are:
Aperture: f 22, Shutter speed: 25 seconds. Here the starbursts are really in full effect, with large beams or light emanating from each bulb.
Now, go and grab a cup of hot chocolate and enjoy the long exposure as you capture some twinkling starburst lights that add a hint of magic to your holiday images!
Mandy Blake, owner of Mandy Blake Photography and Flow for Photographers, is a natural light family and children’s photographer, as well as a Photoshop Action designer, Photoshop mentor and Photo Editor. She is the mother of two sassy, stubborn girls, wife to an amazingly supportive husband, and slobber-covered-ball thrower for her faithful Lab-Hound mix. You can also find her on Facebook.