There is nothing like using holiday lights to set the mood for a photograph. When you see those little lights twinkling in a picture, you immediately know what time of year it is and it immediately brings lots of warm feelings to the photo. However, over the last decade, LED’s have replaced tungsten lights as the primary kind of light you’ll see adorning houses and trees. These lights last longer and use less power than traditional lights, but they have a major downside. Let me show you how to conquer the problem of photographing LED’s–it’s really simple.

Why Are Half the LED Lights Out in My Pictures?

You’ll see that when you make pictures of LED’s with a fast-ish shutter speed that many of the lights appear to be dark and the picture has half as much light as when you look at it live in person. Or you may even see a dark bar that moves through the picture if you use Live View or a mirrorless camera. These are the same problem, and it’s one that dates back to Tesla and Eddison. Briefly, the power coming out of your wall socket is cycling on and off 50 or 60 times a second and your camera is recording those times when some of the lights are out.

Take a look at these pictures. These were all shot at 1/100th of a second, which really isn’t that fast, but it’s fast enough that the lighting changes between each shot, even showing that the bulb I was focused on goes dark. click to make them larger.

How Do You Photograph All the LED’s on at Once?

The way to beat this is simple: you just have to shoot at a slower shutter speed so that you record all the lights on at some point during your picture. If you’re in the USA or another country that uses approximately 110 volt AC 60 Hertz power, then you need to shoot at 1/60th of a second or slower. If you’re in China or another country that uses 220 volt AC 50 Hertz power, then you should shoot at 1/50th of a second or slower.

I’m in the USA, so shooting at 1/60th of a second gives pretty good results, but the lights look even more equalized if I shoot a bit slower, like 1/30th of a second. At a little slower speed, the lights all turn on at least once and burn a little brighter in the picture. These three pictures were all shot consecutively, and you can see that they are all about the same brightness.


What’s This Mean for Me?

Using a slower shutter speed and getting more lights activated and visible in your picture is good because it makes the overall brightness of the picture more luminous, it makes the decor look more effulgent, and it shows the mood that can only be recorded during the holidays. The downside is that you’re now using a slower shutter speed, and that means you’re more likely to make blurry pictures. Take care and hold still and hope the wind doesn’t blow. If you’re photographing people, you can coach them to examine a specific limb or ornament. When people are given a specific thing to do, they tend to hold still better. Lastly, consider which is most important: all the lights on or a sharp photo without blur. If you want sharpness, use a faster shutter speed and accept that some of the lights will not be illuminated in your photo, but if the lights are an integral part of your picture, then slow it down and stabilize the camera and your subject. These LED lights are terrific tools for making a holiday mood, and now you’re ready to go photograph them.