I would like to shoot a photo like the one below with multiple colored lights (chinese lanterns), at night. However, whatever I do, I always get the same result which is all the lanterns appearing as yellow/white spheres. Could somebody provide some idea to help me shoot such a photo in the future? Many thanks.



Probably, the lanterns get blown out, so you need to reduce your exposure. How to do that depends on your camera model and the mode you are shooting in. In P, A, or S mode, using a negative exposure compensation should be enough. In M mode, set a shorter exposure time, or a narrower aperture (higher f-number), or a lower ISO, or a combination thereof.

Note however that by reducing the exposure, darker elements like the background may become near or completely black in the final image. If you want to retain detail in those areas, you may need to use high dynamic range (HDR) techniques.


whatever I do, I always get the same result which is all the lanterns appearing as yellow/white spheres

If the lanterns are getting blown out (overexposed), then you need to change the amount of light that you're getting from the lanterns relative to the other light in the scene. Assuming there's some amount of ambient light, and assuming that you have control over either the ambient light or the lanterns, you can either turn up the ambient light or turn down the lanterns. If neither of those is possible (or even if they are), you could also consider adding some of your own light to the scene using one or more speedlites (i.e. flashes). The goal is to increase the proportion of light in the scene that's reflected off the surface of the lanterns.


You have not mentioned what type of camera you are using. Assuming that you use a DSLR, the lamps are blown out due to metering done on the dark areas. You should use metering the exposure on the lamps and shoot to capture the details. Or you can do bracketing to capture the image in 3 different exposures and combine the photos. There are multiple ways to achieve this result.

Camera phones and compact cameras are not good for this type of photography as they have small sensors hence poor dynamic range.


You have to take control of exposure away from the camera and give it to yourself. Cameras will look at the total scene and try to make it appear a medium exposure value. Most cameras can't tell the difference between a black cat in a coal mine and a white cat in a snowstorm. They will try to make both of them medium gray.

The reason the lights are all appearing the same color is because they are all being overexposed. The way digital cameras work, there is only a maximum brightness the red, green, and blue channels can each measure. If all three channels are at full brightness as measured by the camera's sensor, you'll see the same color: white. It matters not if there's three or four times as much green as there is red and blue in one of the lanterns, if all three channels reach full saturation as measured by the camera that lantern will look white.

To see the colors of direct light sources in most scenes you must reduce exposure significantly. When left to determine exposure automatically, most cameras will assume it is perfectly acceptable to blow out the direct light sources in the scene in order to show detail in the surrounding areas that are much darker.

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