7 Simple Tips for Great Christmas Tree Pictures

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Ever wondered how to get those great Christmas tree photos with the soft, glowing lights?  Or, maybe you’ve wondered how come so many of your Christmas images end up with your subject blurry but not the lights?  While getting the {technically} perfect Christmas tree light shot can be tricky, there are a few simple tips to help achieve that holiday magic in your images.

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1.  Pull your subject away from the tree.  This can be tricky inside, but in order to get those pretty, twinkly lights behind your kids or family, you’ll need to space them out a bit from the tree/lights.  That lovely blurry light effect is called bokeh, and in order to get it, you’ll want to have your background/tree a few feet behind your subject (aka…your kids).  This allows your camera to focus on your subject while keeping the background (and tree lights) blurred.

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Clearly he’s thrilled about being my model here, but look at that great bokeh.   And, smile or no smile, that face just gets me every time.  He’s a good four to six feet away from the tree, and very close to me.

Intermediate tip:  Change your camera’s focal point and set it on your subject’s face to help the camera keep the face(s) sharp and tree and lights blurry.  A wider aperture will also help to isolate your subject from the background, which is helpful for getting that blur and bokeh.

2.  Turn off your flash. The built-in flash on your camera may do more harm than good when trying to maximize the magic of those lights.  Not only are you likely to get red eye in your subjects (which can be removed in editing), but the flash is also likely to outshine  your tree lights.  Most cameras have an Auto mode that will force the flash off.  It’s often right next to the Full Auto setting and looks like a lightning bolt with a slash through it.  (Think “No Smoking” sign but with a flash rather than a cigarette.)  No flash pictures can be tricky at night, but they are possible.   You’ll want a very steady hand (see Tip #6 below) so as to reduce the blur that can happen with night/dark shots.

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Intermediate tip:  Shooting in Manual?  Increase your ISO to help with low light.  Depending on your camera,  you can try increasing to 1600 or even well above this number.  Do take note, the higher your ISO, the more grain you will have in your image.  But, you can reduce the blurriness of your image quite a bit by increasing your ISO.

3.  Sit (kids) down to keep them in place.  In order to keep highly mobile little ones still, try using a chair or stool for them to sit on for a picture.  Again, this works best if they are moved at least a few feet out in front of the tree.  (Remember that bokeh?) Also, safety first!   Make sure littler ones are in no danger of falling.  Have a wobbly sitter or crawler?  Try a blanket with something Christmas themed for their little hands to hold.  That might buy you a few seconds to snap!

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4.  Try some fun ornament reflection pics.  Have any of those classic, metallic and shiny ornaments on your tree?  You might be surprised at how well they reflect an image.  Plus, asking your little one to find themselves inside the ornament is sure to buy you a little time to try a few fun shots.  Again, you’ll want to turn off the flash or you will get a bright…well, flash…of light in your reflection as well.

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Intermediate tip:  Use some creative cropping (aka…zoom in) to emphasize the subject inside your ornament.  You might also try to use some spot healing or cloning to remove the photographer.  😉

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Unless of course, you are going for a holiday selfie of sorts.

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5.  Speaking of ornaments, why not let a favorite or new ornament be the star?  Which ornaments are your favorites this year?  How about those really fragile ones that your little one made at school which you love so dearly, and heaven forbid if it ever broke so thank goodness you took a picture of it?  Ornaments make for nice, still subjects and are often well-lit by surrounding tree lights.  Ooohhh…ahhhhh….

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Intermediate tip:  Set your aperture fairly wide open (aka…lower number) in order to isolate your ornament from the background.  One, you might get some nice bokeh from the lights, and two, it will help the ornament to stand out and truly be the star.  Just make sure your depth of field is wide enough to get all the necessary details of the ornament in focus.  Ehem…or Mater’s eyes will be blurry and that’s no fun.  (I shot the image below at f/1.6…probably should have been at a 2.o or so to get all of the ornament in detail but still blur the rest of the tree, etc.)  

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 6.  Reduce image blur by taking pictures during the day.  Image blur is caused by movement…by you and/or your subject…when their isn’t enough light available for your camera to freeze the frame.  Worried that the lights of the tree will only glow at night?  Worry not.  Except for the cookie picture, all of the images in this post were taken during the day.  The benefit of daytime shots is that your camera has more natural light to work with (remember Tip #2) and your images are likely to be less blurry.  You can also reduce blur by using a tripod.  I know, I know…who has one of those just lying around, right?  No problem.  You can use a make-shift tripod by resting your arms on a couch or leaning back against the wall.  I rested my elbows on a small stool for many of these shots to help stabilize myself.  (See my reflection in the ornament shots up there?)  Because although I do have a tripod, it’s definitely not the first thing I go to when just taking some fun shots with my kids.

7.  Remember a few candids/shots of kids looking at the tree.  Sometimes it’s just as sweet, if not even more so, when they aren’t looking at the camera.  There is just something so magical about seeing the glow of the tree through the eyes of a little one.  It’s fun to try to grab these when they don’t even know you are taking pictures.  Or, if they’re anything like my kids, they are so used to you snapping that they quickly forget you are there. 😉

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The tree makes a great background for those Christmas morning candids, too.  And they’ll be so into checking out their new gifts that you’ll be the last thing on their mind.

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So there you have it.  A few simple (and a few more detailed) tips for your Christmas tree pictures this year.  But, don’t forget, the most important thing is not that you get a technically perfect picture.  Instead, (and I write to remind myself as well) the most important thing is to enjoy the time and the memories being made.  Because even an imperfect picture can capture a perfect moment.

Looking for more tips on taking great pictures of your kids all year round?  Check out the Shoot Along forum to get weekly tips and inspiration from the pros and share with parents from around the country and the world!
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Happy Holidays, friends!

 

All photos in this post were taken with my Canon 6D and Sigma 35 MM lens except for the last image which was taken with my Canon Rebel and Nifty 50 MM.  The image in the Shoot Along banner is not my own, but I am using with permission as a Shoot Along affiliate.

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