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Old Nov 21, 2006, 12:44 AM   #1
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Tonight I saw my first house lit up with Christmas lights. So I should ask: what settings do I use?

I've seen night-time city photography that looks really nice. IIRC, city-scapes can often be done at low ISO if you leave the shutter open for 1 second or more.

Can we do this for Christmas lights? More and more we see tiny one-half inch lights instead of the old 2 to 3 inch bulbs. I am afraid my photos will be very dark, with tiny, dim lights barely showing the outline of a house.

Everybody knows about that one house in town that has DOZENS of 80-100 centimeter lighted statues of angels, Santa Claus, etc. That house will be easy to photograph, fun to practice on (brightness, white balance, etc.) and fun to share here and laugh at.

In low light, my results might not be anywhere close to what I saw in the LCD and EVF, because the camera "turns the light up" in the LCD image. Is the situation better for those with optical viewfinders?

What about using our digicams on "regular" low light houses? Any tips for the Christmas house-lighting season? Will the lights "bloom" if there is an overexposure? (unlikely, I know)

Please share some tips if you have any.

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Old Nov 21, 2006, 2:13 AM   #2
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It would help if you told us what kind of camera you have. If you have an EVF you probably have full manual mode and that is what I would use.

Put the camera on a tripod and start with the widest aperture (smallest number) if depth of field isn't a problem. Start with around four seconds at your lowest ISO. Dim lighting will probably take more and your super bright house will likely take less. You can also adjust so you see the house or mostly just the lights.

Review will be accurate in both your EVF and LCD, so you will know which way you have to adjust. The shots are free so take a lot of them at different exposures.

Optical finders have no advantage for night shooting on a tripod. Use the self timer. Most can be set to two seconds so you aren't waiting forever.

I find auto focus works fine for that type of shot. If you are getting blurred shots you can go to a smaller aperture and longer exposure to increase the depth of field if you don't have manual focus. If you use manual focus use the largest aperture to focus before you stop down.

Incandescent WB will probably give you truer colors since they are usually incandescent lights. Colored lights would probably give a distorted reading for a manual WB using a white sheet of paper or gray card. You can see what auto WB gives you, but any pre-set other than incandescent will likely give you white lights that are either too warm or discolored.

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Old Nov 21, 2006, 1:09 PM   #3
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Thank you. I am hoping to get more general advice, so everyone can benefit.

> The LCD and EVF will be accurate....

How much will be in the final image, yes. As for the brightness, there are some differences (probably true for most models). The camera will turn up the LCD/EVF in dark shooting, and I don't know what ISO to use or how much the flash will affect things beforehand. Previewing (after a shot) may show a "whited out" subject, but the flash can be turned down. But for stuff out of flash range or after sunset, the picture-preview on the LCD can be inaccurate (somewhat darker than picture when viewed on the PC).

Most digicams use the first flash to take an exposure reading (except manual mode). Does the camera also get its white balance info at this time?

I figured the 18% grey cloth (lensmateonline) to do a manual WB would only work with the flash ON, and still might not be a good idea (low light, my own inexperience, etc). I'll stick with "auto" and "incandescent". And PS Elements 5.

So I'll probably be trying a lot of different things, as you said, it's essentially free. And I will likely check out snapfish, etc. soon to share my shots, get critiques, etc.

(Honestly, seeing the brick, etc. on the side of the house makes me satisfied that I do not have just "a skeleton framework of lights" in the darkness. I thought my eye would be more able to get this information from an optical viewfinder. Maybe I just need more practice with my model.)

I have the Canon S3 (LCD and EVF). High iso=noisy (like most), some manual control over flash. Max. aperture is 2.7 (36mm) to 3.5 (432mm) but I likely will not use much zoom. I do have "full manual". Should I spend most of my time there, or spend most of my time in P (I dictate the ISO) or even Tv (shutter priority)?

We rarely have snow at Christmas, FWIW. Do you think I should use the flash for all shots, or just for getting exposure settings and picture-preview?

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Old Nov 21, 2006, 3:48 PM   #4
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Built in flash is useless over 10-12 feet so save your batteries and just do a series of time exposures on a tripod as Slipe suggested. The idea is to get the lights with just a hint of the structure. Use the histogram if your camera has one.
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Old Nov 21, 2006, 4:33 PM   #5
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Quote:
> The LCD and EVF will be accurate....

How much will be in the final image, yes. As for the brightness, there are some differences (probably true for most models). The camera will turn up the LCD/EVF in dark shooting, and I don't know what ISO to use or how much the flash will affect things beforehand. Previewing (after a shot) may show a "whited out" subject, but the flash can be turned down. But for stuff out of flash range or after sunset, the picture-preview on the LCD can be inaccurate (somewhat darker than picture when viewed on the PC).
Taken out of context the statement is incorrect – that is often the case. I understand the LCD and EVF gain up in low light and don't give an accurate reflection of your settings. I said the LCD and EVF will be accurate in review. Review mode is camera talk for playback. Review and playback mean when you have already taken the picture and then look at it. In that case the LCD and EVF will accurately reflect the photo you have taken without any gain up. You can use that for adjustments.

Unless you plan on standing within 20 or so feet of your house you don't want the flash. Even if you can get all the lights from that close you are going to cause yourself lots of work in Photoshop because you brightly light the lawn or driveway as well as any foreground trees and shrubs, which will detract from the photo. And if you get close enough for the flash the edges of the building will be a lot further away than the center making for inconsistent lighting. Turn the flash off.

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Old Nov 21, 2006, 4:56 PM   #6
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Try shooting durring sunset/sunrise. As the light level changes, there is a fair chance that at some point the dim available light will properly balance the electric lights. Hard to judge where that point is, so shoot a lot and look at the results.

Almost impossible to do without a tripod since the "right" light level is likely to require very long exposures.
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Old Nov 21, 2006, 9:46 PM   #7
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Honestly, I didn't think the LCD was showing the image accurately in playback either. I was shooting a monument from the side (Pres. William Henry Harrison tomb) and the mercury-vapor lights weren't lighting up the side (if they were even fully warmed up). I was more than 60 feet from the base, way out of flash range, and losing daylight *_fast_*.

But twenty minutes earlier, I was up on a scenic overlook half a mile away (on Cliff Road, big surprise there), taking pictures of a 9-foot statue of Jesus. I could see the detail beforehand in the LCD even on under-exposed shots, and on playback (while standing right there) the LCD was absolutely correct in terms of brightness. Of course, there was more light then.

So go figure. Tomorrow night I'll go back to that house with the Christmas lights.

The lights at that "other" house, the one that is grotesquely tacky, will be in various stages of completion for another 2 weeks. But if I practice there now, traffic and crowds will be small and I can place the tripod wherever I want.

I'm still getting used to this. But I'm having loads of fun!

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