Picture Ohio! – Holiday Lighting Displays

Lighting Display, Geauga County, Ohio
Lighting Display, Geauga County, Ohio

Most of us are looking forward to a turkey feast at Thanksgiving, but this festive time also provides a feast of outdoor photographic opportunities, as thousands of holiday lighting displays are switched on around the Buckeye State. In this post, I’ll share information on some of Ohio’s best holiday lighting displays, and a few tips on how best to photograph them.

Holiday Lights, Bicentennial Park, Columbus
Holiday Lights, Bicentennial Park, Columbus

Finding holiday lights can be as easy as driving around the streets in your neighborhood, although in my area of northeast Ohio many people are becoming more frugal and energy conscious and fewer homes seem to be adorned with elaborate holiday lighting displays in recent years. However, there are excellent public lighting displays to be seen in most of Ohio’s major cities, especially Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati. The photo above shows a few of the lights along the Scioto Mile in Columbus, centered on the John Galbreath Bicentennial Park. In Cleveland, there is a fine lighting display at Public Square, and another at General Electric’s Nela Park in East Cleveland. In Cincinnati, check out the area around Fountain Square.

Wild Lights, Columbus Zoo
Wild Lights, Columbus Zoo

Three of Ohio’s world class zoos offer spectacular lighting displays during the holiday season. The Toledo Zoo’s Lights Before Christmas began in 1986 and runs from mid-November until early January, featuring more than a million lights. The Columbus Zoo’s Wild Lights is a lighting extravaganza that draws tens of thousands of visitors on busy evenings with more than three million LED lights. When I visited the Columbus Zoo to photograph Wild Lights (see photo above) on Saturday, December 28, 2013 the best lighting occurred from about 6:15 pm to 6:45 pm, and a record 32,000 visitors attended the display, with lines of traffic stretching several miles from the zoo later in the evening. At the Cincinnati Zoo, the annual PNC Festival of Lights has been held for more than thirty years.

Christmas Tree Detail, Toledo Zoo
Christmas Tree Detail, Toledo Zoo

The time of day you shoot has a big effect on the quality of your Christmas lights photos. The mistake that most people make is to wait until it is completely dark, and the sky is black, before taking pictures of the lights. This is too late, if you want the most pleasing color. The best time to shoot is just after twilight, when the sky still shows some color – deep blue on a clear day. As the light fades to a deeper and deeper blue, the Christmas lights will begin to glow against the sky. This period when the ambient light from the sky and the Christmas lights are well balanced only lasts for 15-30 minutes, so plan your shoot to take as many photos as possible between twilight and the time when the sky becomes completely dark. Even on a cloudy day, this magic time will produce a sky with a blue cast, which complements the lights much better than a pitch black sky.

Guernsey County Courthouse, Cambridge
Guernsey County Courthouse, Cambridge

The Guernsey County Courthouse in Cambridge, shown above, and the Clifton Mill in Greene County, shown below, are two of my favorite holiday lighting displays in the Buckeye State.

Clifton Mill, Greene County
Clifton Mill, Greene County

If you want the Christmas lights to be pin sharp in your handheld photos, make sure that image stabilization is switched on, shoot at the fastest shutter speed that will provide the depth-of-field you need, and rest the camera against a tree, a fence, a building, or any other stationary object nearby. To get the sharpest results, use a sturdy tripod, plus the “mirror lock-up” setting on your digital SLR if available, with a wireless or electronic cable release. At low ISO (best picture quality) settings, at dusk or in the dark, you may need a shutter speed of several seconds when photographing Christmas lights, and it is virtually impossible, even with image stabilization, to handhold a camera at these long shutter speeds without getting a blurred photograph. Also, be sure that the flash on your camera is turned OFF when shooting Christmas lights.

West Terrace, Manor House, Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, Akron
West Terrace, Manor House, Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, Akron

During late November and December Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens in Akron, Ohio holds its annual Deck the Halls event, in which the Manor House and gardens are decked out with 750,000 Christmas lights, and more than twenty rooms in the Manor House are decorated to replicate how the Seiberling family celebrated the Christmas season. In 2013 a new component, called Dazzle, featuring a musical light show, was added to Deck the Halls. During Dazzle, visitors can view a 25-foot Christmas tree sprinkled with huge snowflakes, plus LED-lit displays of butterflies, bees, flowers and globes spread across the Great Garden. Stan Hywet plans to expand Dazzle each year to create the largest animated Christmas light display in Northeast Ohio. Be sure to visit the Corbin Conservatory and enjoy the poinsettias and other Christmas displays.

Gingerbread Land, Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, Akron
Gingerbread Land, Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, Akron
Christmas Decorations, Great Hall, Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, Akron
Christmas Decorations, Great Hall, Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, Akron

I have enjoyed visiting and photographing Ohio’s Christmas lighting displays so much that I included a chapter on them, “Holiday Lighting Displays” in my new book, A Photographer’s Guide to Ohio – Volume 2. In this book you will find detailed information, with website links,  on all the Ohio lighting displays mentioned in this article, as well as several pages of tips on photographing them. Here’s a link to more information on both volumes of A Photographer’s Guide to Ohio.

Happy holidays, and have fun photographing Ohio’s spectacular holiday lighting displays!

 

 

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