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Flash Points: The Control of Light

Color temperature, rear sync, slow sync: Three key elements in flash photography.

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Lighting Techniques: Light Painting

Using the technique of light painting allows you to add depth and dimension to your…

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Balancing Photo Exposures with Nikon's Active D-Lighting

Bring light to the shadows with Nikon's Active D-Lighting

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Joe McNally: Shooting a Portrait with Speedlights

Joe McNally sets up a portrait on location using Speedlights

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Using Shadows and Light in Your Photographs

Cliff Maunter on using shadows and light

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How-To Take Great Photos at the Aquarium

Tips for photographing the fish and creatures that live under water

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Flash Photography the Easy Way

David Tejada's easy-does-it flash tips

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Exposure Choices for Moody Images

Moose Peterson explains how exposure can add to the mood of an image

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ISO Control

For digital photography, ISO refers to the sensitivity of the camera's sensor. The ISO setting is one of…

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Photographing Sports Indoors and Out

Capturing the action of a sporting event is easy when you follow a few simple…

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Composing Photographs

Tips for making better compositions when photographing in the field

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Photographing Dogs: Capturing Action

Tips for taking better photos of your dog in action.

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Photographing the US National Parks

Chris Nicholson on photographing in the US National Parks

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Using the D810A DSLR for Deep Space and Nebulae Astrophotography

Photographing Nebulae and other celestial objects with…

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Photography Lighting Tutorial Part 1 - Control of Color

Go on location with Joe McNally for a video tutorial on lighting…

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Advanced Wireless Lighting

Advanced wireless lighting is the use of multiple Speedlights set up for wireless remote…

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Chromatic Aberration

Chromatic aberration is a phenomenon in which light rays passing through a lens focus at different…

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Making Pictures in the Rain

Just because it's raining doesn't mean there aren't great pictures waiting to be made.

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Capturing Moments in a Wedding Day

Cliff Mautner discusses capturing wedding day moments

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Using Speedlights on Sunny Days

Ron Magill shares a tip for using flash in bright sun

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Exposure Compensation When Using i-TTL Gets Easier with the D4/D4s

Exposure compensation and flash compensation can be…

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Which NIKKOR Lens Type is Right for Your DSLR?

Learn what the different types of NIKKOR lenses are and which ones will…

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Polarizing Filters Add POW to Pictures

An Easy to Use Accessory, Polarizing Filters Bring out the Color and Definition in…

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20 Tips for Great Graduation Day Photos

Tips for taking great photos of your young graduate on their big day

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Photograph the Classic Holiday Light Bokeh Effect

Want to know how to photograph holiday lights to get the great bokeh that you see from the pros? It’s easy. It’s best to use aperture priority or manually set the exposure for this type of image, so you can control the aperture and shutter speed. You will also want to manually focus the lens to control the amount of blur or bokeh in the final image.

Lights as the main subject

For an image where the only subject is the bokeh of the lights, you can either have the lights placed on a Christmas tree or arranged in a bunch.

If you have a tripod, place the camera on it or put the camera on a sturdy surface to ensure you won’t add camera blur to the final image. If you want to hand hold the camera and lens and have a VR image stabilized NIKKOR lens, activate VR.

You want to use a wide aperture of f/4 or wider. Lenses that offer a wide aperture of f/2.8, f/1.8 or f/1.4 are ideal to use.

With the aperture set wide open, if the camera is in aperture priority mode, it will always adjust the fastest shutter speed—no matter what the lighting condition is. If in manual mode, you’ll need to set the shutter speed manually. Use the camera’s built-in meter to make sure the exposure is correct for the scene. You may have to increase the ISO, to get the exposure you want and that’s ok.

The secret to the amazing shots of soft colorful globes of light is to manually focus the camera so the lights are out of focus. Since the definition of bokeh is the soft, pleasing out of focus effect from a lens, it makes sense that you want to defocus or not focus on the lights for this effect.


Lights as a background effect

For an image where you want a main subject with the bokeh of the lights in the background, you’ll set up the shot almost the same. The one difference you want to make is to put the main subject—whether it's a person or an object—close to the camera, with the lights separated from the subject by some distance.

By using a wide aperture, and focusing on the main subject, the lights will go out of focus. For more of a soft, glowing look, place the lights further back. If you want more definition to the shape of the lights, place them closer to the main subject.

You can also experiment by using white lights instead of color lights for a different effect.

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