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Due to the overwhelming response I received from a Christmas tree photography contest I held last year, I decided to hold it again! It all started with a photo I posted on our own tree and everyone wanted to know how it was done. Read below for tips and tricks on photographing your own Christmas tree this year as well as learn how you can submit a photo of your own tree in a photo contest!
This Christmas tree photo was not taken in a studio nor any kind of controlled location. In fact, it was our family’s tree sitting in the family room. In addition, I did not take it with the expensive equipment I use for my portraits; rather, I used an inexpensive Canon XSi with a lower end Tamron 18-125mm lens I was trying out at the time. So, this photo is easily within the grasp of most of the people reading this post.
There is no right or wrong way to shoot for this effect. If you would like to take a similar photo, try following the simple formula below:
- Shoot Christmas Eve – Christmas Eve provides the best opportunity since you can use all of the presents you’ve been hiding in the basement, closets and car trunks as props. After the kids are in bed, have Santa “deliver” all of the presents and carefully place them around the tree placing the larger, taller boxes towards the back and the smaller packages near the front. Don’t wait for Christmas morning … once the kids are awake it’s too late. Within minutes all of the wrappings will be shredded as eager kids tear into everything.
- Turn out the Lights – The glow from the colored lights and reflecting ornaments needs to have a wow factor. To accomplish this, turn out all the lights in the room where the Christmas tree is located as well as any adjoining rooms. It is important that the only light present be from the lights on the tree. Any other lights will interfere with the effect.
- Manual Mode– If you were to use your camera to take the picture now, your camera’s brain would determine there isn’t enough light in the room to take a photo. Well, it’s right … sort of. There’s enough light for a photo, but not the type of photo your camera’s light meter is calibrated for. If you try to take a photo now, your camera is going to turn up the ISO setting (i.e. your camera’s sensitivity setting), open up the aperture (i.e. the lens’ light gathering size) and possibly even use the flash. Unfortunately, these are exactly the things we are trying to avoid. To get the effect shown, set you camera to manual and set the following (is it time to pull out your camera’s manual?):
- ISO Setting: Set it to 100. This is not very light “sensitive”, but it will give you a good picture with very little digital “noise”.
- Flash: Turn it off. You don’t need it, you don’t want it. It will do nothing but completely destroy the effect.
- Shutter Speed: Set it for approximately 4-6 seconds. We want a nice warm glow from dim, and possibly even blinking, lights. The slow shutter speed helps achieve the romantic glow we’re going for.
- Use a Tripod: With such a slow shutter speed, a tridpod is all but required. If you don’t have one, try balancing the camera on a small end table. Also, if you have a cable shutter release or remote control for your camera, use it. A remote control will help help prevent nudges and bumps when you push the shutter button.
- Get Low: I used a tripod set to its shortest setting to give the perspective of a very large, looming tree. In fact, the camera was only about a foot and a half off the floor.
- Don’t Zoom: To really capture a full Christmas tree, don’t “zoom in” to the tree using your camera’s lens. I set the Tamron 18-125mm lens to its widest setting for this shot. On this particular camera (Canon XSi), 18mm is really the equivalent of approximately 32mm on the full-frame film camera you may be most used to. This is actually a mild wide angle setting which helped emphasize the wideness (i.e. fullness) of the tree. Using a telephoto setting would actually visually compress the tree a bit. You may have to physically move closer to or farther from the tree for it to fill the view finder or LCD screen.
The only other control on your camera is the aperture. We are going to use it to actually set the photograph’s exposure. Start out by setting your camera’s aperture to somewhere between f/5.6 and f/8 and take a test shot. This is likely not be the perfect setting for your situation, but it should at least get you in the ballpark. Take a look at the photo on your camera’s LCD screen (if it has one) or on your computer. If it looks too bright, set the aperture to a larger setting (e.g. f/11). If it looks too dark, set the aperture to a smaller setting (e.g. f/4).
Experiment and above all else HAVE FUN! With a little bit of patience, you’ll be able to capture a photo that will wow your friends and family!
SUBMIT YOUR OWN PHOTO!
Submit a photo of your tree between December 1st, 2010 and January 15th, 2011 and be entered to win a $50 Print Credit from Paul Manoian Photography. The top photos will be selected and posted online for a final vote where the winner will receive a $50 Print Credit. The Credit can be used to purchase prints from a past session, future session and even towards a portrait session with Paul Manoian Photography.
How will the finalists be selected, you ask? By me. It’s my contest so I get to choose the finalists based on my own likes and dislikes. 😉 Even so, you will get to vote to select the final winner during the voting period on my blog. Also, in case you’re wondering, you’ll retain full copyright ownership of your photo. It’s your work and it belongs to you! GOOD LUCK!!
2010 Contest is Closed