The holidays are coming and with them come a lot of photo ops. Want to take them up a notch?  How about getting a little star burst on your Christmas tree lights or Menorah candles?  This is a fun little trick that will give your holiday photos a little extra sparkle.  

It is important that you have a tripod for this, as we will be working with longer exposures.  You will also need a camera where you can control the exposure, like a DSLR or a bridge point and shoot.

Now, in a semi-dim room with candles or Christmas lights lit, position the tripod where you would like it.  Now we fiddle with the exposure.  My usual starting place is f/16, ISO 200, shutter speed 15 seconds–see why we need the tripod? (If you do not own a tripod, you can also set your camera on a table or s chair or the arm of a couch. Just make sure that wherever you place it, it will remain 100% still, and is also 100% safe!)

The critical part here is the f/16.  You need to be able to close your aperture as tightly as it will go or very close.  (Some lenses can close up to f/32, some only go to f/16.  The point is to close it up tight.)  Fiddle with your shutter speed and ISO to get the right balance of light, but keep your aperture closed. Depending on your camera, you may have to have a longer shutter speed, if your camera can not handle higher ISO’s well. It is the high aperture that gets you the star burst, so this is pretty much non-negotiable.

Another key point is to use the self-timer. Even if you have your camera on a tripod, when you hit the shutter button, there will be just a tiny bit of shake or movement. If you use the 2 second self timer, that allows you to press the shutter and move your hand away from the camera, so nothing is touching it while the camera is taking the picture.

Below is a pull back shot of the tree lights, with the up close shot being above.  (In this small size, the full shot won’t have the same punch with the lights as it would in a larger image.)

The settings for this particular picture are

Shutter speed 13 seconds. F20, ISO 500. I used the 24-70 2.8 canon lens, zoomed out at 24mm. No flash was used. As you can see in the final image there was some cropping that was done and cloning to get rid of a table.

Now that you know how easy it is to get a WOW tree/candle shot, we want to see yours! Make sure to post it on our Facebook page!

28th November 2011 Uncategorized

23 Responses to It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year – How to Photograph Your Christmas Tree


    Thank you! Can’t wait to photography my tree!

    You ladies ROCK! Thanks so much for taking the time to share this!


    I agree with the statement “you ladies ROCK” I love how willing you are to pass on your knowledge. I am not a photog, just a mom with a nice camera trying to capture life through the lens (when I remember to get it out)! I can’t wait to capture my Christmas tree this year thanks to you!

    Great post! I shared it with my photo group on Facebook!

    Oh, and I also shared it on Pinterest!


    I love these directions. I am going to play with it tonight and see what I come up with. If I get something worthwhile, I will post.

    This makes me not want to procrastinate with my Christmas decorating!! Thank you once again for sharing your wisdom!!

    I can’t wait to try it to night. I have out tree sitting in the lounge room ready to put up. What is the best wasy to go more lights?


    Thanks so much for this tutorial. Can’t wait to try it on my tree when we get it up!

    I can not wait to try this… I think it can be used over many other scenarios as well… romantic table setting for two?

    Have to get my tree up so I can try this out!!

    James Hubbard

    I’m going to try this. How do you put your photo on this page?

    Debbie Larson

    Love it, thanks! :)


    Thanks sooo much, i’ve been trying for days to get the right photo of our tree… it took 5mins once i read your tips

    This is SO cool! Hoping to get our tree up today – then I am going to have fun with this! Thanks so much for sharing.

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  2. Kristin

    I absolutely LOVE your photos of your tree. I followed your tips with my camera (Nikon D40x) and for some reason its not slowing my shutter speed down any and it doesn’t turn out as bright and sharp as your image. Any ideas on what i’m doing wrong?

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  4. Dawn

    Guess I will have to search the house for all my missing decorations so I can photograph it!

  5. Pingback: Snappin’ Sunday: Christmas Lights « The Lilypad Blog

  6. 701803 736839I genuinely enjoy your site, but I


    this might be a silly question but I set my camera on a similar setting and my picture turned out black (barely any light showing). What did I do wrong? It definitely didn’t look like the one you posted…

  7. Pingback: The Lilypad » Snappin’ Sunday: Christmas Lights

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