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Fireplace with decorations

For those who celebrate it, nothing says "Christmas" more than a family portrait around the tree. Easier said than done, right? For those of you who have tried to take a Christmas tree portrait, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Lighting can cause a lot of problems— images come out blurry, portraits are too dark or flat, and sometimes the lights don't even look lit if the flash was used. Here are some tips to getting a great shot with your Christmas tree:


Most people turn off or dim all the other lights in the room and only have the Christmas tree lights. The light from the tree is not enough to illuminate the scene. Often the image will be too dark and create shadows on the people standing near the tree. However, if you use a flash, it will wash out the lights from the tree so much that you won’t be able to see them.

The best way to avoid these two extremes is to use another source of light. Use a lamp or two to lighten up the shadows and decrease the contrast. Play around with the lighting and take a few test shots until you get the look you want.

Fireplace with Chrismas Tree

Use a tripod

As with shooting the lights outside, you’ll want to use a slower shutter speed when shooting indoor lights and decorations. If you don’t have a tripod, try using a table or mantle—any sturdy surface. However, if you are photographing people with a Christmas tree, you will have to adjust the shutter speed to avoid blurring any movement.

Child decorating Christmas tree

Shutter Speed & Aperture

I suggest using a shutter speed between 1/30 and 1/90, and set your aperture around f/2 to f/5.6. You’ll get shallow to moderate depth of field, keeping the illuminated background just out of focus. Similarly, bokeh is a great effect to use when photographing lights. But we’ll save that for the next post.

Happy holidays and happy shooting!

Christmas tree close up

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