Lightbulbs used to appear fine in my photos- you can still see the outline of the bulbs and the brightness of the bulbs is just fine. Now, they appear too bright as if they exploded. What seems to be the problem?

I'm using a Canon 70D. I've changed the settings back to their original levels but the problem wasn't solved.


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  • Do you have any photos to better emphasise your problem ? – Dragos Dec 23 '15 at 21:44
  • Very cool! I would guess your change in position has something to do with it, though Olin's suggestion about smudges could be the culprit. You will probably need to use HDR techniques to make this shot work without the glow. Honestly you could probably make it work artistically. – wedstrom Dec 23 '15 at 22:02
  • Thank you! I'm not sure if my lens was clean when I took the second photo; I've cleaned it now, I'll try to take pictures of places with light bulbs soon. – Lorenzo Arada Dec 23 '15 at 22:05
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    Wait a sec... that's not the same chandelier, is it? Brightness may vary ;) – wedstrom Dec 23 '15 at 22:09
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    What mode are you using (Auto, Aperture Priority , ...) and do you use exposure compensation? – Grebu Dec 23 '15 at 22:57

Two possibilities pop to mind:

  1. You happen to be exposing the newer pictures more, possibly because the lighting is less bright. Assuming the previous and current lightbulbs are about the same brightness, that would make the new ones exposed more and bleed into the darker areas more.

  2. You haven't cleaned your lens in a while.


Now that you've shown before and after pictures, another mechanism is obvious.

In the first picture, the picture was basically about the light structure. As a result, it was exposed as such. The bulbs themselves are mostly bright but not blown out. They don't bleed into the surrounding scene because they are not overexposed. If this picture contained other parts of the room, they would be very dark.

The second picture was exposed for the overall room, so the lights providing the illumination are significantly overexposed. The small spillover from the lights into adjacent picture area is enough to be obvious, and even overwhelming. If you exposed the second picture as the first, the lights would look fine, but the people and the rest of the room would be severely underexposed.

Your basic problem is one of large dynamic range. Small points that provide the illumination for a scene are always going to be much much brighter than the scene. This is just as true of the sun outdoors as lightbulbs indoors.

So what to do?

  1. Make sure your lens is really clean. Your second picture shows more diffusion of the bright lights into surrounding area than seems reasonable for decent equipment used properly. Smudges on the lens can cause this appearance.

  2. Use wide aperture. Diffraction becomes much more of a problem when small bright dots are against something much darker. It can become quite obvious at the same f-stop where you don't see affects with other more evenly-bright scenes. Diffraction effects increase with smaller apertures. This is basic physics that no amount of clever lens design can get around.

  3. Use a larger film/sensor format. The reason is not the larger image area by itself, but that the aperture diameter will be proportionally larger at the same f-stop. The larger diameter reduces diffraction effects. For example, a phone camera will be the worst, a "3/4 size" sensor better, and a "full frame" (36x24 mm) sensor even better. After that are various "medium format", "large format", etc. But, if you're ready for those and can spend the money on them, you wouldn't be asking basic questions here.

  4. Get a camera with good dynamic range. This is often expressed as "bit depth". However, it needs to be real bit depth, not marketing bit depth. There are various sites out there that measure the sensitivity and dynamic range of various cameras. Since the fundamental problem is one of high dynamic range, more dynamic range that the camera can capture natively will help, if not be good enough on its own.

  5. If you plan to do this sort of photography a lot, then consider getting extra low dispersion lenses. These cost more, but can make a difference in scenes like your second picture. They are designed to minimize internal reflections and other causes of light not going to only where it's supposed to be focused.

  6. Since the basic problem is one of high dynamic range, use some of the techniques intended to address that. These are often lumped into the term "HDR" (high dynamic range). For example, one method is to take multiple pictures at multiple exposures, then composite them intelligently with software later. This requires a tripod and may not be appropriate when people move around in the scene. There is no one magic solution. In the case of the second picture, one picture exposed for the lights, which then would be largely black where the people are, then intelligently merged with your picture might work.

  • How would a dirty lens cause an overexposure, as this seems to be? – wedstrom Dec 23 '15 at 21:41
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    @wed: A dirty lens doesn't change exposure, but does smear out the image. This is often unnoticed until you take a picture of something bright with well defined edges against something dark. – Olin Lathrop Dec 23 '15 at 21:51
  • That makes sense. – wedstrom Dec 23 '15 at 22:03
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    Even if the lens isn't dirty, if the camera has just been brought indoors from the colder outdoors, condensation on the lens can do the same thing. – Michael C Dec 24 '15 at 1:32
  • I don't think diffraction has anything to do with the second photo. It looks fairly obvious that the aperture is set fairly wide if not wide open. If anything the first image shows greater DoF than the second. – Michael C Dec 25 '15 at 2:51

A few clues in the two photos lead to a couple of possibilities.

  • Your lens may be smeared with fingerprints or other semi-transparent material that will cause brighter highlights to blur. Even moving from a colder setting such as outdoors in the winter to a warm, moist setting might cause condensation on the front of your lens which could do the same thing.
  • The ratio of total light to the brightness of the bulbs seems to be different in the two scenes. The first image is dimmer, but the better sharpness of the image hints at no camera movement and a faster shutter speed, which means the ambient light might well have been brighter overall. The lower exposure value meant the bulbs were captured at a level that didn't cause them to blow out. The second image looks like a slower shutter speed was used. The people demonstrate motion blur and it looks like there's a bit of camera movement as well. There appears to be more noise in the image as well, which would point to a higher ISO setting. All of these things point to less total light in the second scene than in the first image. The higher exposure value needed in the dimmer overall environment means the lights will be much brighter in the second photo.
  • It may just be that the lights in the second image are much brighter than the lights in the first image. It's certainly true that the first image is exposed properly for the lights and in the second image the lights are exposed at a considerably higher value relative to their brightness.

You are overexposing. Set ISO as low as it will go, and use a faster shutter speed. If those fail, start using smaller apertures (larger f-stop number, f5 is smaller than f3). Don't go too small, or you will start having lens flare problems(unless you want this for artistic effect). See http://digital-photography-school.com/learning-exposure-in-digital-photography/ for more info about exposure.

You could also try a neutral density filter, a special filter designed to keep your scene colors but allow for the slower exposures you will require to shoot such a bright subject.

If you would like the background to be properly exposed, you will likely need to study high dynamic range (HDR) techniques.

The following was intended to apply to a lightbulb in the photographer's control, the posted pictures indicate the following advice is not relevant here, but I am leaving it for future light-bulb photographers.

You can also try turning off the bulb and using a flash or other secondary light source to fake the lighting effects you want.

Finally, some types of bulbs will continue glowing briefly after being turned off. With some help and a quick burst of exposures you should be able to catch this brief glow (which will not be as bright, allowing you to capture the details you want).

Good luck!


I think the problem is in the lens.

Extract the lens, and clean it like the instruction says. Clean both parts.

  • Both parts? What do you mean? – mattdm Dec 23 '15 at 23:10
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    @mattdm front and back elements, maybe? – inkista Dec 23 '15 at 23:19
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    @matt: He said the lens has a problem, so maybe it's in two parts. – Olin Lathrop Dec 24 '15 at 16:39
  • @mattdm Yes, I had the same problem. I soñved it cleaning both parts, front and back. – spund3 Dec 25 '15 at 10:29

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