Friday, December 24, 2010


Here it is, the 24th already. The shopping is done, the cookies are baked, and I'm enjoying treasured time with family. Trouble is, we're spread out all over the United States and not able to be together for Christmas. Every time I open a Holiday greeting, I try to spend a moment thinking of the person who sent it. A college friend. A little sister. A new facebook friend. It's not about the shopping, the baking, the gifts. It's about the human connections. It's about warmth in the coldest of seasons. It's about the light of a new year.

Thank you for warming and lighting my life this year. I wish you the closeness of family and friends, the excitement of new beginnings, and maybe a moment of peace. Merry Christmas, happy Holidays, and a bright New Year.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Capturing Christmas Lights

Holiday photos take various forms. Since I live in a city, I have many opportunities to catch some great sparkle. Store windows, downtown streets, and glowing trees are all signs of the coming holiday. 

Doors and windows are all glitzed up, and offer opportunities to capture wreaths, swags, and lights.  When photographing them, I try to avoid shooting into other people's windows, because I know I wouldn't like to find a photographer on my doorstep! In this photo, I intentionally included a delivery tag - it says the gifts are on the way.  Sometimes you can capture reflections in the windows or even a door-knocker which shows some of the neighborhood.

There are many ways to capture holiday lights. The image on the left was shot on a dry night. The picture is almost monotone, with white lights silhouetted against a black sky.  The photo on the right was taken at dusk - my favorite time to shoot.The lighter sky gives a less-contrasty image, and I prefer the additional color and detail in this shot. Trouble is, dusk doesn't last for long.  I try to plan to shoot in the afternoon through dusk and into the night to get a variety of looks. Many cities leave their lights on all night, so I shoot them at sunrise, too.

Here's another dusk shot - Quincy Market all lit up. There was snow in the air, which picked up the light and made everything look beautiful. Light snow or mist creates magical effects in a picture. You have to be careful to keep the camera dry, and sometimes I feel like a circus act juggling tripod, camera, umbrella, and wiping cloth. A lens hood helps keep the glass dry. I carry extra plastic bags and absorbent cloths to deal with the moisture.

I find that my camera does a very good job of metering holiday lights. Sometimes I add +1ev of light to the recommended exposure, but the camera gets it close enough that I can do any touch-up easily in Adobe Lightroom.

Where do I look for Christmas lights? Public parks like Boston Common; commercial areas like Quincy Market and the Prudential Center; tourist attractions like Strawberry Banke. The picture above is from Salve Regina University in Newport, RI. Of course, the Newport mansions also shine in December. Look below for a list of holiday events in New England.

Lights are the Christmas bling. But Christmas is not all bling, and there are many opportunities for pictures of  Christmas unplugged. Country stores are decorated, as are lighthouses, covered bridges, museums, houses, and inns. Restaurants also have unusual displays.

Even the tiniest of towns use lights to decorate. This is a town bandstand in Maine. They put up icicle lights and a few wreaths and create magic. I like this image because the traditional homes behind the bandstand look like a village and are warmed with light, too. Yet there's nothing outrageous here, just a few lights and a holiday tradition.

A sampling of Christmas events:

Nantucket Noel
Marblehead, MA Christmas Walk
Festival of Lights – Wickford, RI
Holiday Light Parade - Presque Isle, ME
Christmas in Salem, MA House Tours
Christmas By The Sea - Camden, ME
Village Holidays - Bar Harbor, ME
Bowen's Wharf Christmas Tree Lighting - Newport, RI
Sparkle Weekend - Freeport, ME
Main Street Stockbridge at Christmas, MA 
Holiday Tree Lighting and Illuminated Parade – Portsmouth, NH
Harbor Lights Festival - Boothbay, ME
Festival of Lights - York, ME
New London, CT Celebration of Lights and Song Around the World
Woodstock, VT Wassail Weekend
Newburyport, MA Holiday House tour 

If you've missed the actual tree-lighting celebration, don't worry. Decorations will be up, lights will be lit, and the throngs will have gone home long after the day of the actual event. It's much easier to get good pictures without a crowd.

Holiday Events websites:

Visit New England - there are tabs for the states and a searchable list of upcoming events.

Internet searches:

A simple internet search like "NH Christmas Events" will yield a long list of holiday activities. Most of them happen during the first two weekends of December, so you'll need to prioritize.

Look for events in the major cities near you. There's plenty in Boston to keep me busy, and also great events in Springfield, Portland, and Newport.

Within the cities, search for large malls and tourist attractions. In Boston, that would be Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Prudential Center, Boston Common, and even some of the neighborhoods like Beacon Hill. 

Outside the city, many towns have holiday celebrations like the Marblehead Christmas Walk, Chatham Christmas Stroll, or the Scituate North Pole Express.

And don't overlook your own town. Many towns decorate their village greens, and individual businesses and homes may dress up for the holidays. A simple bandstand in fresh snow creates a warm holiday feeling.

Christmas tree farms, craft fairs, and railroad stations may offer interesting holiday activies and great setups for holiday photos.

You can see my photos and buy prints at my online gallery. Check out the Holiday cards!