Thursday, December 06, 2007

And the stockings were hung...

This has been my most popular photography question, both on email and on the blog post, so it gets an entry all its own.

In order to get pictures of your kids (or your dog, or even your husband) lit by the light of the Christmas tree you will need to do the following:

1. Turn off your flash.
2. Set your camera to Manual. (You can also try shutter priority, and ignore step #3.) If you don't have any of these manual modes on your camera, try the night mode, but most likely you will have a hard time getting the right effect. Sorry.
3. Choose the widest possible aperture your lens/camera will allow. This will be the lowest number. Check your camera's instruction manual to learn how to do this if you don't know. All of my header pictures and the above picture were taken at f/1.8.
4. Choose a high ISO. I took the above picture at ISO 1600, which is the highest my camera will allow. I took the picture of Sophie in my header at ISO 400, which really wasn't high enough and I had to fix it a bit in photoshop. I think I could have gotten away with 800.
5. Choose a fast shutter speed so that your children will stay in focus. You will want that to be a number that matches the focal length of your lens. For instance, if you are shooting with a 35 mm lens, choose 1/30 or 1/40. If you are shooting with a dSLR that has a crop factor (check your manual, folks!) make sure you allow for that when you choose your shutter speed. In the above picture I used a 50 mm lens, but because of my crop factor I needed to double that number to ensure good focus. I shot it at a shutter speed of 1/100.
6. Turn off the house lights and get your kids/dog/husband set up by the tree and start taking pictures! Experiment with your SS and ISO settings, but I recommend that you leave your aperture open as wide as possible.
7. Have fun!
8. These pictures, because they are purposefully underexposed and/or taken at a high ISO, will have a lot of digital noise in them. I suggest downloading Noiseware Community Edition (Google it) and running the pictures through it to eliminate the graininess.

In order to get the really sparkly, twinkly lights that are on the background picture of my header, follow these instructions:

1. Turn off your flash.
2. Set your camera to either Manual or Shutter Priority.
3. Set your aperture fairly narrow (higher number). My picture was shot at f/13.
4. Set your ISO to 400.
5. Set your shutter speed to a very long exposure. Mine was done at 10 seconds, but you can experiment. I do have to say,that at the settings I used even 8 seconds did not produce quite the results I wanted.
6. Put your camera on a tripod or a table or chair. Do not attempt this picture while holding your camera or it will be hopelessly blurry.
7. Turn off the house lights.
8. Take your pictures!

If you don't understand any of the above, I suggest reading your manual and finding out just what your camera is capable of doing. I am not very familiar with the point and shoots, but I know a lot of them offer quite a few manual settings.

Don't forget to keep posting any photography questions. I will make a bigger post next week! Until then enjoy playing with your camera and your Christmas tree lights!
Lara Neves
Lara Neves

Lara is mom to three daughters—two teens and a tween. She loves to share her parenting and homemaking triumphs and failures here at Overstuffed! She was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2015 and has been fighting it ever since. When she isn't working on her mother of the year award, you can find her reading, singing, or taking photos.


  1. Uh, not to be rude, but you missed the very most important step!
    1. Call Lara to get these shots and save yourself the headache of trying to figure out what ISO or numbers that involve fractions mean. You are amazing at this stuff! I love it!

  2. These pictures are so beautiful!

  3. you are getting better and better at this! well done!

  4. My granddaughters are the greatest subjects!! Thanks Lara for another great talent you are developing, forgive the pun!

  5. Your tips are so awesome. I'm hoping to play with the camera again tomorrow (Friday) night. I'll post my results.

    I'm going to try to get some more twinkly lights, but this time, the ENTIRE tree - instead just a few branches.

    And the girls... I need to get pictures of the girls. :)

  6. HUH!?! Okay so I have a canon Powershot S3....would my manual or shutter priority be my auto option or the big letter M...I need to pull out my manual...wish I could take a class just on my you know if there are those available? I feel horrible having this really nice camera and not really doing much with it....especially since I know it is capable of so much more! UGH!

  7. I REALLY want to do "my christmas gift" on my blog showing people how to better photoshop....
    Putting it on my "to do" list.

  8. Thanks. You just went into my Favorite blogs!!

  9. Oh man! I wonder if I can memorize all this before tomorrow night (last night of Hanukkah - I'll bet it works kind of similar). Gorgeous shot btw!!!!