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How to Photograph Christmas Ornaments

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 1 2
Christmas Nativity Ornament

Lots of people wonder why they can't take nice photos of their Christmas ornaments. They walk into a dark room with only the Christmas tree providing light, and they think, "This would make a great photo!" So, they pull out their digital camera, probably a small pocketable digicam, and begin snapping away only to find later that their photos look like crap. Most likely, the camera was on an automatic setting, and the flash was used for each shot. The photos often capture nothing of the warm glow of the tree in the dark room. They appear too bright and washed out. This article will provide some tips for capturing better Christmas ornament and decoration photos.

Things You Will Need

1. Digital Camera
2. Christmas Ornaments
3. Camera support (tripod, bean bag, chair or some other method of support)
4. Your camera's user manual might come in handy.

Step 1

Aperture Priority
So, how do we fix this? The first step is to turn your camera off the fully automatic setting. This is one situation where you need to take control from the camera. I recommend using aperture priority. You may need to check the manual for your particular camera to figure out how to do this. The photo shows how I do this with one of my cameras. Aperture priority is most often designated by an A.


Step 2

Cut off the flash
Second, cut off the camera's flash. The on-board flash is what causes your photos to be washed out. It doesn't allow the warm glow from the Christmas lights to be captured properly. The photo shows how to tell when the flash is off. Usually you will see a crossed out lightning bolt. On this camera the flash is always off unless you manually pop it up. On most digicams you can turn off the flash by hitting a flash control button of some sort that should look like the one shown in the photo (with a lightning bolt).

Step 3

Camera support
Third, since we're shooting in the dark with no flash, and subsequently using a long shutter speed, we need to find a stable support for our camera. A tripod is best. It doesn't have to be an expensive one. We'll be shooting indoors, so there's no wind, and the floor is flat. If you don't have a tripod, use what you have. A table or chair will do. Just something to keep the camera from moving. In the photo I have the camera sitting on a bag of beans. Bean bags make excellent camera supports when you don't have a proper tripod.

Step 4

Lion Ornament
Now it's time to shoot! I like to get in very close to the ornaments and use a large aperture (small f-stop number). The large aperture gives us a blurry background while keeping the ornament in focus. You can also use a small aperture (large f-stop number) to keep more of the tree in focus. I took this photo of a lion ornament this Christmas season and converted it to black and white. I used a large aperture (f1.7) so the background would be blurry.

Step 5

Macro Setting
If you're using a small digicam, and you're shooting ornament close-ups, you should set your camera to its macro setting. This is usually represented by a flower. See the photo. This setting will help your camera focus better on close up items.

Now your photos should capture the warm glow of the lights and ornaments without being blown out by the flash! A couple of great books to help you improve your macro (close-up) photography work:

Understanding Close-up Photography: Creative Close Encounters with or without a Macro Lens


Digital Macro Photography


by NDKennedy

Tips & Warnings

Tip 1: What if you don't have a tripod or any other support, and you'll be shooting with the camera in your hands? All is not lost! You'll have to find a balance between a shutter speed that you can hand-hold adequately without getting a blurry image and an ISO/aperture combination that will give you the exposure you need. The first thing I'd try is setting the camera on shutter priority and use a 1/25 second shutter speed. That's about as slow as you can set it and still hand-hold it for most cameras and lenses. Shutter priority will let the camera choose an appropriate aperture. Depending on your other settings, the camera may also choose the ISO. If it doesn't, you'll want to set it to something fairly high. Try 400 or 800. The higher the ISO number you use, the noisier (grainier) the image will be. Ignore any warnings from your camera about the image being underexposed. Then take a few shots and see how they look. If they're blurry, use a shorter shutter speed. Try 1/40 second and so on. If they're too dark, try increasing the ISO. If all else fails, find something to support that camera so you can use a slower shutter!

Tip 2: If you have trouble getting your camera to focus in the dark, set it to manual focus if you can. Then just manually focus and shoot. Another option is to turn on the overhead lights, focus using the autofocus with the extra light, set the camera to manual focus being careful not to move the camera or disturb the lens, then turn off the overhead lights and snap the shot.

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Comments

Jan 12, 2011 4:58pm
ecbyahoo
Excellent article. I wish I had read this before taking pictures for my christmas tree/binder clips article! Very well written article with just the right details for the novice reader. Pictures are perfect and two affiliate links at the end. Perfect!
Jan 15, 2011 11:43am
ndkennedy
Thanks! Hope it helps people. Taking photos of ornaments in a dark room is something people are always asking me about. I checked out your article on using the binder clips. A really great idea, especially for someone like me who really hates the actual decorating process but enjoys having stuff decorated! Regards,

ND
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