About Me

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Spofford, New Hampshire, United States
Jeff Newcomer had been a physician practicing in New Hampshire and Vermont for over 30 years. Over that time, as a member of the Conservation Commission in his home of Chesterfield New Hampshire, he has used his photography to promote the protection and appreciation of the town's wild lands. In recent years he has been transitioning his focus from medicine to photography, writing and teaching. Jeff enjoys photographing throughout New England, but has concentrated on the Monadnock Region and southern Vermont and has had a long term artistic relationship with Mount Monadnock. He is a featured artist in a number of local galleries and his work is often seen in regional print, web publications and in business installations throughout the country. For years Jeff has published a calendar celebrating the beauty of The New England country-side in all seasons. All of the proceeds from his New England Reflections Calendar have gone to support the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at the Cheshire Medical Center. Jeff has a strong commitment to sharing his excitement about the special beauty of our region and publishes a blog about photography in New England.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Photography of Holiday Lights

Tis the season for warm and lovely holiday lighting around our homes, stores and public buildings.  It is also a good time to discuss some of the challenges in photographing these emblems of this special time of year.

I have discussed holiday lighting photography in articles from a few years ago for the New England Photography Guild and in my own “Getting it Right in theDigital Camera” blog, but this seems like a good time to review some of the essential tips. 

Later this week I will be giving a talk to the South Shore Camera Club in Quincy Massachusetts and they requested a presentation on capturing the holiday illuminations. I didn’t think I had enough material for an hour long discussion on holiday lights, so I have been madly searching for more images and information. These are always great learning situations, so I have been out trying to shoot images that better illustrate some of the essential points.  Fortunately, I am just back from spending several days celebrating thanksgiving with my son in New York City and I had wonderful opportunities to shoot some of the elaborate decorations in Manhattan. 

Ok, since my talk is on Tuesday and I have my last “Introduction to Digital Photography” class on Thursday, this will be a brief list tips for your holiday photography.  For more details, check out my articles from a few years ago.  With the exception of the increasingly prevalent use of LED lighting,  little has changed (see below)

Floating Lights
1) Expose to reveal the detail of the context of the image.
It is important to show that your lights are hanging on something, and not merely appearing to float in the air.  Whether the lights are strung on a house, a church, or trees in a park, it is the context that tells the story of each image.  Just be careful to avoid washing out the lights.  It is always an important to maintain balance in the exposures.

2) Put the Flash Away
Direct Flash
There are very few situations in which is flash can be helpful in capturing holiday lights. In general, a flash will merely wash out the lights nearby while inducing shorter shutter speeds that will underexpose the more distant bulbs. 

Slow Sync Flash
More even capture of the lights may be obtain by using the slow sync flash option which is available on many cameras.  This feature combines the flash with a slower shutter speed to record more of the background detail.

Almost always you will get better images by turning off the flash, attaching your camera to a tripod, and using a long exposure.

No Flash

3) Choosing White Balance  

Daylight Color Balance
For years, most holiday lights used tungsten bulbs which create a yellow tint when shot with a daylight setting.  Switching to the tungsten setting corrects the tint, making white bulbs appear white, but, in mixed lighting situations, surrounding areas may take on a blue tint.  The color balance can be a matter of taste, although in Photoshops two images can be blended with a mask to combine the white lights with the un-tinted background. 

Tungsten Color Balance
The choice of color temperature is especially important when shooting in the restrictive color environment of JPGs.  When shooting RAW the color setting is not important, since it can be easily changed in post-processing, but JPGs are much less capable of color adjustments. 

Highlight Mask

LED lighting imposes another level of complexity since they can produce a wide range of colors.  Experimentation with various color settings can help, but I usually shoot in RAW with the AWB (Automatic White Balance) and then do my experimentation during post-processing.

Blended Light Commonwealth Ave, Boston, MA
4) Move in for Detail I tend to love wide views of Christmas illuminations, but it is important to remember to move in to capture some of the interesting detail.  Compositions created by just a few bulbs or details of greenery can provide refreshing variety.  After shooting my grandly lighted landscapes, I try to force myself to keep stepping deeper and deeper into the scene.

5) Finally, Don’t forget to check my other tips about capturing the “Holy Grail” of holiday light photography Including, shooting in the blue hour, capturing the lights in fresh snow, catching the twinkle in the lights and finding strong context in the images.

Christmas Light Photography (NEPG Article)

Perfect Christmas Tree – ASquirrel Saga

Now go out and catch some great holiday lights.  Maybe I’ll see you at the South Shore Camera Club this week


  1. Looking forward to seeing your presentation tonight Jeff!!!

  2. Thank you for the wonderful presentation last night. I spoke with many members who really enjoyed it. It was a pleasure to finally meet you!

    1. Thanks Carol. I had a great time. Hopefully I will have time to catch up on your blog soon.

  3. Wonderful blog, these pictures are beautiful

  4. Great Post about Holiday Lighting. It is so nice to read such a wonderful blog. Thanks for sharing! Have a pleasant day ahead.

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