I need some recommendations on what settings to use for this. I want to drive around my area and find some of the better Christmas lights displays on homes and businesses and take pictures of them. Of course this will be at night, trying to avoid using a tripod, and just want the lights to show up, not so much the "background" as such.
Oh... wll be using my N8008 with a Promaster Spectrum 7 3.5-4.5 28-70mm lens
Terry, sorry for the late reply, I got busy and didn't get a chance to post yesterday.
The best time to really shoot X-mas lights and not have them blown out or lacking any shadow detail is to shoot near twilight. Most people tend to shoot Christmas lights too late - the closer you are to before sundown, the better.
Unfortunately, a tripod really is the best way to go because of camera blur...sorry.
As far as exposure goes, with ISO 100 film using an exposure of 1 sec @ f/4 or an equivalent speed. Stopping down will produce the star burst effect.
Most lights are still tungsten based so you will get that warm yellow glow. I'm not sure how LCD lights turn out. You may (or may not) want to go with a Tungsten balanced film rather than Daylight balanced film.
Like Anthony, I prefer to shoot Christmas lights near twilight in order to capture shadow detail in the background. However, if your intent is to “show just the lights,” then shooting in the dead of night may be better for you. Just be prepared to switch to manual focus if your auto focus camera has trouble focusing in the dark.
Also be prepared to have difficulties obtaining proper exposure. When you include a light source (like Christmas lights) in your photo, your exposure meter may give you a reading that is too low (underexposed). However, if your intent is to show just the lights, then that underexposed reading may be just what you need.
To increase the odds that you have captured the image you want, I recommend bracketing your shots. For example, if you are shooting color negative film and/or black & white negative film, I would take one shot at the metered exposure, one shot 2-stops over, and one shot 2-stops under.
If you are shooting color transparency (slide) film, I would take one shot at the metered exposure, one shot 1-stop over, and one shot 1-stop under.
Since you are likely to have exposures longer than 1/10th of a second, if you insist on taking your photos without a tripod, I recommend that you place the camera on a firm surface (like the ground or your motor vehicle with the motor off) or brace it against something stable (like a tree or a building).
Unfortunately, you will need a tripod or a monopod unless you are very steady or dead. You can get a decent Sunpak tripod at BestBuy. If you don't want to carry around a 3 ft. metal stick with your camera on it, then you might think about the Joby Gorillapod. It doesn't take much space in my bag and is pretty handy. You can even clamp them to a pole.