Brilliant Tips For Amazing Outdoor Christmas Light Photos [2023]

Every year we draw many visitors to our Christmas Light display at Rusty Griswold’s, and most want to remember the occasion with a picture. Today’s smartphone takes a lot of the guesswork out of what camera settings to use, but there are still a few tips even the seasoned photographer can take advantage of for the perfect Xmas Light photos.

When it’s pitch black outside, light exposure can become tricky. Pair that with our 10,000+ bulbs shining directly at you, you need to set your camera for the appropriate orientation. If the camera exposes the Christmas lights, they’ll look like they’re floating in the air. If it exposes to the props or other surroundings, the lights will be completely washed out, almost colourless. Here are our Top Eight tips for getting the perfect Christmas light photo to increase your holiday spirit!

Amazing photo that captures the essence of Christmas with multiple light sources at night.

Take Christmas Light Photos At Dusk

The atmospheric light will perfectly complement the Christmas lights for a precious few minutes. You’ll pick up the beautiful ambient colours of the sky and surroundings and get much more photographic texture than a flat blackness. Set your camera to expose the lights and not the sky. That way, the sky’s ambient light will come in to complement the lights, which should remain the focus of your Christmas light photo.

Shoot Your Christmas Light Photos Quickly

Don’t take lightly the precious few minutes I mentioned above. If you have ever tried to take a picture of a sunset, you already know how quickly the light changes. Between sunset and nightfall, every passing minute brings slightly different lighting conditions. This means that you have the opportunity to capture a variety of scenarios but not much actual time.

Tripods Are Your Friend

A still camera will always provide the sharpest pictures. A stationary tripod is typically the only way to guarantee a perfect image for longer exposures.

Turn Off That Flash

Whether you are posing in front of the display, remember the focal point is the Christmas lights. You’re trying to capture the colour of the lights; your flash could interfere with the lighting colour profile. And that’s if your flash even shows up. Unless you have an incredibly powerful flash or are close to the person, the flash isn’t likely to contribute much to the picture. As a general rule, keep the flash off.

A Lower ISO Is Better

You should start taking your Christmas light photos around an ISO of 400. If your photos are too dark, increase it, but know that any increase to the ISO may reduce the image quality. Whenever you’re on a tripod, go all out with the lowest ISO possible.

Set The Camera Aperture To f/8

If you are following our above suggestions, this is a great starting point. Remember, the general rule for your Xmas light photo is that lower numbers let in more light, and the higher numbers allow less.

Slow Shutter Speed If More Light Required

Instead of increasing the ISO, slow down the shutter speed to allow in more light. By doing so you will prevent the grain typically introduced by a higher ISO. One item to note though this method will leave your photo vulnerable to blur from movement from kids, Christmas trees in the wind, and flying reindeer.

Adjust White Balance for Christmas Light Photos

You can manage the overall warmth of the light by adjusting your white balance. By setting it to Daylight, you will give the lights a more orange glow. If the Christmas lights are LED (as most nowadays are), by setting your white balance to Incandescent, the lights will appear to have a blueish tinge. There are different types of LED bulbs available on the market today and as such, they can provide an inconsistent glow. The best setting for LED displays is AWB or Auto White Balance setting. Your Xmas light photo will shine!

After making all these adjustments, you may still need an opportunity to enhance your pictures digitally. For these situations, I recommend using the free software GIMP. GIMP is a free and open-source graphics editor used for image editing, free-form drawing, transcoding between different image file formats, and other specialized tasks.

Did I miss anything?

Now I’d like to hear from you! Do you utilize different camera settings that have been a success for you? Do you know of any other tips for taking the perfect Xmas photo?

Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below right now.


  • Rusty Griswold

    Since 2015, I have been building my light display to celebrate the holiday season and experimenting with various recipes to bring people together around the table. I have learned many do's and don'ts in both areas along the way, and share them with everyone via the website. M Mike
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