Photography: Capturing Colorful Light Displays at Night

This time of year comes alive at night with colorful light displays. One holiday event this year in our town of Cary, North Carolina, is the Chinese Lantern Festival. It’s in its 6th year and runs through January 9th, 2022. In addition to nightly stage performances, it showcases 36 lantern groupings, including a Chinese Dragon floating on Symphony Lake.

Photo of the head of the Chinese Dragon float taken with my Nikon D7500 camera

I had so much fun attending the Chinese Lantern Festival. It was such a nice cultural event. Signs accompanied the lantern groupings to explain their meaning. The lantern groupings also gave me opportunities to not only capture nighttime photos with lots of color, but to practice capturing the lantern groupings from different viewpoints. I tried to walk around them, when possible, to see which viewpoint looked best. I also tried taking closeup shots as well as wide angle shots. Some lantern groupings allowed me to frame the subject too.

I used my fairly new iPhone SE (2nd generation) camera to take photos of the lantern groupings as we walked through the festival checking everything out. I then returned to my favorite groupings to capture them with my Nikon D7500 camera and tripod.

In reviewing the photos afterwards, I was surprised at how sharp the iPhone photos looked. My photo editing software (Lightroom) indicated they were all taken with an aperture setting of f/1.8 and a shutter speed of 1/60 or 1/120 second for one photo. The ISO varied between 50 and 250. And the flash never fired, which is what I was hoping for.

The 18-200mm Nikon lens I used with my Nikon camera didn’t allow for such a wide open aperture so I had to go with a slower shutter speed (1/4 second), which required me to use a tripod. Like my iPhone, I used a low ISO setting(100) on my camera. I set the aperture to f/8.0 except for the previous photo, which was set to f/4.5.

Some photos I edited more than others. Things I may have adjusted included Clarity, Sharpness, Shadows, Highlights, Exposure, and Vibrance (NOTE: in decreasing the Shadow slider, I was able to hide leaves on the ground). In some cases, I either slightly increased or decreased Saturation. I also did some cloning to get rid of some distractions, and I made use of the paint brush to darken up some backgrounds.

Of the photos I took with my Nikon camera, these are my favorites:

These photos I took with my iPhone SE (2nd generation) camera:

If you are interested in attending this year’s NC Chinese Lantern Festival, you can find more information at this website: If you don’t live nearby, I hope you’re able to find a holiday light display near you that you can photograph.

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Happy Holidays!

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