How to photograph your Christmas tree and decorations

They say every picture tells a story and with the global proliferation of photography today, people have learned to spot a good story, and fast. Christmas is the season of tales and the tree is witness to centuries of folklore and tradition. Many stories have been told around a tree, and if Christmas trees could speak, they would have quite the tales to tell. So, when you pick up your camera and point it at your tree, think of that. Think of it as an open book and every decoration, every twinkling light and every fragrant pine needle has something to say. Your job as a photographer is to listen.

Perhaps it is literally an antique decoration? Maybe it’s overall the dressing of the tree or could it be the way you feel when you first lay your eyes on it; lit up in all its glory.

So, let’s set the scene. Where will your tree and your decorations live, both in their setting and in your lens? When decorating your home or your tree, think of it in terms of composition. Creating balance and harmony with a cohesive colour palette and style are great ways to set up your photo shoot as well as creating a beautiful scene. Check if your line of sight is clear and what kind of distance or access do you have? Will you be shooting close up or from a distance? In other words, what is the best viewpoint to capture the feeling of the christmas scene you are photographing. This will also apply to the lighting. A christmas scene is often primarily illustrated by the lights on the tree and the general lighting of the composition. While the soft dim spattering of fairy lights creates a truly magical scene, it can be difficult to master. To allow your tree to shine, try turning off all other lights in the room. For those ethereal dream-like close ups, with a soft slightly blurred effect known as bokeh some knowledge and specific camera settings are required.

For a DSLR or mirrorless camera:

  • Reduce grain by using a low ISO.
  • A wide aperture (low f-stop value) will help with the bokeh effect, blurring the lights beautifully.

Allowing enough light in requires slowing down the shutter speed. To avoid camera shake, you may need to use a tripod or a steady platform.

But it doesn’t have to be an DSLR. Smartphone photographers can also produce excellent results by focusing on the tree and changing the exposure as appropriate. Many smartphones offer a "Pro" mode that enables manual settings comparable to those found on DSLRs.

So, you have established what you will shoot and how to set your camera, now it’s time to play around with angles. To make a tree appear grandiose and lofty, lie down and shoot up!

Or you can get up close and personal with the details of your decorations, highlighting their finer points. To construct an eye-pleasing composition that is balanced, take into account the rule of thirds. But don’t forget the details. It is all those little things that make Christmas magic. Get up close to your velvet ribbons, twinkling tinsel and if you have a macro lens, use it!

The last stage of your shoot is processing your photos and editing. You can crop your photos for the ideal composition, adjust the white balance to represent the true colours of your lights, or boost the contrast to make your images pop. Phones also have powerful editing capabilities with apps like Adobe Lightroom and Snapseed.

Keep in mind that the purpose of these pictures is to spread holiday cheer, so don't forget to share them on social media or include them in a fun e-card!

By considering these factors and introducing a little prep time, you will improve the technical quality of your photos as well as their emotional impact. And never forget the story you are telling with your images, that way you will always have a deeper, more emotional impact on your viewers.

The importance of the learning curve

Are your holiday pictures looking a little lacklustre? It could be time to enhance your skills. We at the Photography Academy provide in-depth photography courses that will transform your holiday photos from flat to fabulously festive. Our knowledgeable tutors will walk you through the ins and outs of camera settings, composition, lighting, and editing so you can record any event like a pro. You'll discover how to capture the cosiness and happiness of the holidays in every shot with our practical approach.

Visit our website to learn more about our photography courses and to give yourself the gift of stunning images that will last a lifetime.

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Written by: Fiona Byrne

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