How to Photograph that Christmas Tree

PhotobugPhotobug Posts: 5,748Member
edited November 2014 in Nikon DSLR cameras
Over in PAD, @rbrylawski said he struggled with taking pictures of Christmas Trees. This was his shot:
Hoiday Tree 2014

He went on and said..." What's frustrating is I took a picture of the tree with my iPhone and I actually like the iPhone picture better. Since I can only post one picture today, I'll post the iPhone picture tomorrow."

We can't have someone liking the iPhone picture over his DSLR. So I thought I would share my experience on how to take "Great Tree" pictures. I have been taking our family pictures using this process since the old days of film and it works with digital SLR's too. I have taught this to many photographers so I don't mind sharing my secret with NRF members.

1. get out that tripod and turn on your tree lights. Reduce room lights or use them as an accent light.
2. Finalize your composition. Take a picture with your flash. This is your base reference picture. Yea it's boring.
3. Turn off your flash. Take a time exposed picture at what ever exposure your meter indicates using Aperture Priority mode using a low ISO setting. Check the image on the LCD screen. Now you can see the individuals colors of each bulb. It's a nice picture and much better than the flash picture. But you can do better.
4. In Aperture Priority mode now adjust your F stop until your shutter is open for at least 3 to 4 seconds. Take the picture and adjust your F stop until you get the bulb saturation you want. It may need a longer exposure. This image should be better than the one in step #3.
5. When you have a good shot and the bulbs have nice saturation and you have nice color inside the tree (assuming you put bulbs close to the trunk) and you have nice bulb color on the ornaments your ready for the last step. This may take some experimenting to get the light the way you want it but it's worth the effort.
6. Now to create that great picture. Once you have identified your shutter speed and F-stop, take that flash off the camera and turn the flash on. Hopefully your shutter speed is somewhere between 3 and 4 seconds or longer. Hit the shutter button to take the picture and in the last second or two of the exposure, hit the button to fire the flash. Remember you must fire the flash before the shutter closes.

Your final picture will have all the great looks of step 5 and the flash will fill in the room. You will see great saturation in the bulbs and light on ornaments and inside the tree and them the flash will light the room and tree but not wash out those colors.

Later tonight I will did up some pictures from last year or two and upload them here so you can see my results.

Christmas is a great time of the year and one in which you should spend time taking pictures of all those beautiful decorations your wife put up. Hope these tips help you turn your tree pictures into Great professional tree pictures.
D750 & D7100 | 24-70 F2.8 G AF-S ED, 70-200 F2.8 AF VR, TC-14E III, TC-1.7EII, 35 F2 AF D, 50mm F1.8G, 105mm G AF-S VR | Backup & Wife's Gear: D5500 & Sony HX50V | 18-140 AF-S ED VR DX, 55-300 AF-S G VR DX |
|SB-800, Amaran Halo LED Ring light | MB-D16 grip| Gitzo GT3541 + RRS BH-55LR, Gitzo GM2942 + Sirui L-10 | RRS gear | Lowepro, ThinkTank, & Hoodman gear | BosStrap | Vello Freewave Plus wireless Remote, Leica Lens Cleaning Cloth |
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Comments

  • rbrylawskirbrylawski Posts: 222Member
    edited November 2014
    I can't thank you enough for this amazing advice! I have so much to learn and your step by step directions really help!

    Thank you Photobug!!

    Ps: I have printed your advice so I have it for years to come!
    Post edited by rbrylawski on
    Nikon D7100; AF-S DX 35mm f1.8; AF-S DX Macro 40mm f2.8; AF-S DX 18-200mm VRII; SB-700 Speed Light and a bunch of other not very noteworthy stuff......
  • PhotobugPhotobug Posts: 5,748Member
    edited November 2014
    Could not find a good tree shot demonstrating the above principles. Our tree is going up this weekend so guess I have to get to work and take some pictures. LoL.

