How to get your Christmas tree lights to sparkle

  • Have you ever wondered how to get the lights on your tree to 'sparkle'? The trick is all in your aperture setting and I can show you how!

How to get your Christmas tree lights to sparkle

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.

Have you ever wondered how to get the lights on your tree to 'sparkle'? The trick is all in your aperture setting and I can show you how!
Have you ever wondered how to get the lights on your tree to 'sparkle'? The trick is all in your aperture setting and I can show you how!
Have you ever wondered how to get the lights on your tree to 'sparkle'? The trick is all in your aperture setting and I can show you how!
Have you ever wondered how to get the lights on your tree to 'sparkle'? The trick is all in your aperture setting and I can show you how!
Have you ever wondered how to get the lights on your tree to 'sparkle'? The trick is all in your aperture setting and I can show you how!
Have you ever wondered how to get the lights on your tree to 'sparkle'? The trick is all in your aperture setting and I can show you how!
Have you ever wondered how to get the lights on your tree to 'sparkle'? The trick is all in your aperture setting and I can show you how!

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.

Have you ever wondered how to get the lights on your tree to 'sparkle'? The trick is all in your aperture setting and I can show you how!
Have you ever wondered how to get the lights on your tree to 'sparkle'? The trick is all in your aperture setting and I can show you how!
Have you ever wondered how to get the lights on your tree to 'sparkle'? The trick is all in your aperture setting and I can show you how!

Other tips when photographing your tree include:

Pull out a tripod!

Look at my shutter speeds. It would be impossible to hand hold my camera without getting motion blur.

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!

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.

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.

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!

About the Author:

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. Visit Stacey Haslem online.
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37 Comments

  1. Chris Dec 08 2011 at 5:33 am - Reply

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

  2. Bridgette Dec 08 2011 at 5:51 am - Reply

    Awesome tips!! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  3. Rena Dec 08 2011 at 6:39 am - Reply

    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. Leah Cook Dec 08 2011 at 10:16 am - Reply

    such great tips, Stacey!!!

  5. Diana Dec 08 2011 at 10:25 am - Reply

    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 - Reply

    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. Lashawn Dec 08 2011 at 10:50 am - Reply

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

  8. Ashley Spaulding Dec 08 2011 at 12:10 pm - Reply

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

  9. LaceyMeyers Dec 08 2011 at 2:12 pm - Reply

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

  10. sara Dec 08 2011 at 4:39 pm - Reply

    great tutorial, stacey!!

  11. celeste Dec 08 2011 at 5:07 pm - Reply

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

  12. Michelle Dec 09 2011 at 10:29 am - Reply

    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 - Reply

    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 - Reply

    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 - Reply

    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. Joan Dec 19 2011 at 5:02 am - Reply

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

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

    Very cool tip thank you

  18. Michaelee Nov 22 2012 at 12:26 am - Reply

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

  19. kate Nov 27 2012 at 9:04 pm - Reply

    Great tips! Thanks, Stacey!

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

    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. Erika Nov 27 2012 at 9:40 pm - Reply

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

  22. Lisa Benemelis Nov 27 2012 at 10:57 pm - Reply

    Thank you, Stacey! Such awesome tips! 🙂

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

    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. Elena Nov 28 2012 at 11:45 am - Reply

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

  25. Rachel Nov 29 2012 at 11:27 am - Reply

    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. Alpha Lights Dec 04 2012 at 9:33 am - Reply

    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 - Reply

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

  28. Brenda Douglas Dec 08 2013 at 7:27 pm - Reply

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

  29. Kathryn Dec 08 2013 at 8:22 pm - Reply

    I have been wondering about this topic. Thank you!

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