How To Photograph Your Christmas Lights

Photograph Christmas Lights Have you ever seen photographs of blurry Christmas lights like this one, and wondered if you can achieve it yourself? These photos are surprisingly easy to achieve and can even be taken with your phone.

In this tutorial I’ll talk you through how to take these photographs with a camera shooting in manual mode, and on your smartphone.


Using Your Camera

Essentially, creating these blurry photographs of Christmas lights is exactly the same as creating any other photograph with background blur. However because you want complete control over how bright and blurry the image is I recommend shooting on manual mode.

You’ll need to shoot with a wide aperture – in my case I used my 50mm lens at f/1.4. The wider your aperture, the better effect you will achieve.

I also turned my lens to manual focus, so that I could deliberately adjust my focus until the tree lights were out of focus – as you’ll do this you’ll see how the lights change from sharp, small dots, to larger blurs.

In the case of this photograph, I wanted everything other than the tree lights to be dark, so I didn’t need to worry about the rest of the photograph being properly exposed. I set my shutter speed to 1/160, and ISO to 200.

Once I had my camera set as I needed it, I moved around the tree to see where I got a better effect. As you do this you’ll notice how the lights change in appearance, and are larger or smaller as you change your distance from the tree. As you can see in the photograph below, the lights don’t appear as large as they do in the photograph at the top of the post because I was in a different position.

Photograph Christmas Lights

Add some creative shapes

You can add some extra interest to your photographs by manipulating the shape of the light coming into your camera.

To do this, I cut a circle of card that would completely cover the front of my lens. I then cut a very small star out from the middle of this circle. When I was photographing the tree I held this piece of card over the front of my lens, and this results in star shaped lights in my photograph.

You could have a lot of fun creating different shaped lights – how about trying stars or Christmas tree shapes, for example?

Photograph Christmas Lights

Using your smartphone’s camera

You can also achieve this lovely, blurry light effect with your smartphone’s camera. Although, because the lens is so small it would be very, very difficult to make it work with different shapes as I have done above.

To achieve this, you’ll need to use the depth of field function on your phone (you can read more about controlling depth of field on your phone’s camera here.) To make the tree lights blurry, you’ll need to stand away from the tree and focus on something very close to you. I suggest just holding your hand up in front of the phone, and locking the focus on your hand.

Once you take your hand away you should find that the tree lights are out of focus, and blurry. If not, then you probably need to move further away from the tree.

Over to you

I hope you’ve enjoyed this fun tutorial – and if you have older children it may be something they enjoy too. You can find all of my other photography tutorials here, including these Christmas themed ones:

Take Great Photos For Your Photo Christmas Card

How To Photograph Your Family’s Christmas Traditions

Clare Murthy

Clare Murthy

I’m a newborn, baby and family photographer working with families from South West London and Surrey. I specialise in timeless, natural photography with no props or unnatural posing. I photograph babies at my studio, and families in beautiful outdoor locations. I'm based on the Surrey / London border, close to Hampton Court.
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