I will usually go on spot metering and then meter it to the light bulbs which will be capture into the frame. Then i will compensate with the surrounding to even out the exposure. Bcos. If the light bulb is properly exposed, then the worrying part is that the surrounding area will be too underexpose. So you need to compensate accordingly. Trial and error..
"Exploding" thats a new term I've heard to discribe lights..
I'm wildly guessing you're refering to the star-burst effect you sometime get on streetlamps, shoot with a larger aperture. If you're refering to out-of-focused highlights, balls as you've described, shoot with a smaller aperture.
Unless its literal, I don't know what to say.. You have psychic powers?
no no no.... To achieve starburst effect, you MUST buy a Nikon D3 and fit the Nikkor 24mm PCE lens. ONLY THEN can you achieve such an effect...
hahahah i'm kidding.
You have the D90 kit, am I right?
Set your camera on a tripod and compose a photo with streetlamps or whatever lights in the frame.
Set your camera to Aperture-priority, with a large aperture (small f-number). Take a photo.
Increase the f-number (aperture gets smaller). Take a photo. Notice any difference?
Having the camera on the tripod ensures no movement in between shots, so the only difference is the aperture setting.
mem0riess, saw your pm and you are referring to this photo I guess. I assume you meant to avoid over exposed bright blobby street lights?
This image was taken with a D3 + 14-24mm f/2.8 at f/11 and 20 secs. ISO was set to 100. There is not need to use bulb and its within 30 secs(longest timing which the camera can give automatically). I used autofocus as the area was just too dark for me to manual focus when I was setting up for the shot. If you are experienced enough to know what you are doing, you can trust the camera but can also overwrite it anytime you want.
One of the most critical part of photography(and many seemed to not understand or care) is the ambient lighting. You need to recognise the correct lighting condition that will help you achieve your intentions. In this instance, the sun was rising and there is this window of 15 to 20 mins in which there was enough ambient light falling on the buildings and and I didn't have to use an unnecessarily long exposure to overexpose the street lights. In essence, I waited for the moment where the contrast between the buildings and street lights is quite minimal so everything falls into the "acceptable" dynamic range which the camera can capture. So you've also got to familiarise yourself with how your camera will react to a scene. That helps to take part of the guessing away.
You asked for my settings for this shot and I gave it to you but that's not something that you can apply across the board. Its much more than just how you set your camera to capture the photo. You've got to consider the condition in which the shot was taken in. Spend time waiting for the right moment as such, you won't find me taking photos from more than 2 different spots per outing.
A well tested post editing workflow is also just as important as the shoot itself.