Christmas Tree Lights | Tips For Getting Your Images to Sparkle

by Stacey Haslem

Have you ever wondered how to get the lights on your tree to ‘sparkle’? The trick is all in your aperture setting! Below I took a picture of my Christmas tree using several different apertures. I included 100 percent crops so you can see the transformation of the lights.

Christmas Tree Lights | Tips For Getting Your Images to Sparkle photo

f/2.8 1/15 second ISO 1600

Christmas Tree Lights | Tips For Getting Your Images to Sparkle photo

f/4 1/8 second ISO 1600

Christmas Tree Lights | Tips For Getting Your Images to Sparkle photo

f/5.6 1/4 second ISO 1600

Christmas Tree Lights | Tips For Getting Your Images to Sparkle photo

f/8 1/2 second ISO 1600

Christmas Tree Lights | Tips For Getting Your Images to Sparkle photo

f/11 1 second ISO 1600

Christmas Tree Lights | Tips For Getting Your Images to Sparkle photo

f/16 2 seconds ISO 1600

Christmas Tree Lights | Tips For Getting Your Images to Sparkle photo

f/22 4 seconds ISO 1600

You can see at f/11, I get a clear starburst from the lights aka ‘sparkly’ lights! These were all shot at 16mm, but the same principles apply with any lens. Below are examples shot with a macro lens.

Christmas Tree Lights | Tips For Getting Your Images to Sparkle photo

f/2.8 1/6 second ISO 1600

Christmas Tree Lights | Tips For Getting Your Images to Sparkle photo

f/5.6 1/4 second ISO 1600

Christmas Tree Lights | Tips For Getting Your Images to Sparkle photo

f/32 10 seconds ISO 1600

Other tips when photographing your tree include:

  1. Pull out a tripod! Look at my shutter speeds. It would be impossible to hand hold my camera without getting motion blur.
  2. Check your histogram. This was one of those situations that my camera meter wasn’t accurate. According to it, I was overexposing by two full stops!
  3. Use more light. If you want portraits by a ‘sparkly’ tree, you are going to need another light source. With f/stops this high, you will need extra light and most likely a high ISO to speed up your shutter enough to prevent motion blur.
  4. Change your metering. When taking pictures of kids decorating the tree, meter off of the spot you want properly exposed (and remember to check your histogram and blinkies). This is usually the face or maybe a hand hanging an ornament.
  5. Play with your white balance. A warm white balance can give your image a cozy, Christmas feel. While a cool white balance will give you a wintery, Christmas feel.  Of course you can always convert to black and white as I often do!

Christmas Tree Lights | Tips For Getting Your Images to Sparkle photo

Christmas Tree Lights | Tips For Getting Your Images to Sparkle photoStacey Haslem, California
CMU Instructor | CM Mentor
website | facebook | twitter | pinterest | instagram | google+ | mentoring | ask a pro
Spurred by the inspiration of her four children, Stacey Haslem captures the beauty and intimacy that flourishes within her own home. That inspiration, along with her love of manipulating available light, translates into fine art, portraiture and lifestyle pieces. While she enjoys color in the occasional image, she believes more beauty can often be unveiled once it is stripped away. Stacey favors a Nikkor 35mm and 45mm tilt shift on her Nikon D4 or D700. She edits her images primarily in Lightroom, but enjoys Photoshop for it’s finishing touches. Stacey also takes joy in being a rotating instructor for the Mastering Manual Exposure course and providing mentoring services.

Read all photography tutorials by Stacey Haslem.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

36 Responses to “Christmas Tree Lights | Tips For Getting Your Images to Sparkle”

  1. Chris
    Dec 08 2011 at 5:33 am #

    Awesome tips! Thank you. Can't wait to try! :)

  2. Dec 08 2011 at 5:51 am #

    Awesome tips!! Thanks for sharing! :)

  3. Rena
    Dec 08 2011 at 6:39 am #

    Thank you for taking the time to tell us how to better shots of our Christmas Tree! Now I want to try this out!

  4. Dec 08 2011 at 10:16 am #

    such great tips, Stacey!!!

  5. Diana
    Dec 08 2011 at 10:25 am #

    Do you have any other lights on in the room while taking these pictures or just the lite Christmas tree?

  6. Stacey Haslem
    Dec 08 2011 at 10:27 am #

    Diana-I didn't have any lights in this room on, but this room adjoins to the kitchen that is right behind me. Those lights were on so this room was dark, but not completely pitch black. I hope that helps :)

  7. Dec 08 2011 at 10:50 am #

    Great tips! I can't wait until tonight to pull out my tripod!

  8. Dec 08 2011 at 12:10 pm #

    Great tips and images, Stacey! Thanks so much for taking the time to share this (and your beautiful tree!) with us!

