How To Photograph The Lights of Christmas

I’m super excited to learn these bokah tips from Katrina (and practice them over the next week before the holidays are over)!  Be sure to read to the end! 😉


image “I eat, breathe, write and teach Photography! My camera is my most often worn accessory. I am a mom with a camera who feels compelled to capture my son’s life. I was frustrated by my search to learn how to use my camera and knew I had to pass on the knowledge I gathered to help other moms capture their favorite subjects. I started out with a film SLR years ago,on auto. Moved to a dSLR in 2002 on auto and in 2005 finally decided I needed to know what TV actually stood for!”

Katrina teaches photography classes at Get It Scrapped. Writes photography tutorials for DesignerDigitals and blogs about her life through the lens at About A Boy.



I love lights at Christmas! They add a special bit of magic to the holidays.

The blurred lights in the background of photos are called bokeh. Christmas lights give bokeh a unique, artistic look.

The aperture of your camera determines the size and shape of the circular light effect. The wider your aperture (the smaller the f/ number), the larger and more circular the light will be.

Let’s have some holiday fun! Grab your fastest lens, the one with the smallest f/ number. I’ll explain three ways for achieving bokeh:

  • Manual Focus Bokeh (the easiest and most artistic method)
  • Aperture Priority Mode Bokeh
  • Manual Mode Bokeh
  • Point & Shoot Bokeh

Each method will work with any lens, but the lens with the widest aperture (smallest f/ number) will give you the best results.

Please turn your flash off for these methods. You can take bokeh photos in daylight or at night! Try both to see what you can produce.


Manual Focus Bokeh

For this method, your distances to the subject and your lens choice aren’t as important as the next two methods. The key is to have lots of lights you are pointing your lens at. Even a small portion of your Christmas tree or a string of lights will work for this. Multi-colored lights work especially well.

1. Select Program (P), Aperture (AV or A).

2. Select Spot Metering.

3. Turn your lens to Manual Focus.

4. Turn your lens focus ring until the lights form large circles.

5. Press the shutter button.

5. Check your results.


ROUND BOKEH In Aperture Priority Mode (AV or A)

Leave distance between your subject and the lights to create bokeh in this method. The more lights, the more glowing circles you will have.

1. Select Aperture Priority Mode. (AV or A on the top dial)

2. Select Spot Metering.

3. Move your Aperture to f/1.4, or your widest aperture (smallest f/ number). Your camera will select the shutter speed when you point your lens toward your subject.

4. Double-check your shutter speed.

-If it is faster than 1/50th move to the next step.

-If is it is slower than 1/50th, and you are hand holding, move your ISO up until your shutter speed equals or is faster than 1/50th

5. Press the shutter button.

6. Check your results.

Round Bokeh In Manual Mode (M)

If you want something to be in focus in front of lights, this is the method to choose!

1. Select your widest aperture (the smallest f/number).

2. Select Spot Metering

3. Meter on your subject for a correct exposure.

4. Looking through your viewfinder, adjust your shutter speed until it indicates a correct exposure (the middle line on your light meter). Adjust your ISO and shutter speed, leaving your aperture at its widest number.


6. Review your results.

Round Bokeh with a point and shoot

Point and shoot bokeh is a bit trickier, but not impossible!

1. Choose the Macro mode (flower mode).

2. Turn off the flash.

3. Focus.

4. Shoot.

5. Check your results.

6.Play with changing your distance to change the light effect.

Have fun! If you want even more tricks for playing with light I have a fun tutorial, Give Me Your Best Shot: Capturing Lights in the store at DesignerDigitals! One lucky commenter will win this tutorial!  Comments must be posted by midnight ET tonight and the winner will be posted tomorrow.

P.S. Nettie was the random winner of Ali’s class Yesterday, Today; Nettie check your email.  Thanks to everyone who entered! Come back tomorrow for another winner.

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