Lively Lights

Author:  Amy Horn

The holidays have passed, but at Flagstaff’s Little America Hotel the seasonal display of lights continue to illuminate the property. I wanted to spend time photographing the lights earlier in December but my never ending list of “to-do’s” kept me away. Now that the new year is here, I knew my days were numbered capturing these lights. So I met my photographer friend a few days ago and we spent an hour in the cold weather gathering a few shots.

The first series of images I captured was using blur to my advantage. Yes, I intentionally captured images out of focus. Extending my Nikon 24-120 mm lens to about 100 mm, I manually focused (or defocused) to get the effect I wanted. The live view on my camera was essential for this technique even though the battery depletes faster. I forgot my shutter release, so I set the camera on a 2 second timer and of course, had my camera on a tripod.

The second set of images applied the zoom pull technique. It is as simple as it sounds. After capturing an acceptable photo of Santa and his reindeer, I chose to zoom the lens while the shutter was open. I have used this technique many times and find zooming in or out will work. Sometimes I pause at the start or end of the open shutter to “burn in” the static image. This zoom pull was captured in 2 seconds on a tripod and using my 2 second shutter delay.

The third set of images came from a technique I have seen a few times on creating unique bokeh, so I had to give it a try. In each image the lights take on a different shape and those shapes are from a piece of paper I am holding in front of my lens. So, on a piece of black paper, I punched out a snowflake and a swirl graphic. I could have just as easily used an exacto knife and cut out any graphic I wanted. For this technique to work, you need a wide open lens (f/2.8) and a little zoom in your focal length. I was using my Nikon 105mm macro lens and placed the black paper with cutout directly in front of the lens and pressed the shutter. (A tripod is essential here too!)

Taking an hour or two from my busy schedule to apply different techniques helps me to relax. Not to mention it becomes great practice on manipulating my camera settings in the dark. So, if you (or your neighbor) still have holiday lights hanging – get out there quick and capture a few photos of lively lights!

Amy Horn is a professor of photography at Northern Arizona University and an instructor for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops. To see her current schedule view or