Capturing Your Christmas Tree

by Jamie MacDonald, Olympus Trailblazer
Shot by Jamie MacDonald, Olympus Trailblazer

There are few things more iconic during the holiday season than the Christmas tree. So much love and joy go into decorating and lighting it, yet so few people take photos to show off their handiwork. Today I’ll share a few tips on photographing your Christmas tree, or even your community or town tree.

Composition

Shooting in portrait (or vertical) orientation is ideal for a Christmas tree since it is taller than it is wide. Choosing a wide-angle prime lens like the M.Zuiko 12mm f2.0, or a wide-angle zoom like the M.Zuiko 12-40mm f2.8 PRO, will aid in getting the entire tree into your photo, as will using a low, upward-facing angle. The low angle will also help you get gifts under the tree into your shot. 
I suggest even lying on the floor and angling the camera upwards to create a dramatic composition.

Lighting

Shooting in a darkened room with the lights of the tree turned on is a great way to show off the beauty of your tree. Make sure to disable your flash to allow the tree lights to illuminate your scene.

Camera Settings

If you are using an OM-D or PEN camera I suggest shooting in manual mode with an aperture of f/5.6, setting your ISO to 200 and experimenting with shutter speeds to get an exposure you like. Or you can keep it simple and fun with the Scene Modes; select either Hand-Held Starlight (on newer Olympus cameras) or Night and the camera will adjust the necessary settings for you! Be sure to keep your camera stabilized when shooting to avoid blurry shots since your exposure times will be somewhat long.

Image shot with OM-D E-M1 and M.12-40mm f2.8 PRO lens. Dramatic Tone Art Filter. Aperture: f22, Focal Length 12mm.

Image shot with PEN E-PM1. Shutter Speed: 1/40, ISO: 200.

Details

While we discussed capturing the tree in its entirety, we have yet to talk about the little details that make your tree unique. I enjoy capturing close shots of family ornaments made by my children or those received as gifts. I try to frame the close-up photos with some Christmas lights behind them for that nice holiday light bokeh, or out-of-focus background.

Experiment

The settings suggested are certainly going to get you a great photo, but they are also just the beginning. Don’t be afraid to play around with camera settings to see what other creative looks you can get. A good example of a setting you can experiment with is the aperture. If you stop down your aperture to, say, f/11 or f/16, the lights in your scene will take on a starburst effect. Another fun technique is to use your Art Filters; Pop Art and Dramatic Tone are two that can provide exciting results (you can apply these filters directly in your camera, or later through the OI.Share app). Finally, if your camera has Photo Story mode, you can take a series of images to tell a holiday story. View Example.

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