Tips for Taking Better Christmas Light Photos
BETTER CHRISTMAS PICS
for iPhone + DSLR images
One big question I get over and over is, “Why do the pictures of my kids around the Christmas tree never turn out pretty?!” WELL there’s a lot of “could be’s” and “why’s” behind that, but here are some tips to make your photos with Christmas lights turn out prettier, whether its of your babies, your puppies, or your selfies!
The BIGGEST contributor is lighting, guys. If you don’t have good light, make good light,
or weeeerkkkk your bad light into good light IN CAMERA (meaning: WHILE the photo is being taken),
there aren’t always ways to fix it in post.
I’ve got samples of different lighting, before and after edits, and photos shot on iPhone as well as DSLR! I used the
preset MEGA for all of these, for consistency and comparisons sake. You can shop presets I use HERE, and they are currently on a holiday sale!! :)
A few things to know going in:
1. Ambient Lighting: this refers to soft lighting from lamps and light sources around your home that are NOT direct overhead lighting.
2. SOOC means Straight Out of Camera — completely unedited
3.. Although we all have different styles, as a primarily portrait photographer, my # 1 concern is skin tone. So when I shoot, and when I edit, I pay attention most to what my subject’s skin is looking like over anything else.
4. This blog is for “real life” photos… meaning not always the best lighting conditions etc. Even though I’m a pro, that doesn’t mean I walk around in a world of perfect light and photo opps - sometimes ya just gotta work with what ya got.
LET’S START WITH THE WORST CASE SCENARIOS:
IPHONE PHOTO, SHOT WITH AMBIENT LIGHTING
The above set of photos was shot simply on my iPhone with no flash, using only the lighting of my tree and lamps around my living room. Its OKAY, but iPhones don’t have the best low-light sensitivity so there’s only so much you can do. I edited with Mega on Lightroom mobile to where Luke was brighter, and called it a day.
Ambient light, however, is usually a better option than shooting with the overhead light on with zero flash. Overhead lights cast weird shadows onto our faces, which is why ambient lighting is preferred - its much softer and gentler on skin.
PRO TIP: All white Christmas lights will light your subject better, but according to my 6 yo colorful ones are more fun…. so I’m rolling with it ;)
BELOW for comparison is a photo shot on iPhone with the ONLY light source being our Christmas tree. Do you see how grainy and dark the detail on Luke is? I didn't even bother to edit it because I know I can’t push the lack of detail on him any further.
iPHONE with FLASH & AMBIENT LIGHT
The right would also be a good way to achieve pretty decent iPhone pics at night around the tree. We had ambient light on in the house, and I used the flash on my iPhone to illuminate Luke. I don’t think it’s quite as dreamy as NO flash, but….the quality overall is better. I popped Mega on using LR mobile just to warm up his skin tone. I don’t enjoy how flash on the iPhone makes skin tones look … flatter, usually pulls pinks and reds out. Warming it up usually eliminate that heavy digitalized feel and gives you a depth and warmth closer to old school film tones.
okay… NOW ONTO THE BEST OPTIONS!!!
DAYTIME WINDOW LIGHT / SHOT ON iPHONE
One misconception is that is has to be DARK for Christmas lights to show up in pictures - totally not
One great alternative for pics inside your home, especially if you don't have options for softer ambient nighttime light, is using soft window light around your tree to light your subject.
Our iPhones / smartphones have become great “real camera” substitutes, but I think they work best in ideal, well lit lighting conditions. So make them work FOR you, and not AGAINST you - understanding your gear’s limitations is key in making great pics!
Our current new iPhones no longer offer the option of shooting in HDR mode or not…it seems like they just automatically do that. That can be good, but I also feel like it flattens certain things out that I wish had more depth…like our tree lights for example would have looked poppier if I’d used an older iPhone, I think. But oh well.
DSLR + AMBIENT LIGHT ONLY
Above is an image I shot on my DSLR. I used only the light from ambient sources around the living room, but you can see
how using a DSLR and shooting in raw gives you much more control over your final image. I converted it to JPG and edited with Mega. PS our lights twinkle, so I apologize for there being less and more twinkle in some than others :)
DSLR + AMBIENT LIGHT WITH BW EDIT
Another go-to if a color photo is very unforgiving for whatever reason - low light, weird color casts, whatever - is to pop it in black and white. I used the preset MONO and turned up the grain :)
DSLR + FLASH
For this image, I used my external flash and my DSLR. I popped my flash on, pointed it backwards so it would bounce soft light back into Luke’s face, and edited with preset MEGA. Using the built-in flash on a point and shoot camera would possibly give a similar effect, but if you camera has a hot shoe where you could control your flash / angle, that would be a better bet.