How to Take Magical Photos of your Kids with Christmas Lights

Here’s a  simple and fun photo you can take with your kids today, as you stay cool on this stormy, muggy Christmas eve!

I posted some photos of my daughter and our Christmas tree on the weekend, and today I want to tell you how I captured the magic feel of Christmas using just the lights on our Christmas tree.

The best part is you’re capturing a precious moment of childhood that you’ll treasure forever. I’m SO glad I have my camera to help me freeze time; whilst I can’t take the photo FOR you, I can hopefully help you capture a bit of magic too.

little girl reaches out to touch christmas tree during lifestyle photo session

Start by making the room as dark as possible

You want the Christmas tree lights to be the only light source, this is what gives you the magical look.

So even though it feels a little crazy, turn off all the lights and close all the blinds and doors (and in any other rooms that spills light into the room).

Decide the photo you want to capture, so you know the best angle to shoot from

I had two photos in mind, reading under the tree (literally right under, for maximum light!), and my daughter hopefully reaching out at the ornaments. But I took both photos from the same spot so there was only one ‘area’ I had to set up. I used a tripod and self timer for our photo together.

A dark background works best, to make the lights ‘pop’ and minimise distractions.

Prepare the things you’ll use to grab your child’s interest – I had a new Christmas pop up story book (Kmart), and hid some of her farm animal figures in the tree for her to find.

Move things around for maximum effect

Have a look through your camera, and remove anything distracting in the background of your planned photo.

Pull presents/baubles/string lights into the area you want to use, for an extra festive feel.

The important thing here is only have the tree and your child in the photo. So if something in your photo doesn’t add to the story, get in closer.

I’ve included a photo of my (beautiful!) Christmas tree, to highlight how lost the story would feel in such a big space.  It’s great to take one photo for memories sake, but the idea here is to get creative!

little girl smiles as she looks at the decorated christmas tree in her home
little girl holds christmas tree bauble by christmas tree
live christmas tree decorated with red bow and lit with lights

Set your camera settings

Automatic mode will want to make everything too bright, and you’ll lose the magical light from the Christmas lights.

Most newer cameras have a  night landscape and/or a candlelight and/or sunset scene. The flash doesn’t usually fire in these modes, and one of these should give you a darker background but light up the foreground nicely enough. If your camera has a manual mode and you want to try it, set your camera to MANUAL mode (M), and choose the widest f/stop you can (such as 2.8). Set a starting point shutter speed of around 1/125 (any slower than this will cause a blurry image if you or your child move even a smidge), and a high ISO (at least 1000).  You may need to increase the ISO more if the image is too dark, just experiment it’s fun!!!.

Do not use the flash!! Your child’s face may be lit up, but you’ll loose the ambient, magical lighting of the Christmas tree lights. It’s much better to raise your ISO to add more light (this may introduce some graininess, but at least you’ll capture the magic).

You’ll encourage your child to get close to the Christmas tree, so the lights illuminate their face. My daughter is 3 and no encouragement could get her closer than a metre away lol so just work with what they give you!

Play with the White Balance setting, and see if you prefer a greener (auto WB) or warmer (cloudy/shade WB) look. Personally I love the warm glow for these photos.

Take a test shot (use a teddy, only get your child once you’re really ready!). If your test shot is waaaaay too dark on their face, try opening just a chink of curtain facing opposite your child, just enough that a little light spills onto the area which needs it.

Make the photos fun as you take them

We spent around 30 minutes on our ‘photo shoot’, but I wasn’t taking photos all that time. I’d take some photos, then put the camera down (still holding it in case I saw a great shot!) so I could  share in the memory. My daughter walked away at one point, but came back 5 minutes later  (after I hid the animals in the tree, which sparked her curiosity again!).

So remember to allow plenty of time for your child to ENJOY themselves.  This will attach a much richer and magical memory to the photos when you look back on them in years to come. x

natural family photos