As a travel photographer, I always try to portray my subjects in the best possible light. Travel photographs, after all, are used to sell an idea—a perfect moment in time. There is therefore little room for gray skies, unhappy faces, or trash strewn about.
Although most travel photographs are taken in the summer, when most folks travel, there are plenty of opportunities to sell photographs that depict the beauty of the different seasons and the events that are held during those times.
One of my favorite things to photograph is architecture, and no time is better than Christmas to capture the beauty of a building (assuming they are decorated for the season, of course).
Here are my top tips for capturing holiday lights on buildings on your travels or in your hometown:
Plan ahead. To maximize my time in the field, I always schedule my trips to coincide with a particular season or event. For example, I enjoy visiting Puerto Rico—where I was born and raised—during Christmas because I can photograph beach scenes, rain forest landscapes, and holiday decorations all in one trip. It’s also warm.
Have a main subject in mind but maximize photo ops. A few years back, while visiting the island during Christmas, I drove to the city of Ponce to photograph its famous firehouse (Parque de Bombas in Spanish). Built in 1883 in a unique Moorish style with Gothic Victorian touches, the firehouse is located in Ponce’s Plaza Las Delicias in the center of town. Because of its unique architecture and paint job (black and red stripes), the building is easily one of the most photographed icons on the island.
Photograph at twilight (with a tripod of course). Because plazas are busy places and the firehouse is illuminated through the night, my plan was to get up early and capture the building at twilight, when the skies are a pretty cobalt blue. The night before I stayed in a nearby parador—a country inn that usually provides simple accommodations and local cuisine like mofongo (seasoned mashed plantains) and asopao (a hearty stew).
Get technical. Because of the low light during twilight, I used a tripod and a cable release to ensure a tack-sharp image. In general, for these images, I will set my f-stop around f/8 or f/11 (even higher if I want to create a star effect for each light), and my ISO around 200 (lower ISOs will produce less noise in your images).
Take many pictures until you get the shot. The picture here depicts the colorful firehouse decorated with Christmas lights and has sold numerous times to a variety of local tourism publications. If you look closely, you can spot a vintage fire engine inside. The dome above the firehouse belongs to the cathedral but it complements the image nicely.
Embrace tradition. As I usually do after a shoot, I walked over to a local bakery (you are never far from a bakery in Puerto Rico) for a coffee and a Mallorca—a sweet, fluffy roll covered in powdered sugar—and watched the City of Ponce wake up. Wearing shorts and a T-shirt, sipping coffee, and enjoying balmy, tropical weather in December, it occurred to me that this was a traditional Christmas for me.