Photography tips and tricks for Holiday season!

As we move into the holiday season, there are many things we want to shoot in low light—trick or treaters, outdoor holiday decorations and indoor parties, to name but three. It’s the time of year when we want to capture the fun times and remember the spirit of the events. When taking photos, the worst mood-killer is to flood a photo with a bright flash. At night, a flash turns spooky and mysterious into overly bright. When you illuminate a pumpkin, you may lose the effect of its glowing eyes.  Similarly, lighting candles on a menorah or a mood-lit party becomes harshly bright.  There are ways to adjust your camera settings—whether it is with a point-and-shoot camera or a DSLR—to capture the mood.

Adjust the camera settings before the big event

You don’t want to be messing with camera settings at the event. If possible, go out the night before and experiment with settings. By making adjustments in advance, you can be free to focus on the photos of the excitement without placing too much attention on your camera.

Take the camera out of Auto Mode

Many point-and-shoot cameras now have the option of shooting in manual modes. Getting the picture you want doesn’t require any advanced knowledge of manual settings.  However, you will need to change the shooting mode from A (automatic) to P (program) and make a few adjustments. The Program mode automatically chooses the camera settings but it also allows you to override some automatic settings*.

How to get the right exposure without losing the mood

After putting the camera in P mode, turn off the flash.  There may be a button on the camera with a lightning bolt, or it may be in the shooting menu. Choose the Off mode rather than the auto flash or another option.

 Use spot focus and spot metering (exposure) 

Cameras default to the best exposure for full frame. This is a problem when you have a bright candle and sparse light in the rest of the picture. To avoid a photo that shows a bright pumpkin design floating in inky darkness, you’ll need to tell the camera what you want. Part of the photo should be in focus with proper exposure.

Traditional point and shoot and DSLR cameras must be switched to a “spot focus” and a “spot metering” mode that can be found in the shooting menu, or reached by pressing the AF mode button on the camera.

When shooting a pumpkin (or other subject), point the focus point in the viewfinder (or LCD) of the camera at the area you want to be exposed perfectly. Press the shutter button down halfway

until it focuses on the object. Now move the camera to compose the photo while still holding down the shutter button.  Once you have framed the picture to your satisfaction, press the shutter button all the way down to take the photo.

Raise the ISO setting

Shooting in dark environments or within mood lighting requires a higher ISO number, which makes the camera more sensitive to light. If there is no ISO button on the camera, you may need to go into the shooting menu to change the setting. Start with an ISO of 3200 for trick or treaters, and about 1600 for indoors.

Take a few photos to make sure you like the exposure and that the photo isn’t blurry from camera movement. If the photo is blurry, raise the ISO to a higher number or use a tripod for still objects like a Jack o’Lantern. Some cameras have an “auto ISO” mode where you can specify a minimum shutter speed to prevent blurring.  Choose 1/50th of a second for a steady handy as 1/30th or 1/15th may be hard to hold and blurry.

The two most important things to do when trying to get low-light photos are 1) to experiment with settings before the event and 2) to try taking multiple photos of the same subject with multiple settings.  It isn’t hard to get the photos that capture the essence of the moment, but you will have to get yourself out of auto mode.

Barb Gonzalez ~ The Simple Tech Guru

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