Christmas light traditions go back to before electricity was invented. Before electricity, households would light candles in windows and hang lit candles on their Christmas trees (talk about safety!). And guess who invented the first Christmas light display? None other than Thomas Edison. He and his apprentice are to thank for the little bulbs we use today. Ten years after their invention, they started being mass produced and the rest is literally history.

Christmas lights are now extravagant pieces of decoration both inside and outside of the home. People go all-out decorating their houses as well as decorating their holiday trees. Even though we don’t have anything new to invent here, our innovation comes from how we set up our displays.

christmas lights photography tutorial

Like they say, if there is no photographic evidence, it didn’t happen. Whether you’re trying to capture the spirit of the season in your next outing or you want to show off your own holiday display, we’ll show you how to properly photograph Christmas lights and edit them to perfection in BeFunky’s Photo Editor!

Camera Settings For Christmas Light Photography

Because most of your Christmas light photos will be in darker light scenarios, you’ll need to know the right camera settings to make those festive decorations pop. We’ll explain the three most important camera settings for shooting in low light scenarios: ISO, Aperture (or F Stop), and Shutter Speed (or exposure time). They work as a trifecta to help you get the most out of your photography.

camera settings for christmas lights photography

ISO

When shooting in low light, you’ll need to adjust your camera settings to compensate for the lack of light. Keep your ISO as low as you can, around 400 or so. The higher your ISO the grainier your photos become, so don’t adjust this setting above 800.

Aperture

Like the ISO, you’ll want your aperture low, somewhere between f/2.8 and f/8 depending on the light scenario. Increasing your aperture number will decrease the amount of light that will come into your photo, but more of the photo will be in focus for those low light shots. It is important to adjust your shutter speed to allow more light into your photo once your aperture and ISO are adjusted – we’ll get to that next.

Shutter Speed

After your ISO and Aperture are set, all you have to do is change the shutter speed. The slower your shutter speed, the longer the exposure time and the less grainy your photo will become. The thing with using a slow shutter speed is that the camera’s ability to capture will be very sensitive to movement, so a tripod is essential. Try starting with your shutter speed between ⅛ of a second and ⅖ of a second and see what works best for your light scenario.

christmas lights photography

If you’re on your mobile phone camera, you won’t be able to adjust these settings individually. However, mobile cameras are perfectly capable of capturing Christmas lights at their finest. Whichever camera you fancy, we’ve got some additional tips for nailing the shot below.

Tips For Getting The Perfect Shot

As with any kind of photography, getting the perfect shot involves patience and timing. With these additional tips and tricks, plus a little intentionality, you’ll be set up for success: 

Photograph At Twilight Or Dusk

Christmas lights are vibrant at night, but if the sky is pitch black, they’ll end up looking like they’re floating in an abyss. Timing your shot just right is a key to success, and you’ll get a lot more photographic texture if you try capturing at twilight or dusk. That way, you’ll be able to see the shape of a house they’re on and more of the surrounding elements.

photographing christmas lights at blue hour

Ten minutes after the sun goes down is a magical time to capture Christmas lights as well. It’s called Blue Hour, when the whole sky will turn a cool shade of blue on a clear day. During this time, you’ll be able to capture the vibrance of holiday lights and their environment, but be quick – Blue Hour only lasts about ten minutes, after which the sky starts getting dark.

Embrace Bokeh

Sometimes getting blurred or out of focus lights produces a bokeh effect (those wonderful little balls of light), giving your photo an artistic flare. There are so many creative ways to use bokeh in your images. You can use a macro lens and zero in on a subject to keep it sharp while blurring the background into beautiful bokeh (like the photo on the left), or you can blur the entire image into a bokeh wonderland (like the photo on the right).

creating bokeh with Christmas lights

Either way, you’ll end up with a beautiful shot.

Use A Tripod

Shaky hands make for a blurry shot (most of the time in a bad, non-bokeh way). To ensure that your image stays crisp and clear with the ideal camera settings, bust out the tripod.

using a tripod for christmas lights photography

You can go the extra mile by using a remote or timer while the camera is on a tripod to make sure you won’t have an ounce of residual movement after you click the trigger.

Don’t Ever Use Flash

I know, it’s tempting. But using the flash will counteract the colors of the lights and create a lot of image noise. Keep the flash off. Don’t even think about it.

Editing Tips For Christmas Light Photography

Now that you’ve mastered the art of capturing Christmas lights on camera, it’s time to edit them into something glorious. First, upload your favorite image into BeFunky’s Photo Editor. Depending on what mood you want to portray, there are many different effects you can layer on your photo to create a perfectly festive photo:

Funky Focus

Remember how we talked about using a macro lens to make a subject look crisp and sharp in the foreground, while blurring the Christmas lights in the background? The Funky Focus tool can help you achieve this look even if you don’t have the right lens technology. In the Edit tab, click on Funky Focus.

funky focus tool by BeFunky

A target will appear on your photo, and everything within the inner circle will remain sharp, while gradually blurring everything outside of it. You can click and drag this target anywhere on your image, and use the white circles and squares around the target to resize it.

Enhance DLX Effects

At the top of the Edit tab, you’ll find a category called Enhance DLX that features four incredible effects for enhancing photography. All four of these effects are dedicated to fixing problem photos in a single click. For instance, the HDR DLX effect is powerful for low-lit photos where light sources in the background have darkened the foreground. One click of this effect will target the problem areas of your photo and even out the light and dark pixels. The result is balanced contrast, added sharpness, and an unparalleled sense of depth.

HDR effect by BeFunky

If you’re having problems with sharpness in your Christmas light photography, try clicking on the Sharpen DLX effect. Unlike most image sharpening tools that leave a weird halo effect around objects and easily create an over-sharpened look, the Sharpen DLX effect can smartly sense the edges in your image and only sharpen the areas that need it most. The result is a crisp, clear image that never looks over-sharpened.

online image sharpener by BeFunky

Bokeh Effects

If you want to go a little further and let your artistic flare lead your creativity, locate the Textures tab in the main menu and choose the Bokeh category. Here, you’ll find an array of Bokeh effects that will create the look of those beautiful light textures we’ve been raving about. Click through the selections to preview each one on your photo and see what you like best.

bokeh effects with Christmas lights in BeFunky

Like most of our photo editing effects, you can fully customize any of the Bokeh effects by clicking on the Settings Menu (the mixing board icon). There, you can adjust the Blend Mode, Opacity, and Orientation of where the bokeh is placed in the photo. You can also use it in Paint Mode to selectively place Bokeh on your photo.

Lens Flare Effects

Oftentimes, light sources in an image can naturally bounce off the camera lens and create what’s called a lens flare. When paired with Christmas light photography, they’re a match made in photo heaven.

lens flares for photography by BeFunky

You’ll find our Lens Flare effects in the Effects tab of the main menu. Just click on the Lens Flare category and preview each effect by clicking on the different selections. You’ll be able to click and drag each of our Lens Flare effects to place them wherever you wish. You can play with the Intensity and Color of the flare by clicking on the Settings Menu and customizing it to fit the look of your photo.

christmas light photographyholiday lights photography

‘Tis the most photogenic season of all. Now that you know all there is to know about capturing it with your camera, we hope you get the most festive photos you’ve ever taken. Happy Holidays to you and yours!

The Best Online Photo Editor, Ever

GET STARTED NOW!