Christmas tree portraits: How to capture the essence of the season in front of the tree

Christmas is coming, Christmas is coming!

And with the spirit of the season comes a new excitement for creativity if you're a photographer. Between all the decorations, lights, and cozy atmosphere, you can most certainly find some sort of new photo venture to explore, and if you you're a portrait photographer, then I can bet money you are genuinely enthralled with Christmas tree portraits.

But, how do you take awe-inspiring photos of your little ones in front of the tree with the gear you've got?

I've got a simple explanation just for you!

String extra lights

You will get much better results if you have more lights on your tree, so buy an extra box (or 2 or 3, depending on the size) and get to work. Having more lights will create more beautiful results with more ambient light available to illuminate your subjects.

Crank that ISO

Yes, the inevitable high ISO in low-light conditions. Yes, you might get some grain in case you were wondering, but you will also get amazing results. The photos being displayed were taken at ISO 12800, f2.2, 1/125.

Embrace the mood

With the ambient light glowing and the kids gathered around the tree, allow the mood to overpower your photos. Embrace the grain, the shadows, and the glow of the tree to create an impactful photo.

Flash if you must

No, this is not a girls gone wild post, so get your mind out of the gutter. Using the ambient light from the tree to create mood and emotion is all well and good if you are a lifestyle photographer or wanting to snap a few documentary shots of the kids, but what about taking a more formal photo? Enter your flash unit. By attaching my speedlight to my camera, changing my ISO to 4000, and bouncing the light off the back wall, I was able to create more glowing light without the moody shadows.
If you want to keep the warm glow of the tree prominent in your photos, shoot at an ISO of at least 800. From there, you can play around to see what camera settings suits you best for the environment you're in.
By turning down my ISO to 4000 and bouncing flash off the back wall, my subjects' faces were evenly exposed, making it for a more optimal formal portrait. So there you have it! My not-so-technical explanation on how to take Christmas tree portraits!

Did you find this quick tutorial useful? Let us know by leaving a comment below & telling us!

Eager to learn more about lighting? Check out our Natural Light Guide & see if it's a right for for the style of photography you are aiming to create.

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  • Thanks for your simple tips. I also appreciateed the before and after examples.

  • You’re very welcome – have fun with your Grandchildren!

    Heather Ford
  • Really well written. Easy to follow and understand. Perfect timing as our tree goes up this weekend and I am ready to shoot my little ones in front of and around the tree. Thanks for sharing


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