Tag Archives: Shooting Christmas Lights

Shooting HDD – Holiday Decoration Displays

Shooting HDD –HolidayDecoration Displays in HDR

It’s that time of year when the world is aglow with Holiday Decorations, so I thought it would be a good time to do a quick lesson on how to shoot HDD using HDR. 

First off, of course we want to shoot these at night, only we really DON’T want to shoot them at night. We want to shoot them at dusk, that time just after sunset and before the sky plunges into total darkness. This way we not only see the beautiful lights we also get a better rendition of the building or houses them selves 

Hotel Del Coronado

So right after sunset I headed over to one of the most spectacular places for holiday light in an old style traditional way, The Hotel Del Coronado on Coronado Island California. 

The Set-up

I set up my tripod but before I placed my camera on it, I took a few seconds to measure the dynamic range of the scene, It wasn’t that wide but would take 3 images 2 stops apart. I actually did do a few sequences of 6 shots 1 EV apart but I will talk about them in a post to follow this one tomorrow. 

In this first shot I measured the sidewalk in front of me and got a reading of 6 seconds and then I moved to the brightest area of the sky and got a reading of .8 seconds. I merely needed to connect the dots from there. 

 I shot at f/22 and ISO 320. I chose f/22 because I was hoping to get some star effects on the light and that really didn’t work out unless you look at a couple of the chandeliers visible inside the building. If I were to do it again I would have gone with just f/16 since the point source lights were really too far away and too small to get a good effect on them.

I used a slightly higher ISO because there was a slight wind off the ocean and I was hoping to not have to go with super long exposure times. Plus being the time of year it was there were a lot of visitors and I was trying to shoot quickly to keep them from ghosting the image. 

Here is my first shot, shot right after sunset by a small bridge


I processed it in Photomatix Pro 4.1, using most of my standard tone mapping mix, Strength 85

Light adjustment natural, Gamma 1.20 and a little kick of white and black levels. 

I wanted to be a little different this time so I did all my final adjustments in Lightroom instead of taking the image to Photoshop. The biggest reason was there were some angular distortions shooting the architecture. So I straightened up some lines and then just added a little Vibrance and Clarity and I was done. No need for Photoshop at all. 

In the next shot I changed positions and this was shot about 20 minutes later






The lighting conditions were now the same ISO320 and now f/20 (no reason for the change I just hit the dial by mistake). But the times for the three exposures bow ranged from 30 seconds to 2 seconds, again I covered them in 3 – 2EV exposures, and again, finished up my image all in Lightroom.















 Moving Indoors

I then moved inside to the lobby of theDelto the beautiful all wood lobby and the magnificent tree. Unfortunately due to fire regulations, they now have had to change to an artificial tree and as much as I miss the great real trees they used to display, they still do an absolutely magnificent job of decorati8ng it with a different theme every year.

 I took up position on the second floor ( where I’m not supposed to be) and  because I knew it would be an easy shoot, set my camera on AV mode and just did an auto 3 exposure 2EV bracket. 

For these images I turned to finishing them in Nik HDR Efex Pro because of the fine detail present. Photomatix does detail just fine. But I enjoyed using Nik HDR Efex Pro for out interior shoot 2 months ago, so I returned to it here. 

I didn’t need to do much to get a great image. Compression was 22% a slight exposure adjustment of -.65% added 8% Black and then changed the HDR method to Crisp at 10% and that was it. 

Again I finished the image in Lightroom with just a few corrections and slight adjustments and I had a final image
















I changed to a vertical camera position and shot this sequence, using the similar adjustments


























Well of course I know you are curios so I did one other exposure and instead used Photomatix for the Tone Mapping. Again like I always say, neither one is correct but they produce such different results
















I also included a single image to show what it would look like without using HDR for our HDD. It’s OK but just doesn’t have the reality that our HDR does.


And just as I was leaving I spotted this Vignette in a small staircase and just fell in love with the light it had. While I was setting up a Bride and Groom went up there and got a couple of snaps by their friends with their P & S cameras. I SO wanted to shoot them in those chairs. It really could have been a magical shoot but I didn’t have the lighting I would have needed to carry it off. 

BUT I LOVE this shot. It’s not Christmassy, but I love it.


 I  hope this helped a bit to show you how I shoot HDD with HDR. I have been shooting the Hotel Del Coronado for the past 15 years. Without a doubt this has been the best capture ever. Thanks for coming along