How to Take Photos by the Christmas Tree

Drew is a family photographer and owner of DrewB Photography. In addition to her blog, Mom*tog, Drew has released her new photography guide UnManual2. To see more of Drew’s work, follow her on Instagram.

Even though most of our days are still over 80 degrees and we definitely won’t be getting snow here in Southern California, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas at our house! And with Christmas comes lots and lots of pictures to capture all of those memories. And where better to take pictures then in front of your Christmas tree?

When you see the really blurry lights in pictures of Christmas trees that is called bokeh. Bokeh, which means blur, refers to the area of a photograph which is intentionally blurred. In this case that would be the Christmas lights.

A prime lens (a lens that does not zoom in or out) helps to get Bokeh as you can shoot with a wide aperture (small F-stop number). If you are not comfortable shooting on Manual mode, you can shoot in Aperture Priority mode. In Aperture Priority you will set the aperture and your camera will do the rest.

I took this images at a time of day where I had enough light that I didn’t have to use a flash, but also where the lights were able to shine bright. These images were shot with my Canon 5D Mark II and my 50 1.2 lens. I had my aperture set at 2.0, my shutter speed set at 1/125, and my ISO was at 1000.

In the first image you can see my daughter, Kennedy, is very close to the tree and the lights are pretty much in focus.

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When she moved up a few feet the lights got a little more blurry.

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And then when she moved up a few more feet the lights are totally out of focus.

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I stayed in the same place the entire time. It was only Kennedy that moved. So, not only will your settings make a big difference, but also where your kids are placed in front of the tree makes a difference as well.

Don’t have a prime lens? No problem. You can use the longest focal length of your zoom lens. This works best if you have a lens that zooms to at least 200mm. Get as close to your subject as your lens will allow and try it out!

When taking pictures at nighttime with a Christmas tree I also prefer not to use flash. I just feel that it ruins the mood of the pictures. Christmas trees look so much more magical without flash.

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You will need a prime lens for these types of pictures because since you aren’t using flash you need another way to allow more light in. Shooting with a wide aperture, like F 1.2, will allow the most light in possible. I shot these with my Canon 50 1.2 lens and my settings for all pictures were F 1.2, 1/100, ISO 1600. With a shutter speed of 100 you will get motion blur if your children move so be sure to have them stand or sit still. And be sure to overshoot so you get one without blur.

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If you want the lights of the tree to illuminate your child’s face, have them stand very close to the lights. It also helps to use white lights so you don’t get a funny color cast on their faces.

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Remember to also hold your camera still. It helps to take a breath in, press the shutter, and then exhale. When shooting with slower shutter speeds even a little motion from you will produce a blurry image!

For more photography tips from DrewB, check out 7 Tips for Photographing SiblingsTips for Summer ShootingPhotographing Young ChildrenPhotographing Your Own Baby, and Understanding Cropping.

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