Capturing a Starburst Effect with Christmas Lights

December 12, 2012

in Holiday Photography Tips, Photography Tips, Photography Tutorials

Tips for Capturing a Starburst Effect with your Christmas Lights via iHeartFaces.com


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:

  1. A tripod or level, stable surface on which to place your camera.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Great Tutorial on Capturing Starburst Effect of Christmas Lights via iHeartFaces.com

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.

Great Tutorial on Capturing Starburst Effect of Christmas Lights via iHeartFaces.com

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 for I Heart FacesMandy 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.

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Cherry December 24, 2014

Thank you!!! I’ve read this today and went on in front of our tree and wow, I’m happy with the result. It worked for me. Thank you for your tip :)

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sona December 19, 2014

didnt work

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sona December 19, 2014

I just tried this and I dont see any difference. Trying to judge how far from tree you were, I was about 12 feet away.

Reply

kelly May 12, 2014

I have a question for you.Say you have a backdrop with white christmas light behind a sheer sheet and will have people standing in front. What would you set your camera too.It will be indoors in a basement at night.We are having a formal masquerade party. We what to have the lights but don’t want then lights too look funny. I know the lights in the basement of this house are not too bright.Please help,it’s for a sweet 16 party!

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rae January 22, 2014

Thank you for sharing. I am going to practice with the light that are still outside.

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Rikki Hatfield December 23, 2013

Very cool! Thanks for sharing!

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Meari December 20, 2013

I have a starburst filter for my cameras. It’s much easier and faster than using the bulb setting.

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Katerina January 4, 2013

My lights on the tree are of different colors and after shooting, when I check it on the camera display, the background is pink and blue. Also I played with the WB- no result. I use the kit lens. Can it be the reason? Or maybe I am not just in the mood)))) But the tutorial is great!

Reply

Mandy Blake January 4, 2013

Hi Jen K!

Have you tried bumping up your ISO a tiny bit? Even to 400, which should keep the noise to a minimum but make your sensor a bit more sensitive to the light, especially if you are shooting in the near-dark.

It is odd that is is all black – if your exposure is 20-30 seconds long, you should be able to pick up any ambient light, including the tree… It almost sounds like your shutter is not opening. Are you using a remote trigger?

Mandy

Reply

Mandy Blake January 4, 2013

Hi Katerina!
Do you mean that the background is not dark? Are your lights pink and blue or is it something that is happening in post-processing?

If you give me more details I will try to help you find a solution! :)

Mandy

Reply

Katerina January 4, 2013

I’ve tried it too, my pictyres are not black, they are blue and pink(((

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Jen k December 13, 2012

I have been trying this but everything is black. I shoot in manual 100% of the time so I’ve double checked my settings. Any idea what else might be going on?? I even moved right up to a foot away from the tree!

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Declan Mc Glone December 13, 2012

Capturing a Starburst Effect with Christmas Lights #photography http://t.co/tXrjcoiX

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Tracy P. December 13, 2012

This is awesome! I took a workshop on photographing the night skyline downtown, and this is just the same–but it had never occurred to me to apply it to an indoor, intimate setting. Thank you!

Reply

Amanda D December 12, 2012

Just tried it! I love the effect! Thank you!

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One2OneNetwork December 12, 2012

Capturing a Starburst Effect with Christmas Lights | I Heart Faces http://t.co/KjQkphuN — How fun!

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Angie Arthur December 12, 2012

Tips for photographing your Christmas tree! –>RT @iheartfaces: Capturing a Starburst Effect with Christmas Lights http://t.co/Bcl6lfr8

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Jane December 12, 2012

Thank you, Mandy, and I Heart Faces for sharing this! Definitely will be following your tutorial to get better photos this year!

Reply

Jennifer Tonetti-Spellman December 12, 2012

Love this Mandy! Will certainly by trying it out!

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Paige Ewing December 12, 2012

Love this tutorial!! Can’t wait to try it:) Thanks!

Reply

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