    However, here are some examples of other Christmas decorations.
    WIth flash:
    DSC_0012
    No flash on this one:
    DSC_0004

    No flash:
    DSC_0101

    No flash:
    DSC_0100

    See PAD for another example.
    Bottom line, use that tripod and take time exposure for better pictures than using your flash. Get creative and take a time exposure and add an off camera flash manually fired for the best of both worlds.
    Post edited by Photobug on
    D750 & D7100 | 24-70 F2.8 G AF-S ED, 70-200 F2.8 AF VR, TC-14E III, TC-1.7EII, 35 F2 AF D, 50mm F1.8G, 105mm G AF-S VR | Backup & Wife's Gear: D5500 & Sony HX50V | 18-140 AF-S ED VR DX, 55-300 AF-S G VR DX |
    |SB-800, Amaran Halo LED Ring light | MB-D16 grip| Gitzo GT3541 + RRS BH-55LR, Gitzo GM2942 + Sirui L-10 | RRS gear | Lowepro, ThinkTank, & Hoodman gear | BosStrap | Vello Freewave Plus wireless Remote, Leica Lens Cleaning Cloth |
  • MsmotoMsmoto Posts: 5,398Moderator
    If I am on the right track, I think a Christmas tree needs to be captured with two things in mind. One is the exposure must be done so as to capture the very best of the lighted bulbs or LEDs. Some experimentation needed here. Once this exposure is determined, then a fill light, soft, bounced, a light which is not obvious in the image, must be added. This allows us to see enough of the tree and ornaments that we can appreciate them.

    At least, this is the way I have done it in the past.....
    Msmoto, mod
  • [Deleted User][Deleted User] Posts: 0
    edited November 2014
    Thanks Photobug - I'll give this a try and post the results.
    Post edited by [Deleted User] on
  • PhotobugPhotobug Posts: 5,748Member
    @PitchBlack - I was really disappointed that the last 5 years I had no shots to illustrate my technique. You mention a key point shooting wide open to draw attention to a few key features rather than the entire tree. I will try that when we get the tree put up. My shots about with the wife's D90 were more to capture the tree rather than produce an excellent tree photo.

    I was so disappointed that I had not used this the last five years using the technique mentioned above. I am going digging some more when I first went bought the D200 to see if I have a shot with the flash. I only looked through my D7100 & D300 shots.

    More examples to come and thanks for your suggestions.
    D750 & D7100 | 24-70 F2.8 G AF-S ED, 70-200 F2.8 AF VR, TC-14E III, TC-1.7EII, 35 F2 AF D, 50mm F1.8G, 105mm G AF-S VR | Backup & Wife's Gear: D5500 & Sony HX50V | 18-140 AF-S ED VR DX, 55-300 AF-S G VR DX |
    |SB-800, Amaran Halo LED Ring light | MB-D16 grip| Gitzo GT3541 + RRS BH-55LR, Gitzo GM2942 + Sirui L-10 | RRS gear | Lowepro, ThinkTank, & Hoodman gear | BosStrap | Vello Freewave Plus wireless Remote, Leica Lens Cleaning Cloth |
  • Golf007sdGolf007sd Posts: 2,840Moderator
    @Photobug: If you want to eliminated any distraction in the background (+1 on PitchBlack remark) get out some king or queen bed sheets and cover the surrounding area's behind and surrounding areas and then take some shots. Hence, make your own in-house studio :P
    D4 & D7000 | Nikon Holy Trinity Set + 105 2.8 Mico + 200 F2 VR II | 300 2.8G VR II, 10.5 Fish-eye, 24 & 50 1.4G, 35 & 85 1.8G, 18-200 3.5-5.6 VR I SB-400 & 700 | TC 1.4E III, 1.7 & 2.0E III, 1.7 | Sigma 35 & 50 1.4 DG HSM | RRS Ballhead & Tripods Gear | Gitzo Monopod | Lowepro Gear | HDR via Promote Control System |
  • spraynprayspraynpray Posts: 6,481Moderator
    I'll be putting mine up within the next couple of weeks so I'll post a shot of it for critique. Fun thread!
    Always learning.
  • sevencrossingsevencrossing Posts: 2,800Member
    "Hide" the background with children and people
    they are what christmas is all about
    they also give scale to the tree
    use a tripod, a small amount of natural light, delayed action and get your self in the picture too
    note the position of the tripod and retake the picture every christmas to make a history of the family growing up
  • Rx4PhotoRx4Photo Posts: 1,200Member
    edited December 2014
    Choose different perspectives if you're able. Shoot from atop a ladder from across the room or laying on ur belly - bringing another item into focus while defocusing the Christmas tree in the background.

