The first thing to mention here is these tips will be on how to take photos in front of a Christmas tree without flash. Using flash photography is subjective and an artistic choice, however, I prefer to avoid using it and instead to boost my ISO as I don't mind grain in my images and am not a fan of a studio feel.
1. High ISOShooting indoors almost always calls for you to boost your ISO, and it is no different in this situation. Especially as the days grow shorter and darker, even if you have window light chances are it won't be enough or that you will be shooting after the sun goes down. It's important that you know your cameras dynamic range and ISO capabilities. Remember that you can always edit grain in post-production.
2. Low ApertureThere are two reasons to choose to shoot with a low aperture in this situation. The first is to let as much light into your lens as possible, choosing a prime lens such as a 1.2 50mm lens would be ideal. Remember, if there is more than one person in the shot to keep everyone on the same plane of focus to avoid focus issues. The second reason to shoot with a low aperture is to achieve that creamy, magical bokeh.
3. Shutter SpeedChoosing a low shutter speed will also allow more light into your lens, but you have to be aware of blur. Personally, I choose not to fall below 1/100 for portraits. If you use a tripod and your subject is capable of standing still you can go as far as 1/50.
4. White BalanceChoosing your white balance will affect the colouring of your image. If you have a warm Christmas tree try shooting with a tungsten balance, and if possible turn off other overhead lighting. If you have a cool Christmas tree, things can get a bit tricker. If possible use an 18% grey card to set a custom white balance, or shoot on RAW and choose auto white balance and adjust in post later. You may want to turn off all other lighting, especially with a cool tree to avoid mixing temperatures.
5. Shoot in RAWShooting in RAW means that your camera creates bigger files with more information, which means you have more leeway when it comes to post processing and fixing issues such as grain, under exposure and colouring which may be problems you encounter.
6. Think About DistanceThe distance between your subject and the tree will determine the look and feel of your photo. For example, if your subject is standing right next to the tree you will have less of a bokeh, or the lights may even be sharp, however you will get the glow of the lights on the face for a dreamy feel. If you put distance between your subject, you will not have that glow however your bokeh will be a lot more prominent.
7. Time of DayChoosing the time of day that you shoot will also affect the aesthetic of your image, as well as the position of your tree. If you want a lighter more daylight feel and your tree is close to a large window, you can shoot with natural light as your main light with the tree lights in the background during the day. This will alter your settings from what we have described as you would be able to use a daylight white balance and lower ISO. However, for a more cosy night time feel, shoot as the sun is going down or in the evening.
8. Post ProcessingHere is a quick image I snapped of our puppy Hugo in the evening. To begin with editing, it's important to think of your image like a backlit image. I began with boosting the exposure, taking down the highlights, and strengthening the blacks in Camera RAW. I then brought the image into Photoshop and burned the midtones of the background and dodging the midtones of the subject. I also reduced the grain. This shot was taken with a Nikon D750 with a 50mm lens with the settings of F/2, 1/125, ISO 8000. Take a look at the before and after below.
We hope these tips help you create some holiday magic this Christmas and document some beautiful memories. We would love to see your shots so make sure you share with us on