I just came across a blog post about taking photos by the Christmas tree, but the author was using a pro DSLR and recommended using a prime lens. Useless. If someone knows what a prime lens is, they probably don’t need your tutorial. Furthermore, even though I have a big pro DSLR and even a prime lens, I am not bringing it with me to family gatherings that involve people wandering around with beverages and children running around. That big camera is heavy and expensive, not to mention, the cornerstone of my business. . . so unless I’m working I leave the big camera home and rely on my trusty iPhone camera.
And so, for those of us with a fabulous little camera in our pockets, here’s how you use it to take great photos with Christmas tree.
First, at all costs, avoid using the flash. . . unless you like that possessed by demons look. Turn off that flash!
Now, if your tree is in front of a big window, we call it “back lit.” When you’re taking a backlit photo, you have to trick the iPhone into over-exposing the photo for you.
But, when you have your camera up, you can tap to tell it where to focus and base the exposure. So, after I took this photo, I tapped on a dark part of the tree. And boom! Properly exposed tree and subject, overexposed background. Makes a nice glowy photo.
Another thing you can do with a big window, is have it to the side of the tree and subject. Sidelighting is generally very pretty and again, you can tap in the camera app on different areas until you get a good exposure.
Now, if it’s nighttime and you put someone near the tree, you’re going to get this photo. The tree looks good, but Allie is a bit in the dark. (Abby was done being my model. I roped the teenager in.)
We’re going to get a little fancier to get this working right… When you tap in the camera app, notice that it makes a box around your tapped area with a little sun to the right.
Now you can slide that little sun up and down to brighten or darken your exposure. To get the photo below, I asked Allie to find her favorite ornament. (This works with toddlers too.) While she was doing that, I tapped on a dark spot to get the square and the sun, and then I slid that sun all the way up. Pretty magical, right?
If you want to photograph someone straight on with the tree though, you’re going to need some ambient light. For this photo, I just couldn’t get the iPhone to take a decent shot without turning on another light. I just turned on a lamp with a warm-white CFL in it. It doesn’t have to be that exact bulb, but light has color to it. Which is why some strings of LED lights look blue, and then they started making warm white LED lights. So you just want to turn on a light that is similar in color to your tree lights. Otherwise something’s going to look bluer or more orangy than the rest of the photo.
I’ll admit that my photos maybe have some grain and/or lack some sharpness. That’s because I’m pushing the boundaries of the camera. I’d rather have that though than possessed demon eyes and that hard bright light any day. Also, to help with the blur, when you’re taking low-light photos tuck your elbows in against your body. If you can, lean your back against a wall. And hold your breath for the moment you take the photo. All these things help stabilize your photo.
Lastly, it will take some practice to coordinate the tapping with the sun-sliding and the click to shoot. Find a willing subject and try it out before you go to that family gathering. And even though you’ll be the best photographer there, make sure you get in some photos too!
If you have any questions, send me a message, or ask in the comments.