For many, the holidays just wouldn't be complete without Christmas lights adorning their homes.
If you own a digital SLR (digital camera) and want to be able to show off your home and holiday lights, here are some tips and tricks to getting a good picture at night to share with family and friends who may not be able to see your work of art in person.
Plan ahead of time: The last thing you want to do is to be running in and out of your house because you forgot something. Gather up everything you need before you go out so you have more time to enjoy experimenting with night photography. Additionally, keep in mind what time you will be taking pictures and weather conditions. Having the backdrop of dusk on your house and holiday lights will give your photograph a completely different feel then a star-lit background.
Go manual: Your DSLR's automatic settings often get confused with pictures at night. From changing your aperture to changing your shutter speed, placing your camera in the "manual" mode lets you make all the decisions. The letter "M" typically indicates this setting, but refer to your camera's manual if you have trouble locating this mode. Also, change your lens from auto focus to manual—your camera doesn't do well on focusing when there's not much available light.
No flash: If your flash fires, you won't get a picture that shows off the natural colors of your lights. Flashes also have a limited range, so the areas farther away will look darker than the areas closer to the camera.
Long exposures: Typically during normal daytime photography, there is such an abundance of sunlight that your camera's shutter speed might read 1/30th of a second or higher (some cameras can take a picture at 1/8000th of a second). With night photography, you will want to be going in the complete opposite direction because, by comparison, your holiday lights aren't very bright for your DSLR. There are no right or wrong settings, so anywhere from three seconds to 30-minute exposures aren't unheard of. If your camera has a "bulb" shutter speed, you will be able to take pictures for longer than 30 seconds. All camera makes and models may be different, so refer to your camera's manual for this setting.
Additionally, turning on your camera's self timer minimizes the amount of blur in your images by guaranteeing you haven't touched the camera when it starts to take a picture.
Use a tripod: Since you will be taking longer exposures, a tripod is a definite must have in helping you get crisp, clear night pictures. Placing your camera on a tripod minimizes the amount of blurriness your pictures produce because there is no movement within the camera.
Bring a flashlight: Sometimes you will be in an area where there's not much light and you have to change the settings on your camera. A flashlight will enable you to change those settings without any hassle.
Bring spare batteries: If you have them, great! The cold nights take a big toll on batteries. They don't last as long in this weather and having spare batteries will help you experiment with different settings. Additionally, keep the spare batteries somewhere warm.
Bring something hot to drink: It goes without saying that you should dress appropriately for the cold night, but a hot chocolate or hot coffee will go a long way for you to enjoy your time outside trying to get a good picture of your holiday decorations.
Lastly, have fun: One of the best parts of having a digital camera is the instant feedback. With DSLR's you will be able to see the work that you have produced on your camera's LCD screen and know if you need to take a longer exposure or a shorter one. Your results will vary, but being able to share a great night photograph of your beautiful home and holiday lights, that you took yourself, is just one of the many fun things you can do with your DSLR this holiday season.
Editor's note: This article originally ran in December 2010.