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Tips for Photographing St. Augustine’s “Nights of Lights”
With the Holidays just around the corner and the opening of St Augustine’s “Nights of Lights”, I was asked how to best photograph these lights. The best part is that you don’t have to have the best equipment and you don’t have to be a professional photographer to get good results. With just some basic techniques and equipment, you will be well on your way to bringing back some wonderful photographic memories.
Nights of Lights begins the Saturday before Thanksgiving and continues nightly through February 2nd. The 2019-2020 Nights of Lights will take place every evening from November 23, 2019 to February 2, 2020.
There are many ways to experience this annual event. First is simply by walking through town. Be sure to put on your walking shoes because the white lights drape the city’s unique Spanish Colonial architecture and glow from the sidewalks to the rooftops, over the Bridge of Lions, along historic buildings, public spaces, hotels, restaurants, and inns throughout approximately 20 blocks of the Nation’s Oldest City’s historic district. You cannot miss all the wonderful displays on the streets and in all the windows of the shops. If you are not up for all that walking then one of the horse drawn carriages or one of the caroling trolleys or trains is a great option and a lot of fun too.
Some of the top spots to view and photograph the lights are:
The Plaza de la Constitución
Get the perfect holiday selfie in front of the Christmas tree in the center of the plaza. There are also live music performances in the plaza on weekends and throughout the holidays.
The Bridge of Lions
Walk the bridge to gaze back at the sparkling reflection of the lights along the water. And don’t forget the spectacular view of the bridge from along the river walkway.
The Horse Carriages and Trolleys
Don’t overlook these because they offer some great photo opportunities with their festive decorations. You can see them throughout the city giving their nightly tours and the horse carriages will all be lined up next to the river walk.
Across from the entrance to Flagler College on King Street this offers one of the best views in the city with all the lights and the reflections in the water fountain.
St George Street
The main street in the historic section offers a wide variety of photo opportunities from photo journalistic, scenic, and macro images of the colorful window displays.
-35mm camera or cell phone
-Sturdy tripod and shutter release
-Small flashlight really comes in handy to help you see in some of those dark areas while photographing
-Medium to wide angle lens (24mm to105mm or even a 12mm to 24mm work great)
-Use a fairly fast ISO. ISO 800 is a good place to start but you may even have to go higher depending on the brightness of the scene you are photographing.
-You want to use an aperture of at least F8 to F11 to insure good depth of field and overall sharpness in your photos.
-Turn off your flash unless you need it for some portraits in front of the tree. The flash will only wash out the lights. And, if you’re photographing outside, your flash will likely not be powerful enough to illuminate a large scene unless it is very powerful.
Plan Your Photographs
Depending on where you are photographing, it might be best to photograph scenes with outdoor lights around dusk. Why? A little ambient light can really help your image. If you are photographing a home or building that has beautiful holiday lights, capturing the scene when there is still some light in the sky will allow you to better include the surrounding terrain like trees, bushes, other structures, and the sky. Shooting the same scene in full darkness may have your photograph looking like lights around a dark building under a dark sky in front of a dark tree (if you can still see the tree).
I am a big advocate of shooting raw capture and using automatic white balance for night photography such as this. You can certainly change your white balance at the point of capture. But, I prefer to change color balance in post-production (if shooting raw). It is really up to the photographic artist when it comes to how to add or subtract color casts from the scene, and/or neutralize the tones and hues. If you just want to shoot and worry about color casts later, select automatic WB and shoot raw. Not to mention that photographing in RAW gives so much more information in your file and so many more options during post production.
Some Basic Pointers:
1) The displays are all over town and the photo opportunities are around every corner. Just plan to give yourself plenty of time to take it all in. Take it slow and observe what is happening around you. Look for patterns in the lights and the stories that will present themselves to you with all the visitors in town.
2) If it should rain for goodness sakes don’t pack it in and go home. Christmas lights and the reflections caused by the water in the streets is a great photographic opportunity.
3) I like to go a little later in the evening. The crowds have thinned out by then and it is easier to get some clear vantage points of the lights with out a lot of people.
4) But, if it is crowded you can use a long exposure to eliminate some of the people by using long exposure techniques and a tripod.
5) Whether you use a cell phone or a digital camera I would highly recommend a sturdy tripod and a shutter release to avoid camera vibrations. They make tripods for both digital cameras and cell phones and using one will highly increase getting images that are much sharper.
6) So far as lenses I would suggest a medium zoom. I use a 24mm to 105mm and I also have a 12mm to 24mm for those extra wide shots like the front of Flagler College and the Lightner Museum across the street.
7) Don’t forget the side streets. There is a lot going on off the main streets and the houses that have been decorated by the residents are always beautiful.
8) If you’re not familiar with all the bells and whistles on your camera then read your manual and get familiar with the functions that you plan to use on your night photography excursion. Learn how to operate your camera in the dark and know where all the buttons for the different functions are. Nothing worse than trying to do night photography and you are fumbling with the camera controls. If you are not an experienced photographer but you want some decent results then there is nothing wrong with putting your camera in Automatic or Program Mode.
9) For myself I like to use Aperture Priority and Full Manual Modes which gives me more creative control of the camera. Work with an aperture of F/8 to F/11 in order to get good depth of field and sharpness in your image.
10) Don’t be afraid to push the boundaries of your camera when it comes to the ISO settings. With the new chips in the cameras these days the newer camera perform very well with high ISO settings into the thousands. If you are not familiar with the term ISO it is basically the sensitivity of the chip in your camera to the light entering the lens.
Most of all, just have fun and enjoy the beauty of Historic St Augustine during this very magical time of year. If you are in town and have a question please feel free to post your questions to the Saint Augustine Camera Club Facebook Group page One of our members will be more than willing to help you out. If you are local to the area then by all means come on by and check out our camera club. We meet the third Thursday of every month at the Guy Harvey Resort. Meetings start at 6PM and all skill levels are welcome.
Link to Saint Augustine Camera Club Facebook Group Page:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/1409672949092561/ Note: Request to join group so you can ask questions and post images.