    DSC_4046.jpg

    Try to "create" the scene if possible by moving furniture and obstructive items. I've done this in peoples homes with their permission before shooting a portrait. I'm also a huge fan of No Flash Christmas Tree photos - creates a warm inviting atmosphere. Tripod, yes. Adjust ISO so that Christmas lights provide that warm ambient look that still allows you to see the colors of the tree without over exposing the lights.

    The Warmth of Home
    Post edited by Rx4Photo on
    D800 | D7000 | Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 | 24-70mm f/2.8 | 70-200mm f/2.8 | 35mm f/1.8G | 85mm f/1.4G | Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art | Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art | Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM | Zeiss 100mm Makro-Planar ZF.2 | Flash controllers: Phottix Odin TTL

  • Very nice images/examples, @Rx4Photo!
  • tcole1983tcole1983 Posts: 981Member
    Definitely no flash. It will overpower the lights and it doesn't look good. I really like Rx4Photo's second picture. We put ours up last night. I will post it when I get around to getting it off the camera.
    D5200, D5000, S31, 18-55 VR, 17-55 F2.8, 35 F1.8G, 105 F2.8 VR, 300 F4 AF-S (Previously owned 18-200 VRI, Tokina 12-24 F4 II)
  • kenadamskenadams Posts: 222Member
    Very nice images/examples, @Rx4Photo!
    Seconded!!

    I guess this subject depends on what you want out of this. Do you need a kind of documentation for the family album, showing the tree entirely in its 2014 configuration, or do you intend to lend it an artistic note?

  • tc88tc88 Posts: 537Member
    @Rx4Photo, very nice examples. As you demonstrated, composition, perspective, and lighting are the keys, just as in other situations. I also agree, no flashes.
  • PhotobugPhotobug Posts: 5,748Member
    I'll be putting mine up within the next couple of weeks so I'll post a shot of it for critique. Fun thread!
    Yea it is fun. Too often that gets lost. Got to get the wife decorating the house and that tree up so I can take photos.
    D750 & D7100 | 24-70 F2.8 G AF-S ED, 70-200 F2.8 AF VR, TC-14E III, TC-1.7EII, 35 F2 AF D, 50mm F1.8G, 105mm G AF-S VR | Backup & Wife's Gear: D5500 & Sony HX50V | 18-140 AF-S ED VR DX, 55-300 AF-S G VR DX |
    |SB-800, Amaran Halo LED Ring light | MB-D16 grip| Gitzo GT3541 + RRS BH-55LR, Gitzo GM2942 + Sirui L-10 | RRS gear | Lowepro, ThinkTank, & Hoodman gear | BosStrap | Vello Freewave Plus wireless Remote, Leica Lens Cleaning Cloth |
  • Rx4PhotoRx4Photo Posts: 1,200Member
    Thanks for the kind words everyone. I don't think I've ever taken a straightforward picture of our Christmas tree without including something else in the image to create a little story. For example, the first image I thought what if the nutcracker were to stand guard of the Christmas tree. For the second, I wanted to emphasize the warmth and significance of family ties during the holiday season. Make it creative, and not every photo has to be well lit to be a good photo. It's all fun.
    D800 | D7000 | Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 | 24-70mm f/2.8 | 70-200mm f/2.8 | 35mm f/1.8G | 85mm f/1.4G | Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art | Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art | Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM | Zeiss 100mm Makro-Planar ZF.2 | Flash controllers: Phottix Odin TTL

