Holiday Learning: Photography

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Heather Shugarman
January 11, 2010
Point’n’Shoot Photography 102
Professor Kodak
Tues & Thurs 11:10 AM

What I Learned Over Christmas Vacation:
Experiments in Point’n’Shoot Photography and Christmas Lights


On Christmas eve, bundled up in many layers, accessorized with an IPod shuffle filled with the most jammin’ Christmas Music, I set out on a journey.

A few days prior, I had learned that my standard Kodak Easy Share Point’n’Shoot camera had a some manual features that I had been loving on Julie’s DSLR as of late.  I read my camera’s manual and learned a little bit about ISO, F-Stop, manual exposure and focus, deciding that a photo/Christmas light tour through my neighborhood would be a great adventure to embark on, hopefully establishing a new tradition if all went well.

Through a bit of web research, along with trial and error, I learned a few tips for photographing twinkle lights. 

Tip #1: Things to bring with you on your journey:

  • your camera [duh.]
  • extra batteries or memory cards, if you have them or will need them
  • a tripod, if you have one; but if not…
  • a bean bag; if you don’t have a tripod, you can use a bean bag atop of a fence, parked car, curb, etc. You can make your own bean bag by filling a Ziploc bag with dry beans.
  • a small stack of blog business cards, if you have them; I carried some in my coat pocket and gave a few out to neighbors who approached me and asked about what I was doing
  • a small flashlight; this will help you to see the settings on your camera if there isn’t a lot of light around
  • Common Sense; Don’t travel too far from home, bring a friend if possible, walk on the sidewalk, and wear something reflective. 


Tip #2: You want to take photos of outdoor lit decorations about 20-30 minutes after sunset.  You can find what time is the official sunset time at  When you embark on your photo journey, you will feel like it is too light outside. Ignore that feeling.  Your photos will turn out best when there is still a bit of light in the sky. 

Tip #3: Do not shoot with a flash. End of story.

Tip #4:
Use your self timer. Even if you use a tripod, pressing the button with your finger to trigger the shutter may make the camera shake.  When shooting Christmas lights, the trick is to be as still as possible.  If you use the self timer on your camera, you are more likely to get a much steadier shot. Here is an example.

Finger Triggered: 104_7417

2 Second Self Timer:


Tip #5: If possible, shoot in a manual exposure.  This takes some practice and reading your manual and general photography tips will be of a lot of help.  I read a bit on Photo Kaboom which gave me several suggestions for what settings to try, and throughout my walk, I experimented with each of the following.

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

f/2 at 1/2 of a second

f/2 at 1/4th of a second

f/2 at 1/8th of a second



Tip #6: Experiment with manual focus, especially if your automatic focus is having trouble finding the shot because of the darkness. Point’n’Shoot manual focus is a lot different than a DSLR [you don’t get to twist any lenses, instead you are moving a setting on the screen with your cursor pad] but it is worth the effort.
   104_7430 104_7431 

Tip #7: Just play. I stopped reading my note card of suggestions, and figured out how to create a bokeh [purposeful blur] on my own.  [I love love LOVE bokeh shots, and can’t wait to experiment more with this type of shooting!]

104_7435104_7411 104_7399 104_7450 

Tip #8: Try several distances and depths.  I tried to take some photos from far away, and some right up close.  I love the variety I was left with at the end of the evening.

Tip #9: Visit businesses and community establishments.  The storefronts on the main street in my village are decked out with window scenes and outdoor trimmings, too.  Some of the churches in town have nativity scenes worth capturing, too.


Tip #10: Have fun.  Keep shooting until you run out of fun, energy, or warmth.
Remember there are no rules when it comes to creativity. 


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26 thoughts on “Holiday Learning: Photography

  1. Karen

    Love this post! I have a point & shoot camera that has some of those same features you mentioned above. I am going to try and play with some of the setting this year and experiment with my photos. I’ve been lusting after a DSLR but it’s not in my budget and I have a really nice camera now…I just need to maximize its capabilities!

