Christmas Lights at Daniel Stowe Gardens

I thought I would show something a little different today. Christmas lights at sunset. The idea seemed like a worthwhile challenge. Just shooting at sunset can be frustrating all by itself, conditions change rapidly and exposure range, dynamic range to many, maxes out. Add to that a whole bunch of discreet and bright points of light and you have an interesting image to capture.

I chose the Stowe Botanical Gardens for my test. First thing is that the gardens are a very photographer friendly place. They expect of folks to take pictures and so long as you’re not obnoxious or step on the flowers, it’s open season.

The top shot of the main garden required HDR technique to get. I bracketed 3 exposures at +2 and -2 EV to get a base image to process. The problem with Photoshop’s HDR process is that the composite image is always to flat and way over saturated. The solution is to pull down the luminosity where needed, the sky being the usual suspect. That allows the gradations to come out and you get away from the bright but flat colors that often make those golden hour shots look artificial. After that it’s just a matter of fine tuning the contrast curves until you get something that looks realistic.

The shot below did not need HDR. It was just the normal exposure without any EV compensation at all. I used a combination of f/8 and ISO 50 to make a super clean image with deep rich color that maximizes dynamic range. With the light just right, the result is an image that requires an absolute minimum of post processing. Nobody really cares how long it took to get the image, or how difficult it was, they either like it or not. But it still feels good to occasionally get one right the first time.


The main building at Daniel Stowe Gardens with Christmas lights


The orchid tree at Stowe Gardens

The Christmas Tree in the main hall was quite amazing, I just had to grab a shot. The tree is completely decorated with living orchids. The effect is unique and absolutely beautiful. All the credit to Stowe Gardens for putting on a great show.