It’s the most wonderful time of the year! And a time in which every parent dreams of capturing their children’s excitement and wonder during the holidays. Taking a picture in front of the Christmas tree is a classic way to commemorate the season, but it’s actually trickier than it sounds. So how can you get that magical picture?
Here’s our top tips for getting a great shot:
1. DON’T TAKE THIS PICTURE ON CHRISTMAS MORNING
Shoot during the middle of the day, either before or after Christmas day itself! Choose a time when indirect light (not fully streaming sunlight) is coming into the room from your windows. Shooting during the day will allow you to pick a time that your child is in a good mood while insuring insure there is enough light to get a good exposure. It also prevents any frustration on the part of either you or your child during Christmas day celebrations.
2. STEP AWAY FROM THE TREE
To acheive the beautiful bokeh effect from the lights on your tree (when the lights becoming circular and blurry), make sure your child is placed several feet in front of the tree. In this shot, the girl was about six feet in front of the tree. If there had been more room we would have moved her forward even more. The further the child is from the tree and the closer she is to the camera, the wider the bokeh.
3. F/STOP LOW, ISO HIGH, FLASH OFF
Here’s the technical part. Set your f/stop quite low. Between f/2 – f/3.5 will provide the best results. Keep your shutter speed at a minimum of 1/200 to prevent motion blur. Now raise the ISO until you get a decent exposure. Using a flash or turning on extra room lights will add unwanted shadows and glare so try to avoid these.
4. GO FOR ENGAGEMENT
For the most magical images, get your child to hold or play with a toy, or to hug a sibling. Images which show a child fully engaged in the moment tell a more exciting story than a child simply looking at the camera.
5. GET LOW AND DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE WHOLE TREE
The most important part of this picture is the child, not the tree. The tree is just part of the background story! Get all the way down on your tummy with the camera near the floor and shoot slightly upwards. Don’t worry if you can’t fit the whole tree in the shot — just a little bit will be enough to add that wonderful glow in the background.
Once you’ve got the shot, add a little more “magic” on the computer. Here’s a “before and after” with some post-processing steps…
Since the most important part of this picture is the girl’s face, all post-processing was done in order to showcase her expression. The beautiful short lighting provided by the window was enough to separate her from the background, but not enough to show the details of her face, which was so full of wonder and fascination. Carefully lightening her face while darkening the background makes her “pop”.
Exposure: Nikon D4s, 85mm f/1.4, 1/200 sec, ISO 2000, f/2.5
Software Used: Photoshop CC
Actions/Presets Used: Inspire Photoshop Actions
- Basic noise reduction & crop
Inspire Photoshop Actions:
- Brilliant Base 77%
- Light Painting on child’s face
- Light Blocking on background highlights
- Vitality 65%
- Classic vignette — all the way up to 100%!
Heidi Peters is a portrait and commercial photographer in Chicago. She also runs a yearlong project with Amy Tripple called Shoot Along to help parents take better pictures of their own children. Visit the Shoot Along website or facebook page to join!