How to shoot better photos of holiday lights with your iPhone

December 7, 2016


The holidays are here, and that means one thing — Christmas lights.

And while many avid photographers will hit the streets with full gear this festive season, the rest of us will probably shoot with what’s in our pockets.

Thankfully, phone cameras keep getting better and better at low-light photography, although there are some things to keep in mind for even more striking photos.



These photos of the National Gallery’s facade during a light show were taken with his iPhone. Kuek said he held the phone steadily with both hands, and stretched up as high as he could to minimize angle distortion.

“Keep the phone’s face parallel to the building,” he said.


To make colors pop he said to tap the subject of interest in order to let the phone meter the shot properly. Tapping a light source instead of a subject usually makes the phone overcompensate, rendering the shot too dark.

Portrait mode can make objects stand out

The latest iPhone 7 Plus also comes with “portrait mode,” which uses its dual cameras and some software processing to fake some nice — and often impressive — depth-of-field effects.


In this shot of an art installation’s dimmed bulbs, you can see the effect at play: the bulbs in the foreground are sharp while the background is blurry.

Kuek said portrait mode requires a bit more light than the regular camera mode to work well.

“There should be a clear distance between the background and the subject in the foreground, to create a better bokeh effect,” he added.

And because the effect is done with software trickery, it can get confused. Kuek noted that the iPhone can miss little patches of background areas in a photo, such as the triangle that’s formed in the crook of the arm when someone poses with their arms on their hips.

The iPhone has also had trouble figuring out what to blur out with transparent materials or reflective surfaces.

This is the same scene as the one above, shot with the regular camera mode.


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