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Tips & Tricks

How To Photograph Christmas Lights

By Hanssie on December 23rd 2015

With only a few days until Christmas and all of my holiday shopping completed (thanks, Amazon Prime!), what’s left to do but eat cookies and photograph all the beautiful light displays? I’ve always loved the look of bokeh-y Christmas lights in the background of a holiday images and was especially pleased with this image my friend Leujay took of my dogs and I last year.


We didn’t have a studio a backdrop, or fancy lights; rather we had my tiny apartment living room, a reflector, a flash, and a Light stand. Using a Canon 5D Mark III and a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8, with the flash bouncing off the reflector and back on the three of us, my friend had to shoot from the stairs of my balcony just to get far enough to get us all in the image. We duct taped the Christmas lights off the bar separating my kitchen and my living room. It’s not a perfect image, but I love it.

In the following AdoramaTV video, photographer Daniel Norton shows us how to use flash with holiday lights to create a portrait like the one above. First he places the model as far away from the background as possible and shoots wide open to get a nice background where the lights are out of focus, creating the circles of light (bokeh). He uses the pricey Profoto B2’s with a beauty dish, but as mentioned above, you can use basic gear such as a flash and a reflector. In the second part of the 4-minute video, Daniel places the lights in front of the model to create a different effect, like the image below.

It’s easy, fun and creates some great holiday portraits.


Watch Shooting Holiday Lights

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Hanssie is a Southern California-based writer and sometimes portrait and wedding photographer. In her free time, she homeschools, works out, rescues dogs and works in marketing for SLR Lounge. She also blogs about her adventures and about fitness when she’s not sick of writing so much. Check out her work and her blog at Follow her on Instagram

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Martijn van Eeten

    It’s a pity that the wiring is distractingly visible in the last shots, with the lights in front of the model. The previous image (at f1.8) looks way better to me.

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  2. Brandon Dewey

    great tips!

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