Happy Holidays: A Gallery of Favorite Florida Holiday Photos

Well this has been a lovely year to photograph holiday displays.  Here are a few of my favorite places: St. Augustine, Gulfport, Ft. Myers, and Tampa. We still have another week to visit more holiday displays.  May you, your camera, your family and your tripod enjoy another year of great photographs.

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St. Augustine’s Magical Holiday Lights

St. Augustine Florida’s holiday lights celebration lasts the entire month of December with countless opportunities to see lights on foot or by any number of conveyances and tours.

We were warned about crowds, even on Sundays. In order to avoid some of the stress, we stayed at the Best Western Spanish Quarters Inn which is directly across from the National Park Visitors Center and the main Old Town trolley stop.  I highly recommend staying at a centrally located hotel or a Bed and Breakfast ( B&Bs, decked out for the holidays, have daytime tours).

Sunday through Thursday, crowds are less and you have your pick of lodgings; weekends are more expensive. Weekend lodging in Old Town sells out early.  Most tours run during the week, especially on Monday and daily, close to Christmas and New Years. so you won’t miss out.

Our visit in early December reminded us that Florida does have weather cold enough to justify funny winter hats, and hot chocolate, so be sure and bring winter clothing.

Winter in Florida courtesy of James Mellicant and his Lumia 950 XL phone

For the photographer, viewing lights on foot provides the best opportunity, but had we wanted to ride the trolley, tour by boat or ride a horse-drawn carriage, we could have done any combination of tours.

After 7:00 PM, on Sunday, at least, crowds and lines began to abate when families and day-trippers headed home making for less harried photographing

Though I used my tripod as recommended for low light, I don’t think it added much except the hassle of carting it around over a couple of miles.  The lights are quite bright and almost feels like daylight. Hand-held shots are more likely successful with a boosted ISO (I used 2400).   You might also want to photograph during the hours before and after sunset. Holiday Lights look great early in the evening when the sky is still blue. I used my 12-50mm lens for nearly all my photos simply because switching out lens wasn’t really convenient. Lenses are a matter of preference and there are no wrong choices.

Photo from Jim Mellicant’s 950 XL Phone

St. Augustine literally has miles of holiday lights. I could easily spend more than one night here.

Waterfront Lights
Waterfront Lights Are Most Spectacular

Spectacular Lights


Victorian Christmas Stroll at the Plant Museum

Henry Plant Museum

Tampa Bay is host to many lovely holiday displays. Tampa’s Henry B. Plant museum’s Annual Victorian Christmas Stroll takes advantage of this grand dame Tampa Hotel to transport visitors to a Victorian Christmas celebration.  This display is a great place to photograph as once you have photographed all the lovely trees and decorations inside, you can photograph the equally lovely hotel exterior.

I set aside the better part of an afternoon and early evening to photograph the interior and exterior shots.  The twinkling holiday lights and the blue hour opportunities are simply magnificent all year round, but extended holiday hours make for some great opportunities.

But there are some challenges here.  I arrived in late afternoon, knowing full well that the rooms are lit in a fashion similar to the late 19th century, in other words, dark.  I came prepared with a tripod.  Turns out the museum prohibits tripods.  Not surprisingly, flash photography is also not allowed.

“Edison lights” cast a lovely glow

Edison Lights
Edison Lights

but not necessarily for photography. About twelve rooms,  decorated in lovely Victorian detail, show off the lovely museum collection with lovely holiday ornaments.

I saw a few people photographing with phones. It seems unlikely that will work well.  I set my camera ISO  variously at 640 and 1200, I tried to find rooms with windows, to get a bit of  additional light. Despite that, I needed to do a lot of post processing…simple stuff really. I used the Apple software program Photo to lighten most of these photos and improved the black balance. I also reduced the noise.

If you are photographing during the holiday celebration, I think it is best to set your ISO at around 640 for most of the shots rather than at 1200, to control for noise. Christmas trees are inherently “noisy”, as it is.  I took all these with my  Olympus Zuiko 12-50mm 1:3.5-6.3 EZ Lens.

I think the best shots were those  taken up close, where noise was less of an issue.  These glass ornaments are all quite lovely:

Trees decorated all of the rooms. Each room had a theme. Some fun ones included Sherlock Holmes and Poinsettia.

My favorite, though was “Welcome to Florida”, where a tiny train travels around a tall tree, covered in oranges and Florida memorabilia. It is apropos for Henry Plant, who founded a railroad.

Feathers and a full-size nutcracker make for interesting  photos.

I took a break after a couple of hours of shooting and returned sans camera to enjoy walking around as the sun set outside.  Once back outside, after the sunset, I retrieved my tripod and set my ISO to 1600. The night view of the hotel is free and I never tire of photographing this grand dame of a building, no matter what the season.

Plant Museum at Night
The Plant Museum in all Its Glory