How to Photograph a Christmas Tree Like a Pro


Who doesn’t like Christmas?

It is a season of happiness, joy, family time, good food, presents, simply special moments. Each and every Christmas offers something unique, some new fantastic memory that we will remember for the rest of our lives. And what better way to imprint such memories than to relive them all over by looking at photos?

I cannot deny that I find a certain magic in the act of photographing Christmas. Everything is beautiful – people smile and are happy, the Christmas tree, its decorations, and an infinite number of subjects that are extremely photogenic. And I know you love it too.

If there is something about Christmas that I have always liked, it is the lights. They are beautiful on the Christmas tree, in the houses, or in the elaborate designs that adorn the streets and shops of the city. All this beauty lends itself a lot to the creation of certainly fascinating photos.

Another thing is, of course, the Christmas tree. Maybe this should be placed above as it usually has Christmas lights on it. Almost everyone puts up a Christmas tree at home and so we have a theme that is always available for several weeks each year to be photographed. But…

Although it is quite easy to take photos of the food and faces, it is something completely different to take photos of the Christmas tree and lights. Bearing that in mind, here are some tips on how to do this perfectly.

How to Prepare Your Camera to Take Christmas Photos

Preparation is the key to success, to take beautiful photos for Christmas or any other time. The camera is the link between your ideas and the photos, therefore it is necessary to make sure that it is ready, with the appropriate lens mounted, the batteries charged, the memory card formatted, etc.

  • Make sure your camera is clean. Use a cleaning kit for this task.
  • Make sure the battery is charged and have more than one with you just in case. Your memory cards must be empty and formatted. Also have more than one SD card available, you never know.
  • Control the external flash, if you have it, try to have the battery charged (maybe you don’t have to use the flash, but hey, it is always better to be cautious.
  • When all your photographic equipment is ready, try to always have the camera close at hand, so that you can shoot right away and not miss a single Christmas scene.
  • The reflex camera is not the only solution that can be used to take photos during the Christmas holidays, in some cases, the cell phone is more than enough (for example when you are at the table, the cell phone takes up less space and is more “friendly”, not like the camera lens that can create shyness in some people.
  • The most important thing is not the type of camera you have, the really important thing is to always have a tool ready to take photos.

Find the Perfect Light

To photograph Christmas, you must pay close attention to the light. Take a look at the place where you will take the photos and look for the different light sources. Tree lights, fireplace fire, or decorative candles will probably be available.

Take into consideration all these light sources as a possible way to illuminate your scene, assess their position and intensity, and maybe if you have time, take some test photos. This way you can configure the camera parameters in advance, such as white balance or exposure speed. Windows can be a great source of natural light during the day. You can take advantage of them, but turn off the artificial lights, by doing this, you avoid mixing the different color temperatures of the lights.

During the night, try to find other sources of light, such as the lights of the trees or the fireplace. Turn off the artificial lights (I mean the ones that illuminate the room). Increase the ISO value a little (be careful not to overdo it), use a wide aperture so that as much light as possible enters.

If you have the need to use a flash, remember not to point it directly at the subject. Because if you do, you will highlight the eventual defects of the skin, you will distort the colors (because the flash mixes with the lights that are present in the environment), but mostly it makes the scene look flat. If you have only the built-in flash, look for a diffuser to soften the emitted light (you can mask it with a piece of white paper). In the case that you have an external flash, point it towards the ceiling or a white wall. This way you use the walls of the house as a diffuser.

Tell a Story

A set of moments, in casual order, is not that much fun to watch. In the end, create a set of images that have a meaning, that can attract the curiosity of those who see your photos – try to tell a story, or use a logical thread when taking your photos.

Define the structure of the story – a good staged story begins with the introduction of the characters and their relationships, then unfolds in x ​​directions until each has a conclusion, for example when people are already leaving the party. Find a way to tell a story with the Christmas photos. In addition to the main story, remember to photograph the details capable of giving a better sense to the scene, to the charm.

Example: start with the assembly of the tree with decorations, then the preparation of dinner or lunch, then the opening of the gifts… Capture the action to make your story dynamic – children who play, who are surprised, who play with the snow, etc.

Use the “Long, Medium, Narrow” technique. A super-quick way to tell a story every moment is to take a photo with a very wide-angle (to present the scene), an American shot (to make sense of the action), and a closed-shot (narrow) to show the details that bring the story to life.