  9. Dec 08 2011 at 2:12 pm #

    Wonderful, Stacey! I never knew the effect of the f-stop on the lights!

  10. Dec 08 2011 at 4:39 pm #

    great tutorial, stacey!!

  11. celeste
    Dec 08 2011 at 5:07 pm #

    Thank you Stacey!! Hope to get our tree up this weekend!

  12. Michelle
    Dec 09 2011 at 10:29 am #

    Thank you so much for this! I have been dying to get some good shots this Christmas.

  13. Heather
    Dec 09 2011 at 11:33 pm #

    Thanks Stacey. This came just at the right time. Can't wait to try it.

  14. Phani Morgan
    Dec 10 2011 at 12:30 pm #

    This is soo fabulous. Thank you for taking the time to create this article. Happy Holidays to you!

  15. Gina Johnson
    Dec 12 2011 at 8:40 pm #

    Just what I needed. Your tutorial was very informative step-by-step.. I am a newbie and this will help guide me through capturing the shot. Thank You!!!

  16. Dec 19 2011 at 5:02 am #

    Thanks for sharing! Will try this out on our Christmas tree! :)

  17. Tony|Essex Wedding P
    Jan 15 2012 at 2:46 pm #

    Very cool tip thank you

  18. Nov 22 2012 at 12:26 am #

    Oh yeah, shes got it nailed ! Thats good advice for those looking for beautiful Christmas images………….most especially the night shots.

  19. Nov 27 2012 at 9:04 pm #

    Great tips! Thanks, Stacey!

  20. valerie h
    Nov 27 2012 at 9:10 pm #

    I have a question..last year I saw a shot I think here and the room was dark but the tree was lit up and kinda glowed..what piece of equipment was used to achieve that?

  21. Nov 27 2012 at 9:40 pm #

    Thanks! I had no idea a smaller aperture would equal sparkly lights!

  22. Nov 27 2012 at 10:57 pm #

    Thank you, Stacey! Such awesome tips! :)

  23. Brenda O
    Nov 27 2012 at 11:06 pm #

    Just took this one tonight in our home in CT! Fresh fallen snow and the new lights my husband just bought. They are LED lights. At first I did not like them, Im used to the golden glow, but after seeing this tonight I’m in Love!

  24. Nov 28 2012 at 11:45 am #

    Thank you Stacy! This is something I am going to try for sure this year!!

  25. Rachel
    Nov 29 2012 at 11:27 am #

    awesome post!!!!!!!! I didn’t even know what I was missing! I don’t have a tripod yet but I have tall kitchen chairs and many huge textbooks. I love with the images of my home I was able to create. Thank you for sharing your knowledge

  26. Dec 04 2012 at 9:33 am #

    These are some really nice shots, I wish my Christmas shots looked like this. Thanks for the tips.

  27. Heather Keever
    Mar 20 2013 at 6:36 pm #

    Thanks so much for the tips! Love the shots I got of our tree this year

  28. Dec 08 2013 at 7:27 pm #

    Here is one I took of one of my trees the other day.

  29. Kathryn
    Dec 08 2013 at 8:22 pm #

    I have been wondering about this topic. Thank you!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Snappin’ Sunday: Christmas Lights « The Lilypad Blog - Dec 17 2011

    [...] Clickin’ Moms: Christmas Tree Lights [...]

  2. Christmas Decorating {Toowoomba Portrait Photographer} - Belle ImagesBelle ImagesToowoomba Family Portrait Photographer specialising in natural light photography for babies, children and families - Dec 20 2011

    [...] My three little angels decorating the Christmas tree (my son is actually pictured decorating Grandma and Grandpa’s tree!), and my attempt at a twinkly Christmas lights photo (I’ve decided I need more lights on the tree!) Try this tutorial, here. [...]

  3. Tree Photography » I'm Simply Me - Dec 02 2012

    [...] My next site was ClickinMoms. They have this great list of settings to try to get a specific effect. I tried a few. My tree [...]

  4. PinLaVie... Make your pins come true – Christmas Tree Lights-Tips For Getting Your Images To Sparkle - Dec 18 2012

    [...] the best sparkly images of all the beautiful lights at this time of year. Ask no more…click here to see the fantastic tutorial which will help you get your best holiday images. No Comments. [...]

  5. Different ways to photograph a Christmas tree by expandng - Dec 19 2012

    [...] getting ready to photograph our tree, I read these articles (1, 2) for some guidance. The first article talked about the effects of aperture on the lights. The [...]

  6. The Lilypad » Snappin’ Sunday: Christmas Lights - Feb 10 2013

    [...] Clickin’ Moms: Christmas Tree Lights [...]

Leave a Reply

Optionally add an image (JPEG only)