    Thanks for the great tips!!
    Karen recently posted..Inspiration Board

  2. Bethany @Bridezilla Bakes

    Beautiful! Wish I had read this yesterday, since I did some photography last night — I need to figure out manual focus on my point and shoot. I had my camera in macro setting (I was shooting food) but it was having trouble focusing. Totally makes sense that I ought to be able to move the little focus box around with my cursor… definitely will try this! I also love the bean bag idea for stability! Stability is SO hard to get when my point n shoot is in manual mode…
    Bethany @Bridezilla Bakes recently posted..Get Organized- 2011 Resolutions

    1. Heather Post author

      another tip i read about when having trouble focusing (it’s probably because the scene is too dark, or doesn’t have enough contrast of tone or color.) if you are in autofocus:

      Point your camera at something in the same plane where you want the focus, that’s brighter or of more contrast. Press the shutter release halfway, and hold, to focus the camera. Keep the shutter release halfway down, point the camera to where you want the scene and press the shutter release down completely.

  3. Alina @ Duty Free Foodie

    It’s funny, my last photography lesson was on this very subject! The blurry shots really are fun. I totally agree with Rule # 3: If you feel the urge to use flash, just don’t. I am so impressed you were able to take some great shots at ISO 100 and 200! I would like to add a tip: sometimes your environment can provide something to balance your camera on that works sort of like a tripod (not as well, but it helps to balance your camera and reduce camera shake!)
    Alina @ Duty Free Foodie recently posted..Horses’ Purses

  4. Corey @ the runner's cookie

    Thanks for this post – so helpful! I need to first get the courage/motivation to take my camera off the auto setting and try some different things. I’ve been avoiding it since I got my camera in November! I agree that the best way to learn is to play around and have fun.

    1. Heather Post author

      awesome! I challenge you to try it and do a post about it! then make sure to let me know when it goes up!!

  5. Kayla

    Heather, it’s just not fair. You’re like, good at EVERYTHING you try. But at least you teach the rest of us mere mortals, so that we can attempt to be as awesome as you.

    Seriously, these pictures and tips are fantastic!
    Kayla recently posted..The Big Return

    1. Heather Post author

      oh, honey! there are many MANY things I am not “good at” – would you like a list? cause I can def. make one for you.

      For example, one thing I’m not good at, is spelling the word definitely. See how I used “def.” up there? it’s because I ALWAYS spell it wrong. Notice in the sentence at the start of this paragraph I spelled it correctly. This is because I opened a new tab in my browser and typed it into the google search bar to see how the word was ACTUALLY spelled.

      There you have it. The tip top of the list.

      Other things in which I am not good at?
      drawing. cutting things. (i have poor fine motor skills) VACUUMING. I am like, the worlds WORST vacuumer. [side note: i also spelled vacuum incorrectly, but google searched that as well.] Listening to my voicemail in a timely fashion. Crossword puzzles aimed at people over the age of 9. oh, and getting married. remember how THAT turned out 😉

      [but I am pretty good at laughing at myself 😉 ]

  6. Val @ Balancing Val

    I did the same thing this winter!

    We drove around so I put the ISO as high as it goes and rested the camera on the window and held my breath before I snapped away.

    Some were better than others but it was still a fun lesson!

    PS – I really need some blog business cards! They would be so handy when people ask me why in the world I’m bringing a huge camera everywhere!
    Val @ Balancing Val recently posted..Balancing Money–Pack Yo’ Snack!

  7. Marcie

    Ohh Heather I am so impressed! You really did your homework with this 😀 Not too many PnS cameras have manual settings, you’re lucky yours had the option! And I LOVE that you did some experimenting (#5) .. Understanding what “aperture” and “shutter speed” mean is half the battle .. and night photography is a great way to learn about it. ISO is fun to play with, too. Hooray for reading the manual and doing online research.

    If you love bokeh check this out:
    I bet you could make something like that!

    It also reminds me of this comic: It’s not all about the camera, it’s what you do with it!
    Marcie recently posted..Capital Region- Rich in Roller Derby

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