How to Photograph Christmas decor using a smartphone

photographing Christmas decor

The holidays are such a great time to get lots of beautiful photos of our home’s decorated interiors. Getting the lighting right and a good composition however can be challenging when using a smartphone. In this post I am going to share how to photograph holiday decor using a smartphone.

If you are a designer, blogger or anyone who likes to post on social media then now is a perfect time to get lots of photos before you pack up your holiday decor. Next december you will be fully prepared and ahead of the game with a folder of ready to go images.

How to photograph the Christmas tree

1. Use natural even light

As beautiful as the Christmas tree is, getting a good photo can be challenging. The easiest way to photograph your tree is during the day using even natural light. Besides the tree, it’s nice to get some of the room in the photo as well. This gives the tree context and adds to the overall holiday vibe.

Christmas tree photo using natural even light

2. Take lots of close up shots

Be sure to get lots of detail shots of your tree and ornaments so that you will have plenty of images for next December. If you are a blogger, jot down a few topics you might write about next year and be sure to get those photos now.

Lock in the focus for clear detail shots

With so much “photographic information” going into the camera’s sensor, it is not unusual to get a blurry photo. To prevent that from happening, touch the camera screen exactly where you want to focus and lock the focus. It might take a second or two but the focus will be locked assuring a sharp image.

In the above image I wanted my glass pig ornament to be in focus and not the wreath in the background. By placing my finger on the pig in the camera screen I was able to lock the focus. I use an iphone and when the focus is locked a yellow box will appear at the top of the screen with the letters AE/AF LOCKED.

3. Use portrait mode

Try using portrait mode if your phone has that feature. Focus in on what you want to highlight and let everything else blur in the background.

Pillow ornament from Deborah Main Designs

4. Shoot from different angles

Besides photos of your full tree and close ups of the ornaments, don’t be afraid to try some “artistic angles”. How does your tree look if you lay on the floor and shoot up at your tree? Experiment and see what interesting angles you can create.

5. Time your shoot for dusk or dawn

The most technically challenging Christmas tree photo is one taken that shows off the lights. If possible, time your shoot for either dawn or dusk. During dawn and dusk, some ambient light will be lighting the room but not enough to overpower the tree lights. You should be able to get a fairly decent shot that way.

6. Turn off all the interior lights and use a tripod

If you want to photograph your lit tree in the dark, then turn off the interior lights. This will prevent hot spots from hitting one side or certain areas of your tree.

It also helps if you have a tripod since the dark space results in a long exposure time and any hand movement can result in a blurry photo. Understand too that if you have colored lights on the tree your photo will not be perfectly color correct. This is fine as it adds to the charm and atmosphere.

7. Use the burst mode

If your tree lights are blinking then use the burst mode to take the photo. I would recommend holding the burst button for a couple seconds. That way you are guaranteed to get one with all the lights flashing on.

Christmas tree photographed using burst mode

8. Place people or pets in front of or near the tree

Having even just a hint of the tree in the background with people or pets in the shot will bring the photo to life. This image below, taken by Angela Todd is a beautiful lifestyle shot that fully embodies the spirit of the season

Angela Todd Studios

9. Try an outside camera app

Think you can’t get that beautiful bokeh effect with a smartphone? Download an app like Camera+ and by manually setting the shutter speed and aperture you will be able to create a beautiful Bokeh tree.

Bokeh tree lights

How to photograph the mantel

Everyone loves a decorated mantel. Fresh greens, stocking, candles are all ingredients for some fabulous photos.

1. Shoot straight on

Its always a good idea to get one overall image. Same rule applies to mantels as to trees. Turn off interior lights for best color quality and detail.

2. Photograph mantel details at an angle

Shooting on an angle is another good time to use the portrait mood. This causes the background to blur the farther away the eye travels from the subject, in this case the candle.

3. Warm up color balance the final image in editing

Smartphones are really good at color correcting. Sometimes too good and you can lose that warm glow or color cast you might be after. Use an app like snapseed and warm up your image for more impact.


How to photograph the holiday table

1. Check your background

If your dining room is “photo worthy” then get an overall image. Always check your background and make sure there is nothing that shouldn’t be in the shot. A glass accidently left on the sideboard or the dog’s toy on the floor will ruin the photo and result in extra work to edit it out.

2. Shoot the table from multiple angles

If including the whole room in your shot is not up to par then focus on just the table. Shoot from as many angles as possible, full length from an angle, full length straight on. Hold your phone about a foot above the table.

3. Shoot detail shots and vignettes

The one thing to remember about table settings is that they can be very busy. If your goal is to have usable images for IG then less is more. Looking at a busy full table of china, glassware and flowers is too much to take in, especially if looking on the phone.

5. Shoot a flatlay

Instagram loves flatlays. The best way to shoot these is to stand on a chair or ladder. Make sure your lines are straight and play around with object placement. It helps to lock the focus when shooting flatlays because sometimes it’s hard to see what’s in focus as you look down at your camera screen.

How to shoot your coffee table

Similar to shooting a table top, the best way to photograph a coffee table is to shoot plenty of photos from different angles.

Again, think about your background, lock your focus and use natural even light if possible. If you have enough holiday decor set up the table multiple ways using different items. The more variety you can think of the more images you will have for next December when you start your holiday posting.

If you are reading this not during the holidays then click on the pin below to save for the next year.

What's in My Camera Bag?

If you want to peek behind the magic curtain and start using the exact same tools that I use, click below.