How to photograph your Christmas tree

Have you been trying to get a good photo of your kids in front of the Christmas tree lights but cannot figure out what settings to use on your camera?  This is the tutorial you need!  Let me show you a quick and easy way to photograph your Christmas tree lights at night for a magical Christmas photo!  Let me start this off by saying that I am not a professional photographer. I don’t claim to be and never will be professional. But if you’re an average mamarazzi like me with a DSLR camera who likes to take pictures as a hobby, this is a good tip for you. 

Here is my Christmas tree photo of my son in front of our tree at night.

Here is another similar shot I took that night.

No, my tree doesn’t have a million lights on it. I’m not Clark Griswolding it up over here.

I am not sure how many lights are on my tree, honestly, but I can promise you it’s nothing out of the ordinary. Want to know how I got my photo to look like that?

If you were a facebook fan of Click Workshops, you probably already know about this effect, but I’ll share it here in case you’d like to try to duplicate it.

Here is a quote from Click Workshops:

We gave this tip last year, but it’s worth repeating! Turn off your flash, along with all the other lights in your house, crank up your ISO, use your tripod, and meter on the light from the tree.

I wouldn’t have tried this out on my own, so thank you to Lori and Jody for teaching me that trick to capturing a great Christmas tree photo!

Here is what I did: I turned my camera on Manual mode, set my ISO at 3200 (set yours as high as it will go) then I propped my camera up on the back of the sofa since I don’t have a tripod. I focused the camera on the tree and then cranked my shutter speed down to 1/30th. For those of you scratching your head and going “shutterspeed??” here is the dial you turn to change your shutter speed if you have a Canon camera:

After you change your ISO and focus on the tree crank that dial on down til you get in the 1/30th range.

Even though the camera was telling me the pics would be way overblown I snapped them anyway, and this is what turned out. Here’s some amazing news…those pics above are straight outta the camera!

Here are the details on the settings used on these photos in case you’re interested.
Canon Rebel T1i
ISO 3200
f/1.8 (I love this lens!)
ss 1/30th

Click here for a complete listing of what’s in my camera bag and my favorite photography equipment.

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  1. I love you. (Purely platonic, if you were concerned.)

    I’m doing this.

  2. Those are awesome!!! I am totally impressed.

  3. Absolutely stunning!! I love it Beth!

  4. They are beautiful Beth! You are making me miss Christmas!!!

  5. I am so camera illiterate and I just have a kodak easyshare. I am not going to tell you how many pictures I took of my tree last year with sad results. I am going to have to do some investigating to see if I can figure out how to get similar results with my camera. If that fails, I just have to ask Santa for a Canon this year! :) Thanks for sharing this! Found it on Pinterest.

  6. I just found this pic on Pinterest. I am so in love with it! I am 1) exceptionally excited abour Christmas and 2) learning to use my Nikon D70s. I may have to get an f1.8 lens.

    thanks for sharing your settings!!

  7. I know this is going to sound crazy, but I just saw your pin on pinterest, clicked on it, read your “about me”, and realized I knew you from the Nest days waaaay back around 2004 maybe? I was LuckyLady22. Anyway, congrats on your pinterest popularity! Your family is lovely!

  8. Beth, I absolutely love your photo, but am wondering if you read the EXIF data wrong. There is no way that you could have gotten the depth of field that you got on this shot while shooting at f/1.8. If you look closely, the picture is in focus from the front of the frame (look down at the floor, it is in focus) to the garland on the back wall. If it were shot at f/1.8, you would have had maybe 1 foot of focus, not what looks like 5-7 feet. Again, BEAUTIFUL photo! I can’t wait for Christmas!!!!

  9. Everyone, thanks SO much for all the sweet comments about this photo! I am blown away by how much popularity this picture has on pinterest, so thanks to everyone for the repins as well!

    @audra– I remember you!! That is so cool! It’s a small world out here in blogland some days. :)

    @wishyouwerehere- I emailed you this but wanted to share with everyone else: When I use my 1.8 lens I rarely (maybe never?) take it off the lowest aperture setting, but I wanted to make sure in this case since you asked.

