How to take pictures of the Holiday Lights

It’s the season of lights, from Christmas Trees to Hanukkah candles to decorative house lighting. Lights, lights, lights are everywere to cheer up the long dark nights of winter.

According to the New York Institute of Photography (NYI) the world’s largest photography school, your pictures can capture the magic of this lighting if you apply just one simple professional “trick.”

For example, how can your pictures capture the colorful glow of the lights on a Christmas tree? The “trick”, according to NYI, is to turn off your camera’s flash! That’s the key: Turn off that handy built-in flash otherwise the bright light will overwhelm the subtle tree lights in your picture.

Similarly, NYI recommends that you turn off your flash whenever you want to capture any subtle light source, from Christmas trees to Menorah candles to decorative house lighting to those wonderful tree outlines produced by tiny white bulbs.

Of course, certain things follow from this: When you turn off your flash, you won’t have enough light for split-second exposure. Your automatic camera will compensate by opening the shutter for a longer time, maybe a second or longer. Let your camera’s built-in meter decide automatically.

However a very long exposure will become blurry if either the camera moves or the tree lights move, or both. To minimize this risk, NYI recommends two further steps:

  • First, use fast film, for example, ISO 800. This will cut down the duration of the exposure.
  • Second, steady your camera. Handholding just won’t do. Use a tripod if possible. If not, place the camera on a solid surface, such as a tabletop, or brace it against a wall.

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Christmas Tree Safety Tips

  • Always choose a freshly cut tree.  To test a tree, strike the stump down on a firm surface. If needles fall off, the tree is too dry.
  • Consider buying a live tree instead. You can plant it later to enjoy it for years to come. 
  • When you are ready to set the tree up cut off 1/2 to 1 inch from the bottom of the tree before placing in the stand which should be filled with hot water (not boiling, but around 130-160Ί F) as soon as the tree is set up.
  • The tree could absorb as much as a gallon of water the first day.
  • Use wire or nylon cord to secure the tree to the wall or ceiling to prevent it from being knocked over by children or pets.
  • Place the tree away from heat sources.
  • Always keep the tree well watered.  Check and refill often.
  • Use only noncombustible decorations.
  • Check and replace any worn or damaged light sets. It is a good practice to replace any set that is more that four or five years old.
  • Use only U.L. or F.M. approved light strings.  Spot or floodlights should only be used on an artificial tree. 
  • Avoid overloading electrical circuits or creating “octopus” connections.
  • Do not use cellophane. There is no way to make it flameproof.
  • Treat trees with a Fire Marshal approved flame retardant. 
  • Do not use cotton batting, including Santa’s whiskers, or paper decorations unless they have been treated with a flame-retardant treatment.
  • Disconnect the lights at bedtime or when unattended.
  • Use miniature lights that produce less heat.
  • Make sure there in an operational smoke detector installed nearby.
  • Remove discarded wrappings and packages from the house immediately and never burn them in the woodstove or fireplace, it could cause a chimney fire.
  • Do not burn tree branches in the fireplace, it could throw off a large amount of heat and cause a fire.  Christmas trees also cause an oily soot which may damage the fireplace.

Christmas lights > Energy Tips

Q: We recently saw a rerun of Chevy Chase’s movie where he puts about 25,000 holiday lights on his house and the electric meter spins and smokes like crazy. It got me wondering if small holiday lights like we use are costing a lot to operate. Are they?

A: I wouldn’t worry too much about the effects of these lights on your electric bill, but testing conducted at the Florida Solar Energy Center a few years ago confirms that even these small loads can add up to a noticeable increase in your electric bill, possibly being bigger than you think.

Their research on the lighting energy use in 185 homes before and after the holiday season found an average increase in lighting when holiday lights were being used of about 4.4 kWh per day, around $13 for a month-long display. Note that this was for the average home, and while many people have small light displays or none at all, we’ve all seen homes that clearly go above and beyond the average.

What was especially interesting was their finding about the dramatic difference in energy use by bulb type, ranging from 34 watts being used by 100 of the clear mini indoor/outdoor bulbs to more than 504 watts used by the large colored 10-watt outdoor bulbs. The findings strongly suggest that you consider energy-efficient lighting even for your holiday displays. Check out some of the newer bulbs at a local store or on the Web and you’ll find a number of brands featuring LED or other higher-efficiency types

The moral of the story here is that you probably won’t regret paying $13 for an average lighting display this holiday season and you may feel this low price will justify an even bigger display than you had originally planned. But this points out how every electrical appliance or product you use will have some energy costs associated with it. In a case like these lights, why not consider getting LED lights that use one-tenth of the energy of the conventional ones?

Check out,ps&cz,87 for more information on efficient lights along with places where you can buy them. Save a few dollars on the holiday lighting, a few more on the energy-efficient toaster oven you buy your spouse, turn off your computer monitor when you’re not using it, and a few other behaviors like this and you’re suddenly saving “real” money.