Elizabeth Halford Photography {the blog} » photography in plain English

How to photograph your Christmas tree {how to get twinkle bursts of light}

With Christmas upon us, it’s time to break out our cameras and try our darndest to get photos of our Christmas trees but it can be so hard to capture the real warmth and ambiance of all those beautiful little lights. If you twiddle with manual shooting, you may be trying to photograph your tree with the tools you’ve learned for low light shooting: wide open aperture and high(ish) ISO. Of course, with that combination comes a faster-than-helpful shutter speed and even when you use a slower shutter with your wide open aperture, you might be frustrated that you can’t capture the twinkle of the lights. Further frustrating the process is the fact that the tree is composed of branches that stick out everywhere so shooting wide open means that the camera will likely focus on the nearest branches and make the rest soft and out of focus.

But don’t put your camera away yet! Try this little trick:

  • Set your aperture unusually high. I used f/16 for this shot of one of my trees.
  • Set your ISO low like around 400
  • With the very high aperture and low ISO, you’ll need a slow shutter speed which means that you’ll need a tripod
  • When you have that all set up, set your camera to self timer mode so that when you press the button to release the shutter, you aren’t jiggling the camera.
  • You may want to manually focus or just focus as usual before hitting the shutter
  • When you’re ready to go, press the shutter and wait for the self-timer to set the camera off. You could also use a remote trigger if you have one.
  • That’s it! With the high aperture, you’ll get lights that look twinkly and your whole tree will be in focus!

I’d love to see your twinkly trees! Feel free to post them on my Facebook wall!

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1345798115 Amber M. Phillips

    I pinned it! Thanks for sharing!

  • Lindsey

    Love your photo tips. Keep them coming! Thanks.

  • http://www.facebook.com/teresa.fazio Teresa Fazio

    Talk about timing – I was just googling how to get sparkly icicles! I imagine that this will work for that too! I have some amazing icicles hanging off the front of my house and every photo I took of them has come out “flat” even though to the naked eye they are glistening. I will have to try this tomorrow. Thanks!

  • Anonymous

    Yea it works for all that – candles too!

  • http://byrayleigh.com Rayleigh Leavitt

    I’ve been commenting on all the photos I’ve been seeing on facebook of all my friends’ trees because everybody is posting photos since they are proud of how beautiful the tree looks, yet the photo doesn’t come even close to showing how beautiful it is.  But I did’t know how to do any better.  Now I do!  Thanks so much!!!!

  • Lindsey Schwimmer

    I’ll have to try this out!  Beautiful pics! Thanks for the great tips! :)

  • Mooremarilynf

    I am new to pintrest. How do I pin this?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=16732558 Toni Boyer

    Thanks for this!  I’ve always wanted to try it, but never knew how…thanks to your instructions, my photograph of the tree turned out so beautiful!  i love the twinkling lights :)  i would post a picture, but…it’s too big lol

  • Guest

    Thanks for sharing!  I’m brand new to my DSLR, but was able to adjust my manual mode settings to what you listed.  When I shot our lights, though, the photo was completely dark and barely showed small specks of light where each light is.  Any tips?  Thanks in advance!

  • Anonymous

    Those settings are a good starting point but if they don’t work, then you’ll need to explore them. I would slow the shutter down until you get it! And remember that tripod!

  • Dbelsom1

    What was the light inside the room?  My tree sits in front of a large bay window, but I have shutters I can close if needed.  Every year I try to get this picture but it never works!  I can’t wait to try with your settings!

  • Amy

    I know this is an old post but just stumbled upon it on pinterest. My question is how do you get the lights twinkling on the tree while taking a picture of your children in front of the tree? Fast moving children and slow shutter speed does not mix. Is it even possible?

  • amy

    There are “eight-point star filters” that you can get at Best Buy. Pretty cheesy for all other applications, but I think it’d help you get pictures of your kids with the lights twinkling.

  • Peg

    Thanks for your gracious sharing. I will try it this Christmas.

  • Guest

    I’m just learning about photogrsphy and this really helped me. Thanks!

  • Natalie

    Can you do this with a regular camera?
    I have samsung st500, I can change the iso but not sure of the aperture.

  • Amy

    Awesome! Thanks!

  • Val

    Thanks for sharing – I will try this for sure :) !!

  • Brooks

    How do you shoot the tree without glare on the lens? I had the perfect setting to shoot my kids in front of the tree and everything was perfect except the glare dots all over the picture.

  • elizabethhalford

    Hmm I didn’t ever get that problem. Anyone?

  • Nicole

    I am new to a DSLR camera, so this may be a stupid question…do I need to turn off the flash? I’m not sure how to do that in manual mode.

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