capturing your Christmas Tree

It gets dark way too early now. I’m not a fan of my flash, so this early nightfall business really cramps my style.  The pictures below are older, but I thought I’d compile them in one post with a few tips for capturing your Christmas tree. I shared a few of these at the Christmas Gathering last week.

Now – some examples of the difference between using your flash, going automatic with no flash and manual with no flash.

Every year our family sleeps under the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve Eve (yes, that is the night before Christmas Eve). And, every year I remember why we only do it once a year! The following pictures are from that night last year.

Automatic mode with flash: Here my flash is pointed straight ahead (like most standard on-camera flashes). I’m not a fan of this one at all.

Automatic mode with no flash: The camera had to slow down my shutter speed so much that everything became blurry. The tree obviously can’t move, but it is blurry from the minor shaking of my hand holding the camera. Yucky. This one would have been tremendously better if I had just placed the camera on something still, like a chair or stool.

Manual mode with no flash: This one is my favorite because it captures more of the true essence of the room. The lighting is warm and just bright enough to give a good sense of the setting. I focused on tree, so the branches are sharp and the background is just a bit blurry. I chose to set my shutter speed pretty slow, so I set the camera on a box instead of holding in my hand to avoid blur from my hand shaking. My settings were: ISO 400, 1/4, f/2.8. If you don’t know how to use your Manual settings, just shoot in Auto mode, but place your camera on something still for a similar result.

One of the main keys in shooting in low light without a flash is using something still to sit your camera on….anything will work. My tripod is buried in my closet.

If you don’t understand how to shoot in Manual and are shooting in a dark room with just tree lights, you could try increasing your ISO all the way up (go to your camera menu and look for ISO). Then set your camera to Tv 0r S mode. Play with reducing the number (the only one that changes when you move the big dial) until you get an image you like. When you reduce that number, you are slowing down your shutter….so things can get blurry. If the picture just seems way too bright, go back to your ISO and lower that number. And that is the most non-technical photo advice….all you photographers don’t cringe….

Now, let’s consider kids in front of the tree. Typically, most people think to get tree lights to show up in a photo, you have to take the photo at night. I would encourage you to do the opposite. The following photo is from a really old post…that is my 3 year old! It has been popping up on Pinterest lately and I thought I’d include it here again too. So, the first picture is taken at night up close to the tree….because that makes sense right? Well, the second is taken during the day with my son moved far from the tree. I’m guessing he is about 3-4 feet from the tree.

Some things to keep in mind with this are:

  • Put your child several feet in front of the tree, not right up next to it
  • Get natural light on your child’s face. This means you might have to move the tree a bit and put the child between the window and tree with you next to the window – if you don’t have great natural light already
  • Use the Av mode (set it to the smallest number) and turn off your flash. Around f/2.8 if your lens will let you.

13. Tree-01

BUT…there are times when you can’t wait for daylight….here’s what it looks like with a flash, but moving the subject even farther from the tree.

Some things to keep in mind with this are:

  • Put your child several feet (5-6) in front of the tree, not right up next to it
  • Use the Av mode (set it to the smallest number) and turn on your flash. Around f/2.8 if your lens will let you, use a flash diffuser if you have one.

13. Tree-04

This weekend we’ll be cutting down our 2011 tree and I can’t wait. Tree hunting and cutting is one of my very favorite family traditions. This year I have a plan to get the kids to enjoy decorating it with me. I’ll just say our tree may end up very ugly, but hopefully the kids will enjoy it!

And…for those interested….I am selling gift certificates for SnapShop workshops in 2011. Something to consider if you or someone you know wants to learn how to get off the automatic mode and learn the basics of photography!

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  • emmybrown - you are an excellent teacher!

  • Kezia - I’m hoping to get a dslr camera this christmas, so all this is really helpful to me – thank you!

  • Courtney E. - I don’t know what happened, but I stopped getting your updates in my Google Reader! Argghhh!! I’ve missed so much goodness!

  • Heather - Tell them they are sleeping under the tree on Christmas Adam. Ha ha because Adam came before Eve!

  • Leah - Thanks so much for this. I was setting up to take a picture for a christmas card today and this was beyond helpful. The picture is perfect.

  • Marissa - Great great advice! You have inspired me to use my camera for the first time, I’ve taken over 2000 picture this month! …and they look OK. 🙂

  • tracy a - hey ashley! so glad to hear your time at the meeting went well. did you know your post on the christmas tree photography is HUGE on pinterest? i love to see you all over there! have a happy thanksgiving

  • Lisa Box - Ashley, where do you go to cut your Christmas tree? We moved to Tulsa from Seattle, and I’ve really missed going to a tree farm to cut down a tree…the last 2 years we’ve just bought one from Home Depot.

  • Melissa Evans - Great post! So helpful 🙂

  • elizabeth - ahhh!! our kiddos also sleep next to the tree on Christmas Eve!
    so neat to hear of *someone* else!

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  • James Bern - Such good tips, my biggest problem was getting the lighting correct. Thanks a lot for the article, by the way I love your site!

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  • Shawnda - I’m very interested in learning more about photography

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