How to take Christmas lights around a window in total darkness

Started Dec 27, 2012 | Questions thread
kape06111 Regular Member • Posts: 212
Re: How to take Christmas lights around a window in total darkness

24Peter wrote:

Thank you for the kind words. And I wasn't trying to be coy with my post - I'm still not sure if this is what the OP was inquiring about, but since others have asked here's what I did (and didn't do):

1. First for my mistake: remove vehicles from the driveway. This was a neighbor's home and I asked them to move the car out front on the street but didn't think about the driveway.

2. As was astutely mentioned by someone else, shoot your "night" shots at dusk. These are long-ish exposures so even a little ambient light goes a long way. Plus it's the only way to get the outline of the roof in the shot (unless there are lights strung along the beam of the roof.)

3. Bracket your exposures. My 5DII only does three shots +2/0/-2 and I'm too lazy to manually shift my exposure so that's what I have to work with. So I also...

4. Shoot RAW. I am by no means a RAW-only evangelist and routinely shoot .jpegs but for such a shoot you need all the latitude you can muster. Even with a minus -2 exposure compensation, I was still battling blown highlights, in particular on the Santa feature at the base of the tree. So I used the "recovery" and "brightness" sliders in ACR to bring down the highlights as much as I could on that one exposure. Then...

5. Manually combine the three RAW files in Photoshop. I use the "File>Scripts>Load Files Into Stack" script checking the "automatically align images" check box. Then I manually mask off what I don't want in each layer. (Yes it is time consuming to do it this way, but if I am going to be out there freezing my a$$ off taking the shots, I want the final product to look reasonably good.)

6. Flatten your layers, adjust levels, perhaps a little shadows/highlights adjustment, season sharpening to taste, and your done

Bonus: white balancing can be tricky with all the colored lights. I set my camera on AWB and then just went with "As shot" in ACR when processing my RAW images. I started off by trying to find a neutral gray in the image to use the white balance tool on, but quickly found this was a fool's errand...

IMO - These type of shots are good practice for anyone wanting to learn to shoot night architectural (plus real estate home sales) since it is basically the same process. Hope that helps.

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Thank you for the explanation.

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