  • KnockKnockKnockKnock Posts: 398Member
    I'm just thinking of the challenges. Getting the entire tree means getting a lot of other stuff. Uneven lighting. Dark interiors. Interesting post, keep the ideas going! We have a few weeks yet.
    D7100, D60, 35mm f/1.8 DX, 50mm f/1.4, 18-105mm DX, 18-55mm VR II, Sony RX-100 ii
  • BesoBeso Posts: 464Member
    I couldn't immediately locate a tree shot but here one that is theme oriented. I took this with virtually no light source other than the light string at the base of the nutcrackers. It is an 8 second exposure and the lens was stopped down to f/14 to maintain a decent DOF within a short shooting distance. I did do a bit of light painting on each nutcracker during the exposure with a very small penlight. It would be fun to try something similar with a tree.
    Nutcrackers on Guard
    Occasionally a decent image ...
  • Rx4PhotoRx4Photo Posts: 1,200Member
    Really, really cool photo @Beso !
    D800 | D7000 | Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 | 24-70mm f/2.8 | 70-200mm f/2.8 | 35mm f/1.8G | 85mm f/1.4G | Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art | Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art | Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM | Zeiss 100mm Makro-Planar ZF.2 | Flash controllers: Phottix Odin TTL

  • OK here is my Christmas Tree -- Love the cast of colors. House was totally dark, only the tree for light.

    photo Web-LLG_4273-141211-D-Cropped-Cropped-D-40secatf-71-ISO100-31mm.jpg

  • PhotobugPhotobug Posts: 5,748Member
    Nice tree shot. My RRS "L" bracket for my new D750 just shipped today so it's going to be a few days before I start shooting unless I just go and do it with my D7100.

    BTW, the color cast is excellent. Nice job.
    D750 & D7100 | 24-70 F2.8 G AF-S ED, 70-200 F2.8 AF VR, TC-14E III, TC-1.7EII, 35 F2 AF D, 50mm F1.8G, 105mm G AF-S VR | Backup & Wife's Gear: D5500 & Sony HX50V | 18-140 AF-S ED VR DX, 55-300 AF-S G VR DX |
    |SB-800, Amaran Halo LED Ring light | MB-D16 grip| Gitzo GT3541 + RRS BH-55LR, Gitzo GM2942 + Sirui L-10 | RRS gear | Lowepro, ThinkTank, & Hoodman gear | BosStrap | Vello Freewave Plus wireless Remote, Leica Lens Cleaning Cloth |
  • spraynprayspraynpray Posts: 6,481Moderator
    @Luckie: I like coloured lights but my wife likes a classic small white light so you can guess which type we have. ;)

    @Photobug: If your tripod has one of those ball head thingies on it I understand that it is still possible to take portrait shots even without an L bracket... @-)
    Always learning.
  • studio460studio460 Posts: 205Member
    edited December 2014
    Ha! I just happened to take some tripod-ed Xmas tree shots earlier this evening! For the shot below, I just dragged the shutter until the Xmas lights began to read (0.6 seconds). I used a stand-mounted, Nikon SB-800 (just out-of-frame to the right) with a honeycomb snoot attached to light the subject. I just guessed at the SB-800's output and set it manually at 1/8th power:

    image

    Nikon D3s + AF-S Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G
    ISO: 200; f/5.6 @ 0.6 seconds; Nikon SB-800 @ 1/8th power; Harbor Digital 1/8" honeycomb.
    Post edited by studio460 on
  • studio460studio460 Posts: 205Member
    Same set-up, except lit with a 3-foot octa instead (un-gridded), on a boom from the right:

    image

    Nikon D3s + AF-S Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G
    ISO: 200; f/4.0 @ 1/4-second; Elinchrom RX2 AC monolight at minimum power.
  • studio460studio460 Posts: 205Member
    Here, I killed all the ambient house lighting and set my Speedlight on the floor to the left as a small kicker. I manually extended my shutter speed to 1.6 seconds, where I was happy with the exposure on the Xmas lights:

    image

    Nikon D3s + AF-S Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G
    ISO: 200; f/5.6 @ 1.3 seconds; Nikon SB-800 @ 1/8th power; Vivitar 283 filter holder (used as a snoot).
  • studio460studio460 Posts: 205Member
    I just found this one from last Xmas, shot at sunrise, using only the tree lights to illuminate the interior:

    image

    Nikon D3s + AF-S Nikkor 16-35mm f/4.0G ED VR @ 16mm
    ISO: 2,000; f/4.0 @ 1/20th (shot handheld).
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