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Tips for Photographing Holiday Decorations


2021 National Christmas Tree

‘Tis the season for photographing holiday decorations – they’re everywhere you look! Here are some general tips for photographing them:

  • Use a tripod and a remote release.
  • Use a low ISO.
  • Use Aperture Priority so that you can control the depth of field (the amount of the photo in focus from foreground to background) and let the camera manage the shutter speed. This means you might need to use a slower shutter speed to keep the ISO low, but if you’re using a tripod, you don’t have to worry about camera shake with a longer shutter speed.
  • Adjust the White Balance based on the type of light. Try a Tungsten setting to “warm up” the image or the Daylight setting to “cool down” the image. You can also create a Custom White Balance setting by photographing a piece of white paper in the same lighting.
  • Pay close attention to the exposure – it is easy to under or overexpose your image! You can use your Histogram as a guide if you’re not sure. In general, if the Histogram is in the middle and not skewed to the left or right, it will yield a better exposure. You can also bracket your shots – take one that is underexposed, one that the camera indicates i properly exposed and one that is overexposed.
  • Include ambient light. If outdoors, photograph the display at dusk so that the surrounding environment can also be seen in the image. If indoors, add lighting just outside the frame to provide additional ambient light in the scene.
  • Create an abstract image. In addition to capturing sharp images of the lights, also try blurring them. Use a zoom lens to zoom in or out; take the camera off the tripod and use Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) to create light patterns or trails. You can also try light painting – set a long exposure and use sparklers or a flash light to create light trails in your image.

Here are some ideas for photographing holiday decorations:


Library of Congress Ornament


Christmas Trees and Decorations at Enchant, Washington, DC


Intentional Camera Movements of a Christmas Tree


Glass Christmas Trees


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