For the past three years I have worked at perfecting the perfect photo the will capture our Christmas tree, all lit up, in the day time, and with a smiling child in front of it. And while this might seem like a simple point and shoot scenario, not only does my child have difficulty following directions, it appears Christmas trees also do not behave well for the camera. So finally after some trouble shooting, googling, and lots of practicing, I think I have found the perfect camera setting to get everything I want in the same photo. And since it’s the season of giving, I thought I’d share this information with anyone else who might be in the same boat. So here we go.
First lets talk about how to NOT take your photos. When I took photos of Liam with my iPhone X this was what I got:Well, the tree is there and the kid is smiling, begrudgingly, but it’s not what I really wanted. The tree just looks sad. And even though there are more lights on that tree than recommended by the fire department and by my safety patrol husband, the lights aren’t really popping and the tree just falls flat. I really wanted that glowy, twinkly light affect. Here is the same view taken with an iPhone X in Portrait mode. A little better but still not what I had in mind:So I decided to try another route. For my perfect photo, I used my Canon Rebel DSLR with a 50mm f1.8 fixed lens. This is a great lens for doing portraits when you want your subject (aka your child or family or dog) to be in focus and the background to be just slightly blurry. Note that I am not a professional photographer and I am still learning! But this is what worked best for me:
Camera Setting: Manual Mode
Shutter Speed: 1/30
Tip No 1: Use a tripod if possible. If not, prop the camera on a barstool, chair, table, ect. Worst case, try to have as steady of a hand as possible. Since the shutter speed is so low, if you are shaky when you take the photo, the entire image will turn out blurry.
Tip No 2: Position your subject closer to you and further away from the tree. So he sat about 1/3 of the way closer to the camera and 2/3 away from the tree. This can be confusing when you tell a moving toddler to “stand in front of the tree” and he looks back and the tree is 4 feet behind him. So using a chair helps. I actually put a sticker on the carpet as to where I wanted Liam to stand/sit and even though at times it felt like I was herding drunk cattle, I somehow managed to get him in the right spot. This again will give you the glowy twinkly light affect on your tree and allow your subject in focus. Now if that is NOT what you want and you want both the subject and tree to have a little more detail and focus, have the subject stand closer to the tree. Here is an example of the same photo with a my Canon Rebel using the same exact settings, but Liam is sitting directing in front of the tree:Tip No. 3: Always make sure you focus the camera on your subject prior to shooting, or else the camera might decide to put the tree in focus and not your subject, giving you a blurry child. If you are taking the photo yourself, this can easily be done by just pressing the shutter release button (the “shoot” button) slightly down and watching in the view finder as your subject comes into focus before pushing it down all the way to actually take the photo. If you are going to be using a self timer and jumping into the photo, this can still be done. Set the camera on a 10 second timer, make sure you have a subject there already in place to allow the camera to find where it needs to focus, press down only slightly to bring into focus, then press to shoot, run into the photo and bam there you have it. Here is an example where I used the timer but I forgot to have Liam in place to set my focus, so the camera choose the wrong place to focus:
Tip No. 4: When working with a two and a half year old, use snacks, treats, bribery…. Use whatever you’ve got. Here are a few more of Liam from over the past two years.