Since I put the Christmas Tree up at home a couple of weeks ago, I’ve taken approximately 2,387 photos of it.
Give or take.
Sidenote #1::I’m always a bit hesitant to when I use an exaggerated number like that in case someone actually thinks I’ve taken 2000+ photos of my Christmas Tree in the past two weeks. I mean that’s a lot of photos…even for me. <<insert wink here.
Anyway, since the Christmas tree is one of the most iconic subjects of the holidays, today I thought I would share with you some of my very favorite ways to photograph my Christmas tree and capture all of the light and the sparkle and the magic of the season. I’m also including some of the more techy stuff in case you might like try some of these techniques for yourself.
Sidenote #2::All of the photos that I will share in this post were taken with my Canon DSLR camera using my Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, and all were post-processed in Lightroom.
Christmas Tree Magic // Blur on Purpose
If I had to pick only one, this might be my favorite way to capture a Christmas tree. I love how the intentional blur and bokeh gives the tree a mysterious or ethereal vibe. Plus, without a selected focal point, the entire scene becomes almost abstract and you tend to notice the tones and movement more than any one object on the tree.l
Camera Settings – f/3.2, ISO 800, 1/80 sec
To get this intentional blur in my photo, first I determined my exposure settings based on the light from my tree and any ambient light in the room, then I composed the image in my viewfinder. To achieve the blur, I simply adjusted the focus ring on my lens to take the scene out of focus. I took a few shots with varying degrees of out-of-focus to find the size of the blur I liked the best. I decided on the middle version below because I guess I’m like the Goldilocks of Christmas tree bokeh.
Christmas Tree Magic // Outside Looking In
Yesterday evening I was coming back from walking Daisy and our Christmas lights had just turned on. I loved walking up to the front door and seeing the tree lit up from the other side of the window (please ignore the peeling paint – #oldhouseprobs #nextyearsproject)…even getting a glimpse at some of the ornaments on the tree. (Right now my mom is nodding her head saying, ‘See sis…aren’t you glad I made you put ornaments on the back side of the tree when you were growing up??’)
I like this perspective for a couple of reasons. First, I like that it’s just a different view of the tree than I typically get from walking around inside my house. Next, I like this perspective because it’s almost like it forces the viewer to mentally step away from the tree, offering a more pedestrian and less intimate relationship with it. Also, I like how this perspective places the tree in context with its surroundings, because all joking aside, the peeling paint helps to tell a certain part of the story. Similarly, the wavy glass of the window panes offers a fuzzy reflection of the bare tree branches beyond the window.
Camera Settings – f/2.8, ISO 800, 1/100 sec
My camera settings for this shot were fairly straightforward. I went with a large aperture for a shallow depth of field (DOF) and chose one of the ornaments near the center of the tree as my focal point. This kept the bushes in the front of window somewhat blurred. Then I went with the standard exposure since it was still somewhat light outside with no significant backlight. Finally, I added in a fairly strong vignette in Lightroom to draw the eye toward the center of the frame.
Christmas Tree Magic // Twinkle Times Two
Like I’ve shared this many times over the years, one of my favorite things about our old house are the east-facing French doors in our living room. And this time of year, I love how they reflect the lights of the Christmas tree which basically doubles the magical effect.
Camera Settings – f/2.8, ISO 1600, 1/80 sec
For this shot, I started by setting my ISO to 1600 because of the low light in the room. Next, I set my aperture to it’s widest opening (f/2.8) which accomplishes a couple of things: 1) it allows the most light possible into the camera’s sensor and 2) the wide aperture creates a very shallow DOF creating a delightful bokeh effect from the out of focus bits of light in the window (remember that bokeh = magic). I then selected the pinecone ornament near the bottom of the frame as my focus point.
After I composed my shot, I took an exposure reading. But because the camera’s standard exposure aims to have all of scene fairly evenly lit, I intentionally under-exposed my shot by one full stop to preserve the more shadowy parts of the scene and keep only the brighter bits of light.
Christmas Tree Magic // Merry and Bright
It is this time of year, when it’s dark outside by 5:30 p.m., that I really appreciate the way the Christmas tree lights up this whole side of my living room. It’s so light and bright that even on the cloudiest, dreariest day, just walking by the tree can lift my spirits and make me smile.
Camera Settings – f/4.0, ISO 1600, 1/13 sec
Getting light and bright images in relatively low-light situations can be tricky. Even with a wide aperture setting, the shutter speeds tend to be much slower which requires the use of a tripod (or a makeshift tripod – ladder, stack of books, etc.) to avoid camera shake/blur. For this shot, I did use my tripod. I set my ISO to 1600 and my aperture to f/4.0. Then, to achieve the light and bright vibe I was going for, I over-exposed my shot by almost two full stops. Finally, I boosted the contrast in Lightroom to give some depth and dimension to my final image.
Christmas Tree Magic // Get In The Picture
All that Christmas magic doesn’t make itself. I’m guessing that for most of us, there are no magic elves putting up Christmas decorations while we sleep. We’re the ones swapping out fuses and replacing bulbs to figure out why the top portion of the tree lights don’t work. We’re the ones with pine needles (fake or real) in our hair and glitter stuck to our butts. That’s why when it comes to photographing all the magic, I think it’s important to also make sure to capture the maker of said magic.
There are many ways to get yourself in the picture, but one of my favorite ways is to capture my own reflection in an ornament. I love how the shape of the ornament gives the reflection a fun-house vibe so it feels whimsical and fun. Plus, the reflection also captures a lot of the story and behind the scenes stuff (like ceiling detail in our apartment and the vacuum propped up against the wall).
Camera Settings – f/3.2, ISO 1600, 1/80 sec
I actually took this shot last weekend while we were in KC. It was during the middle of the day so there was a decent amount of ambient light in the room. I set my ISO to 1600 and my aperture to f/3.2 – the shallow depth of field created a delightful bokeh effect on the lights within the tree. It was a little tricky to get the focus to lock on the ornament so it took a few tries to finally get a tight focus in my image. But even if it’s a little blurry, that’s OK because of the playful nature of the reflection.
So there you have it friends. I hope I’ve given you some ideas and inspiration for capturing the magic of your Christmas tree. My biggest piece of advice, though is to get to know your home and your tree. Pay special attention to your surroundings like windows and doors. Notice the light at different times of the day. Finally I I would just like to encourage you to give yourself permission to play and experiment with camera settings and perspectives to find your own magic.
Because it’s there. I promise.
Oh, and one last thing…
Warning! Shameless self promotion alert!!
If you are new to photography, I know some of the more technical stuff can sound really confusing. So if you would like to learn more about the basics of exposure, I have a class at Big Picture Classes which is specifically geared towards beginners. Also, if you need a little creative inspiration, check out my Capture Your December class with photo prompts to help you find the magic and wonder of the holiday season.
OK. That’s it. As always, thank you for letting me share my holiday magic with you.