step 3. Once you get your picture framed, set your camera's white balance to "tungsten," as if you were shooting indoors without flash. All of those little lights are tungsten balanced. As a bonus, the tungsten setting will turn your afterglow sky royal blue once your light balances out. The sky will look great - even if it is a cloudy evening. And your lights will gleam crystal white -- or whatever color they are supposed to be.
step 4) Now, wait for the light to happen.
HERE'S A TIP: A light (or reflective) foreground, like snow, or a puddle (or the roof of a car) can give nice foreground interest. See what you can find.
step 5) Shoot a test shot every 30 seconds or so. At first, you'll be exposing for the sky and the lights will appear unimpressive. Check the back
of your camera after each shot and watch the Christmas lights appear to "come up" as the ambient light level goes down. As the light level changes, your camera will record each shot differently, so shoot away.
Somewhere in between sunset and full dark, magic will happen, and the Christmas lights and the ambient light will mix beautifully. You'll have
about a 10-minute window which will give you a nice series of subtly different lighting variations. Remembering to keep your camera as still as
possible while shooting through the transition of light. You don't have much time, so take lots of photos. You can delete the duds later.
Incidentally, this time of day is when the architectural photographers make the big bucks. And they're smart enough to tell everyone in their
subject building to leave the lights on that night, too.
Your light will fade very quickly. You will know it is gone when your photos start looking like the "bad light" photos you used to take.
Now, put your camera away. You still have a few minutes to enjoy the scene with your eyes. The human eye has the remarkable ability to compress a large dynamic range into a scene your brain can process. Just relax, soak it in and enjoy how great your home looks all
for the holidays.
This is one of the few times that both shooting pictures and enjoying the moment do not conflict with each other.