A few years ago when my first child was little, I saw a picture online of a baby under a tree sleeping. I absolutely LOVED that image and instantly set off to try and make one for myself! I absolutely loved the images and continue to attempt them every year at Christmas. As my children get older, they are a getting quite snug under that tree, and they are less cooperative (it was much easier when I rocked them to sleep and laid them there!). However, I want to keep catching the magic that you find in Christmas tree lights!
I started these in 2010 and I have learned a few things to make the pictures better over the years! I thought I would take a few moments to put together some tips for creating your own Christmas tree lights pictures!
Let’s talk camera settings! These controls are wonderful once you know how to harness them and manipulate them to do what you want. In order to take these awesome tree photos, here is what you need to do:
1. Bump up your ISO high (These were all taken at ISO 1250 or ISO 1600)
2. Open your aperture wide! These were all taken at 1.8-2.2. This gives you that beautiful blurred background where the lights get sparkly and make those gorgeous shapes (we call it bokeh). **It’s very important to watch where you set your focus when your aperture is wide open. Set your focus point on the tear duct of the eye closest to you to get eyes in perfect focus!**
3. Slow your shutter speed to what your situation allows. A sleeping baby can easily be taken at 1/80, but if you have an awake toddler, I would still in the 1/125+ range.
If you aren’t sure how to find all of those controls, use the “Aperture Priority” mode on your DSLR (for a canon, that is AV). Lower the number F-stop (another name for aperture) as far as your lens will allow and the camera will do the rest!
The next important this is using a reflector. You don’t need to own a big dedicated reflector at home. Take a piece of cardboard and cover it in aluminum foil and you will have a perfect tree lights reflector in just a few minutes.
The difference is in the details. Pay attention to camera angles. Most of these images are taken with me laying flat on my belly to get on the same level they are. However, you can also get slightly above them (not standing, but sitting and probably hunching down a bit) to capture more tree and less trunk of the tree. Also, clear the area of debris or clutter, gather wires from the lights and get the plugs out of the view of your set up. Think about the backdrop. Are your walls clean and free of clutter? Would you like the look of presents behind the child? Is there any furniture that might impede on the edges of your frame? Is your child dressed in something that complements the photo? Make sure their hair is combed and their cheeks are clean.
Take the time to create a beautiful image and will treasure these images for years to come!
Here is one of my favorites: