Family photos in front of the Christmas tree often come out too dark or too bright due to lights on the tree competing with lights in the room. Photographing children is especially difficult because they tend to move around while adjustments are made to lighting and camera settings. If you want to capture the spirit of Christmas in your photos but you don’t want to spend a fortune on professional pictures, prepare ahead of time and plan to take many shots to get a few worth framing.
Use a decent camera. You don't necessarily need a professional-quality SLR camera; a point-and-shoot with a variable aperture, light meter, ISO and a zoom lens is fine. If you're using your cell phone or a cheap or disposable camera, you'll end up with poor photos. If you don't own a decent camera, borrow or rent one.
Turn off your flash. Your flash will dim the tree lights, reduce any twinkling and add a yellowish color to your tree and your kids. The effect will be dulling and look unnatural.
Place your camera on a tripod, or use a stack of books or a chair to steady it. This helps prevent blurring caused by movement of your hands, and it's essential if your shutter speed is low.
Photograph your kids standing several feet in front of the tree lights. This will ensure your children are the focus of the photograph and it will create a nice blurring effect of the lights in the background.
Set the AV number to the lowest possible on your camera. The AV, or aperture, setting changes the size of the opening inside your camera's lens. This affects how much light passes through the lens onto the film. The smaller the number, the more light allowed through.
Use natural light, if possible. Natural light on your kids' faces looks better and photographs better than overheard or other lighting. Ideally, you want your kids between the tree and the source of natural light so the light hits their faces and doesn't come in from behind them. This may mean moving your tree if there's no window or door in a good location.
Try turning off all the lights in your home except for the tree lights, and then photograph your kids in the dark for an interesting effect. Set your ISO, which controls your camera's sensitivity to light, low and your AV number high. You should also slow your shutter speed to let in more light. The final result will be a bright and twinkling Christmas tree with visible, but silhouetted, children in front. Keep in mind, a slower shutter speed will result in blurry photos if your kids move around. Take multiple shots to ensure you get a clear photo.
Avoid dressing your children in busy patterns or using too many props. While some props can add to a photo when chosen carefully, too many is distracting and can take away from the final result.
Get down on the ground or set your camera low to capture your children at their height. Place the camera at or near the level of your kids' heads. If there's a large difference in height from one child to another, consider seating your tallest child and having your shortest child stand.
Take a variety of photos. Sometimes, the unposed pictures are the best ones.
Items you will need
- New York Institute of Photography: How to Take Great Photos of Holiday Lights
- SarahC Photography: How to Photograph Kids in Front of the Christmas Tree
- Faithful Steps Photography: Photographing Kids in in Front of a Christmas Tree
- Ella Publishing Co.: 12 Photo Tips for Christmas
- August Tea Photography: Taking Pictures of Your Christmas Tree
- Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images