Camera & Tripod
Wide-angle lens – useful when there's not much distance between you and the lights
Medium tele-photo lens - For when you have more distance to play with
When heading to photograph displays in towns and cities, don't wait until the light's completely left the sky as you'll only be able to see the lights and not the surroundings. Try arriving around sunset as this will give you plenty of time to plan your shot before the light vanishes.
When you're setting up make sure your white balance is set to tungsten and if you're photographing a large display of Christmas lights use a small aperture to get everything in focus.
When you start taking your photos it can be a case of trial and error at first as the ambient light needs to be just right so the lights 'pop' out of the image. But if you start shooting when there's still a little blue in the sky, as the lights switch on, you'll eventually find the window that will give you the chance to take shots that have interesting foreground detail as well as eye-popping lights.
If you don't fancy the 'take as many shots as you can and get rid of what you don't want later' approach you can always have a go at bracketing.
Set your gear up, taking your first exposure just after the sun has gone when there's still a spot of colour in the sky then wait for the sun to set before you take your next exposure. This way you'll end up with a shot of a pleasing night sky and surroundings for your second exposure of the lights to essentially sit against. Just don't move your camera between shots as your lights can end up hanging in the wrong place. All you have to do then is blend your images together.
If the streets are damp after an afternoon of rain use them to your advantage as they are a great canvas for Christmas light reflections. Also, if you're not a night owl but are an early riser try heading out just before sunrise as most light displays will still be switched on.
For those who want to play around with lights at home, you can create interesting bokeh backgrounds, as the top image shows, with Christmas tree lights. For more tips on this technique, have a read of this: Bokeh Christmas Light Technique
Pentax Trade-In & Cashback Offers: Purchase a PENTAX K-3 and receive a minimum of £85 when you trade in any camera, plus you can claim up to £85 when you purchase a PENTAX K-50, PENTAX K-5 II or PENTAX K-5 IIs.