This time of year many of us want pics of the kids in front of the tree to send to relatives, printing on cards, etc. Shooting these images can be a challenge because lights on the tree are warm (colour temperature) and not that bright. Using a flash or strobes (which are much cooler) will result in images that are difficult to colour balance and if you run your flash and camera on auto it will usually wash out the tree lights.
Here’s a quick recipe to get you going:
1) Mount your camera on a tripod and use a cable release (or self timer if a cable release isn’t available and your subjects will hold still that long). Turn your flash off.
2) Use tungsten light (i.e. standard light bulbs) to light your subjects. I use an inexpensive hot light that takes a standard size bulb and a 10-inch reflector. This year I used a common 100w bulb and placed it high and center. Move it closer or further away until the tree light, ornaments, and the face of your subjects have the look you want. Be creative – use room lights, lights with clamps, or whatever you have. Just try to stick to the same colour temperature to preserve the balance and help achieve that warm look.
3) Set your camera in aperture priority mode (“A”) and select the smallest aperture (i.e. largest f-number) that still results in a shutter speed higher than 1/10. You may need to adjust your ISO to a higher number, such as 400. f5.6 at 1/20th or faster would be ideal, but you may not get there. Some of my favourite shots this year were at f2.8, 1/15th, ISO 400. With large apertures pay careful attention to focus and depth of field. If your camera allows you to “zoom” in while viewing images, use that feature to check for focus and sharpness, especially if photographing kids that don’t hold perfectly still.
4) If you have an advanced camera you can set your white balance manually. If not (or if you don’t want to) just shoot with auto white balance and adjust in Lightroom or your favourite photo editor after the shoot. 3000k is a good starting point.