    Here is a screenshot of the info: http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6176/6199924607_2ffdfc069b_o.jpg

    It is definitely at f/1.8.

    I’m not a professional but I do get lucky on occasion. :)

    Hope you all try this out at Christmas and get some good results! Please share them here if you do!

    Thanks again,
    Beth

  10. Oh my gosh. I am ready to put my tree up today so I can start taking pictures. Thanks for sharing your amazing pictures and instructions for taking them.

    Lisa

  11. I love your photo! But I thought that maybe as a professional photographer I’d give you a few tips (that you might have already learned) for the upcoming Christmas this year.
    First, The Higher the ISO the more grain, or pixelation you will have.
    Instead try a longer exposure.
    Second, I’m not sure about your f stop at 1.8, you have such a depth of feild… But you’re right about using a small f stop to let in more light. Using a higher f stop with a long exposure will reward you with pretty light refractions.
    Lastly, with your smaller lens you have the ability to create very pretty bokeh, you should try it!
    again, awesome photo. <3

  12. oh, and I found your photo on Pinterest!

  13. Oh fantastic! I can’t wait to put this tip to good use with our tree this year!! So happy to have stumbled into your blog (Pinterest, thank you).
    ~Megan

  14. Anonymous says:

    I could be wrong with this type of picture, but wouldn’t it be better to just use a slower shutter speed? Cranking the ISO up usually results in a grainy picture?

  15. great pic!..i did this last year, but i’m confused as how you got your little boy in focus?..if you keep the shutter open that long, doesn’t he get blurry??..or is he standing really still???

  16. Found your site from Pinterest. I love this pic and thanks for sharing the tip.

  17. WOW! Love this pic…I do photography and this was a great tutorial:)

  18. Anonymous says:

    if you’re not advanced enough to shoot in manual, you can also put it on P and turn off the flash, and you’ll get the same glowy effect. if you crank down the ISO, it also won’t be noisy like this one is (marked lack of quality on the little boy).

  19. Anonymous says:

    Krissy- even though 1/30 is slow it is not too slow to get a motion blur free shot. As long as the subject is occupied, as her boy is in this picture, then 1/30 is fast enough. In fact I would slow it down even further and use a much lower ISO to get rid of all the grain visible in this picture. With say a 1/10 shutter speed you may need to shoot a few extra shots in case the boy moves but you will be much happier with the higher detail, better quality image. Great shot though.

  20. I found your picture on Pinterest and I am soo happy! I am by no means a professional photographer, but I want my kids to have great pictures as memories to have with them forever! I have a nice camera a Canon Powershot SX10IS and I am trying to figure out how to capture a picture similar with my kids this Christmas. Thank you for the tutorial. I think that I can adapt what you did with your DSLR with my point and shoot.

  21. I have this same Camera. And I was messing with the Shutter setting on the M and I don’t know how to get it back what it was originally… Now on that setting the pictures are dark. :( do you know what the default is or what I should put it on? I am kind of panicing. hah Thanks!! :)

  22. I am going to try this!

  23. Beautiful !!!!! I am trying this !!

  24. I have the same exact lens but can get the shutter speed set that low. I have to turn the dial to shut off the flash…mmmmm wonder what Im doing wrong?? (TraceyLN2000@gmail.com)

  25. Ok I set my Canon to your exact settings. The tree is perfect just like yours but once I put my so. Infringe of the tree it looked as if he had lights on him too?????

  26. @Anonymous- You can see there is a bit of glare on my son’s legs as well. If the kid isn’t being really still it might be making the glare worse?

    @Cake Lady Tray- If you are in Manual mode usually the flash is off automatically. I’m not familiar with other brands but on my Canon that is the case.

    @The Pepperlings- I commented on your blog with my long response. :)

    Thanks everyone else, for your comments and compliments! :) I hope you all take some good shots this year. I’m thinking of hosting a link party so you can show them off!

