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How Do I Take Decent Christmas Tree Photos?

O, tannenbaum, o tannenbaum, how washed-out are thy highlights. But they don’t have to be.

You’ll want to remember your Christmas in photos. And what’s more visually iconic of your Christmas than your Christmas tree?

A Christmas tree — whether it’s a confection of tinsel and lights and lush greenery, or spindly bare branches with lots of daylight behind it — presents challenges to the snap-shooter. Luckily, they’re the same challenges as for any subject. Here are the things to remember:

High Dynamic Range

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If the image isn’t moving, use your Camera app’s HDR function to automatically create a combined shot that makes the most of highlights and shadows. Caution: this works only for non-moving shots. It works great for family photos in front of the foliage. Just try to get everybody to freeze for a few seconds (which can be its own kind of fun).

Exposure and Focus Lock

BLG-TakeXmasPics-AEAF_expcompHaving a hard time convincing the camera to focus where you want it? Sometimes you have to outsmart the auto focus. First, make sure you’re not too close. Give it a few inches. Second, did you know you can lock the focus? Find some sharp detail that your camera can focus on, then hold your finger there until you see “AE / AF Lock” (short for Auto Exposure / Auto Focus). Now your camera will stay focused at that distance from the lens when you point it somewhere else, and the exposure won’t change when you point it elsewhere. So, point it somewhere at the right focus distance and the right light/dark balance, lock it in, then compose your shot. iOS 8 gives you a cool new feature, too, once you’ve engaged the AE / AF Lock. Hold your finger on the screen and look closely, and you’ll see an on-screen slider. Slide your finger up or down anywhere on the image for a quick way to adjust overall lightness.

Auto Lock can be a drawback, too, though. Nothing looks Christmassier than sparkly details with soft, blurry backgrounds. But the default Camera app uses the same finger-tap for both exposure and focus. For more control, take a tip from your tree and branch out! There are third-party apps out there that let you set exposure and focus independently. Camera+ and Top Camera are two good ones that come to mind. Don’t be shy. Get in close for details on family heirloom tree ornaments. Again, tap your finger on the touchscreen to tell your camera what to focus on, then draw back from your subject until edges and details are sharp and crisp.

Already taken the shot? There are lots of good third-party editing apps that help you separate the foreground sparkly parts from the dreamy background parts. Try out Snapseed and Bokeh Lens. AfterFocus is an app that lets you selectively blur part of the image to simulate focus on just the part you want. For even more editing flexibility, try an app called FocusTwist. It shoots a still image that’s really a short video that includes focuses at various depths. After you’ve taken the shot, tap the part of the image that you want to focus on. Christmas magic!

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