Don’t Put Composition Aside

The difference between a good photo and a superficial photo is in its composition. Composing the photo means ordering the elements in the scene. Following some basic rules that could be:

Use the rule of thirds to find a balance. Imagine your Christmas scene divided into three equal vertical and horizontal segments. Try to place the elements approximately along with one of the lines or at one of the points where the lines intersect, all with the aim of drawing attention to them and creating a balance.

Use natural frames to add interest and attract attention. A natural frame could be anything in front of you that frames the subject of the photo: windows, tree branches, door frames, etc.

Respect negative space. Your Christmas photos may be full of details, but too much can give a feeling of disorder. Negative space comes into play here, which can help you focus attention on a single object, this allows the image and the observer as well to breathe.

Create depth. Place objects in the foreground, in the background, or in the middle. In this way, you will give depth to the photo.

Find a Point of Interest

All Christmas photos should have a focal point that catches the eye of the viewer. With Christmas, you will find many points of interest. Among all the chaos, look for minimalism. Say no to those photos where there are too many objects or too many focal points. The main point of interest is, of course, the Christmas tree.

How to Photograph a Christmas Tree With Its Lights

Technically, there are several things to keep in mind. First, make sure to turn off the ambient light or use a very weak light source. The lights that decorate the tree cannot compete with the intensity of the artificial light in the room. This way you will find yourself taking photos in very poor light conditions. Here’s how to deal with this situation:

  • Put the camera on a tripod;
  • Deactivate the stabilization function,
  • If possible, set the lights so that they remain constantly on or blink very frequently;
  • Choose the aperture priority mode (A or Av);
  • Set the matrix or evaluative metering mode;
  • Set the minimum ISO;
  • Choose the widest aperture for a blur effect;
  • Use the remote trigger.

This way, the camera should be able to calculate an automatically balanced exposure. However, there can be several exceptions. First, if you don’t have the ability to keep the lights on, their flickering can confuse the automatic exposure calculation. Second, the camera may tend to be underexposed to prevent lights from burning out. In both cases, the best solution is to use manual mode. This means that you have to proceed as described above, but you also have to adjust the shutter speed.

So do this:

  • Set everything as above (unless the shooting mode is manual and not aperture priority);
  • Adjusts the exposure time to achieve a balanced exposure (as described in the manual mode tutorial);
  • Take a photo;
  • Check the photo on your camera screen;
  • If the photo is underexposed, increase the time, if not, reduce the time;
  • Repeat.

You may have to adjust the shutter speed even if the exposure is correct. In fact, if you can’t keep the lights steady, the flicker can turn off right as you shoot. To make sure you have all the lights on in the photo, simply lengthen the shutter speed so that they all turn on at least once while the shutter is open.

A longer exposure time will also allow the lights to be more intense. In fact, the emitted light will be added to the sensor as long as the shutter remains open. If you find yourself increasing your shutter speed too much, you risk overexposing. In this case, the solution is to increase the value of the opening.

This, of course, increases the depth of field and reduces blur. At this point, you will have to choose, as is often the case, between exposure and blurring. There is no specific rule, you’d better give it a try and choose the result you prefer.

Think About the Details

Often the most interesting photos are those that focus on the details, rather than photographing the entire tree. In this case, therefore, try to photograph a single light or a small set of lights. Or photograph an ornament and use the lights only as a background, blurring them well.

To get very close to small subjects a macro lens can be useful for this purpose. Another interesting lens, in this case, is the 50 or 35mm f1.8.

Photographing Christmas Presents

Apart from the tree and the lights, the gifts are another symbol of Christmas, and photographically speaking they have a double function. You can photograph them while they are packaged, under the Christmas tree, in an inviting and photogenic mountain of colors.

But you must also be capable and above all be ready to photograph the opening of the gifts. From this second option, you will have the most interesting and original photos of Christmas. It could be funny and moving, based on people’s reactions, especially when the gift is a surprise.

Try to be away from the action, or away from whoever is opening the gift. To have amazing results set your camera in burst mode. So you will have a whole sequence of the scene. And definitely make sure this happens in front of a Christmas tree!

A Final Word From Run Gun Shoot

All in all, taking a photo of the Christmas tree is not very difficult, as the tree is beautiful on its own, and therefore every photo will be nice. Be that as it may, adjusting the light and focusing on specific objects will definitely improve the photo quality. Be creative, use zoom, tell a story, capture everything – take professional shots!

Article by:

RunGunShoot Team

Our detailed review has been contributed to by multiple members of the Run Gun Shoot Review Team to ensure the best research and highest standard of quality. Have a good or a bad experience with one of the products? Please let us know, we love the feedback!

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