  27. Thank you so much for this tutorial! I’m your newest follower & look forward to your future posts!

  28. I figured out how to change my ISO to 4000, but the 1/30th thing I have NO idea about. lol I have a Canon EOS…I dont see a feature on the wheel that says CA…so I tried this on Manual and TV and got a black photo….HELP! lol

  29. I figured it out~!! Woot! =)

  30. I did my first pics of the tree tonight. Finally got the coloring better in the post processing. It’s on my FB page. Thanks for sharing this great information. Blessings, SusanD

  31. hi beth, found this on your pinterest & i just love it!! i have a canon rebel xt & also have the 50 mm f/1.8, however after following the directions you have listed above i can’t quite seem to get the same results. actually, mine just turn out all dark and mucky. i think it’s because i’m not quite sure what 1/30th shutter speed is, if you could explain that would be great.. thanks!

    xo,
    http://daveesecrets.blogspot.com

  32. Thanks for the tips – mine were always overbright or too dark so finally getting some good shots. Still a bit light outside so am waiting for full dark to see what magic my camera will bring when i keep on tinkering, although i may have to wait until my son goes to bed cos he keeps jumping in the way grrr or the dog walks by ….LOL it’s a moms’ life!

  33. LOVE this!!! Thank you!!!

  34. Thanks so much for this post. Don’t you just LOVE Pinterest?! I love it as a blogger and just as a creative mom. I’ve gotten a ton of traffic from my Sparkling Cranberry Brie Bites recipe – it’s so fun!
    I just tried this with my tree and it worked! Thank you!!!

  35. Is there a way to do this effect with a plain jane point and shoot digital camera?

  36. Do you know if I’d be able to do this effect with a plain jane, point and shoot digital camera?

  37. I just tried this with my Kodak Easyshare and it worked! Thank you so much for the instructions!!

  38. I did a pic similar to this, but I turned the lights in the house down low, used a low iso, put the DSLR on a tripod, and let the shutter stay open for 30″. Of coarse, I had no toddler moving around in mine it was just the tree…

  39. With the ISO set high, how did you not end up with a noisy photo?

  40. Oh goodness, thank you so much for sharing! I have been searchin’ on how to take great Christmas tree pics! Thank you again! hopefully my olympus pen will achieve this! – meg

  41. I just found this on pinterest and think you did an amazing job on this picture. I have wanted a DSLR camera for quite awhile now and may need to ask santa this year! Would you recommend the camera rebel?

    Jill Massena

  42. Anonymous says:

    i cant figure it out!!! LOL i have only had my camera like a month but i cranked up the IOS and turn that shutter thingy to 1/30 but nothing like yours… im convinced you have 2000 bulbs more than me! regardless, great pic and i def wanted to duplicate the look! great job!

  43. I have this exact camera and saw this now-famous photo on Pinterest. I’ve had it pinned forever and finally clicked over to see how to make my Christmas photos great this year. Thanks so much for the tips!

  44. These are beautiful!! Im doing this tonight & if all goes well my 9 month old and 3 year old & tree will be our christmas cards this year! Thank You!!

  45. I just found your blog, and I’m already a fan! LOVE it! I shared a link to this tutorial on a blog for which I write. Hope that’s okay…I’m kinda new at this! Here’s the link: http://joyeverafter.blogspot.com/2011/12/christmas-crafts-and-tips-for-cute.html

  46. Love this!! I love that you are not a professional photographer as well – it gives me hope that I might get this picture thing down sooner or later. Thanks for the great pic and the great tips!! Love the whole blog! (and of course have been singing Poison since I landed here :)

  47. Anonymous says:

    I cant get my camera to even take the picture??? I have a Canon T2i

  48. I have seen your pictures all over Pinterest. I don’t have a DSLR camera. :( I just have a basic point-and-shoot digital Samsung. I still tried upping the ISO but everything came out blurry. Guess I need to look at shutter speed. Also, it seems the best pics of trees are always in rooms w/o carpet. So maybe I need to remodel. ;)

  49. Thanks for the tip. I need to try this again.

  50. I found your link yesterday, and tried it myself. I have the IS 55-85MM lens. (And the lowest fstop it offeres is 4.5. It looks good, but the ornaments show up fuzzy.
    I used a tripod, any ideas how to get it clearer?

    http://lightsonthelake.blogspot.com/

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