Photography 101: How to Get the Perfect Christmas Tree Photo

Tis the season for holiday photos!  Today I thought I’d show you my formula for taking pretty Christmas tree photos.  Now, as they say, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.  (Where did that terrible phrase even come from?!?).  So, someone else may tell you to use a tripod or do things a little differently or whatnot… and as you know from our previous few lessons, all sorts of combinations of ISO, aperture and shutter speed can all have a correct exposure.  This is just the “formula” I like to use.

First of all, I believe Christmas trees should be photographed at night, and turn off the flash.  Nothing will ruin a good Christmas tree photo as fast as a flash.

For these images, I used a fixed lens (35mm, 2.0 – for those of you who are interested).  I set my ISO as high as it would go, which in my camera is 1600.  I set my aperture as wide open as it would go, which for the lens I was using was f/2.0, and I set my shutter speed to 1/60, which is as slow as I will set it if I am not using a tripod.  Now, with these settings, the camera will “tell” you that the image is very overexposed, but as you see, the effect is nice.

You can use the same settings and throw a kid in there.  They look so angelic posing by the tree with the nice glow of the lights touching their face.  (And yes, my daughter is wearing shorts… after all, it’s about 80 degrees outside).

As you can see, I used the same settings for three different trees… so the formula works pretty well.

For an artsy look, focus on something way in front of the tree, and the wide aperture will provide that nice bokeh.  For this picture, I had my daughter lay on the floor about a foot in front of me.  The tree was about 5-6 feet in front of her.  I focused on her hands, not the tree.  Camera settings were stil ISO 1600, f/2.0, 1/60th.

It also looks nice to take some closeups of ornaments on the tree.  For these next three images, I switched lenses to a 100mm macro lens.  Settings were similar to the others, but I did vary them a little, this time actually paying attention to the exposure meter in the camera.

ISO 1600, f/2.8, 1/60

ISO 1600, f/3.5, 1/60

ISO 1600, f/3.5, 1/60

 Of course, there are instances when you do want to use a flash.  For example, when you are taking pictures of people in front of the tree and  you don’t want them dark.  If you set your camera to auto, it will most likely blow out the lights on the tree behind them, and it will look like the lights aren’t even on.  So, what you want to do, is keep your high ISO, an open f-stop, and a shutter speed at 1/60 or a little faster, but also use your flash.  If you can use an external flash and bounce the light off the ceiling, that would be best.  However, my external flash is broken, so the other night, I just used the on-camera flash for this image.  Setting was ISO 800, f/4.5, 1/100th.

Happy Shooting!  I would love to see links to your tree photos!  Feel free to share them below!

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About Laura

A Christian wife, mother, daughter, former educator, photographer, amateur chef, pretend gardener, alto 🎶, book nerd, cancer-survivor and laundry-hater.

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