Christmas Magic and a Tree Tutorial / by Carey

Christmas Tree Childhood magic photo by Carey Pace
f 4.5, 1/8, ISO 500

My friend Rachel loves Halloween.  She has a Halloween yard party every year and she goes all out. It's totally awesome.  But her love of Halloween is surpassed by her love of Christmas.  She pulls her tree out of the attic as soon as she can get those Halloween decorations put away.  Now, I confess, I'm a bit of a holiday purist.  I like to finish Thanksgiving before we begin Christmas.  But the freedom to be individuals is one of the things I love most about America.  If Christmas is that awesome and special to you, then by all means, go all out as soon as you want to.

I stopped by Rachel's house in November and saw her amazing mantle and tree scene.  She lives in this amazing old home full of architectural wonder.  I just LOVE visiting and looking at it.  Adding seasonal decor just puts it over the top.  It just seemed so idyllic.  A scene out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

As the weeks slipped by, I couldn't get that visual image out of my mind.  The darkness outside.  The glow of the tree lights.  The white mantle.  The stockings.  All I needed was an adorable little girl in a nightgown and my camera.  I asked Rachel if I could use her family for my own creative outlet, and she agreed.

I finally made it happen last Friday night.  This December is proving to be as crazy busy as all Decembers for our family have been, but I put this little creative project on top priority. I needed it for my own sanity.  It was so much fun to play and create these images.  (And Rachel and Greg were really awesome to accommodate me and all my demands!)  I already have ideas for how to do it again next year!

Christmas Tree Childhood magic photo by Carey Pace
f 6.3, SS 1/4, ISO 500

Christmas Tree Childhood magic photo by Carey Pace
f 4.5, ss 1/8, ISO 500

Christmas Tree Childhood magic photo by Carey Pace
f 2.0, ss 1/40, ISO 800

How did I shoot it? Here's a quick Christmas Tree Tutorial.

First, a tripod is a MUST.  An absolute MUST.  The shutter speed is going to be held open too long for even the best hand holder.

Second, stop down that aperture.  (you're shooting in manual, right????)  I'm used to shooting at f2.0-f2.8 on my prime lenses when I'm shooting the kids.  But for these scenes, you want ALL of it to be in focus, not just the eye lashes.  So bump it on up to f4, or f6.  You'll compensate with that slower shutter speed and ISO if you need to.  (you can see my settings as the captions on each photo above)

To get starbursts on the lights, you need a 'higher number' aperture.  I wish I'd tried going to f10 or f11 and bumping up my ISO to compensate.  None of these have super twinkly starbursts.  The kids were being as still as they possible could, so 1/4 and 1/8 is really as low as I could go in the shutter speed.  Just experiment - the tripod is your friend!  opens up a land of shutter speeds you don't ordinarily see.

Third, be ready to change the white balance.  Every Nikon I've ever owned has shot "cool", so I'm used to warming my images up, always.  But for these images, auto white balance shot too WARM.  So I actually cooled these images down before I edited them.  This lighting is just a little different, so just as you are going to be shooting in manual for the aperture, shutter and Iso, you will want to manually adjust the white balance.

I shot these with my Nikon D800
Nikon 50mm 1.4D