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It's that time of year again where days are shorter and colder, snow starts falling, and it begins to look a lot like Christmas. With the holidays upon us, everyone wants great photos of their Christmas tree and their loved ones in front of it. Here's how to capture a bit of the magic:
1. If possible, turn down the lights – You can photograph your tree almost any time of day, but if you're taking pictures at night, make sure to turn off almost all the lights in the room that the tree is in so the lights on the tree can be the focus. If you're using daylight, be aware of windows as they may cause backlighting and adjust your settings accordingly.
2. Use a tripod – You might need to use a tripod to keep your camera very still while you photograph your tree because you'll be using a slow shutter speed. If the sun has already set, you will need the shutter speeds to be so slow that it's pretty much impossible to hand hold your camera without getting blurry pictures. If you don't have a tripod, consider bracing your arms/hands on a table, chair, countertop, etc.
3. Use manual mode – Bump up your ISO, around 500-900 depending on available light, since you will probably be shooting in low light. Whenever you're dealing with ISO, the lower the number, the better. If your ISO is too high you will get some grain in your images. My favorite settings for Christmas tree photos at night are f/1.4 with a shutter speed of 1/200 and ISO of 800. Play around with your settings, there are many variables involved including what lens you're using, the time of day/available light, and the effect you're tying to achieve.
4. Photograph your ornaments – Everyone has special ornaments, whether they were passed down through the generations or just have special meaning to you. Or find some of the more beautifully decorated ornaments and photograph them. Be creative and capture different angles. Photographing ornaments is a different way of drawing the eye away from the tree as a whole, as it is traditionaly photographed, and focusing on the small but important parts that make up the tree.
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4. Get a little artsy – For a beautiful and festive bokeh effect, make sure your camera is set to manual focus. Focus on something right in front of you, then keep that focus and point your camera at the tree. Or, slowly bring your tree out of focus until you see circles of lights on the tree in the size that you want. If you are a bokeh lover like I am, the result is a little bit magical.
The holidays are a beautiful and festive time of year. Take out your camera and take advantage of the beautiful decorations on your tree. Play around with your settings, be a little artistic, and have fun photographing this magical time of year!