Creating the Photograph – Christmas Edition

Some photographers may avoid kitschy Christmas photos; but any photographer with a 6mo old at Christmastime is going to lean in and try to capture the perfect photograph. A photograph that can be later shown to their teenaged dates and displayed at their wedding (sorry little dude, this won’t be the last time the world sees these photos).

One weekend in November, my wife and I started planning our son Ethan’s first Christmas photoshoot. Here’s what we considered when creating these photos:

Owned Purchased
  • Christmas lights
  • My First Christmas outfit and elf hat from Carters
  • white bed with afternoon light from two windows
  • a fake snow blanket
  • large Christmas ornaments
  • small Santa hat

How I Took the Baby Christmas Photo

The set. Captured on my phone.

The set. Captured on my phone. ‘Bella’ toy as stand-in.

For these photos, we set-up in the master bedroom on our big white bed. We draped the headboard with Christmas lights and covered them in two layers of the fake snow blanket to obscure the individual lights, but not lose them altogether. Then we carefully placed out Christmas ornaments hoping that they appeared random.

Next, I had to consider the light. While the windows provided a lot of light, there was significant falloff and flatness. To combat this, I used my Nikon SB-800 external flash on my D700 with my 50mm f/1.8 lens.

To create the photograph, I bounced the flash directly off the wall behind me. Doing this allowed me to create a larger and softer light source than if I had shot with the flash directly facing the bed. This created the right light to bring up the entire scene. I also wanted to get a really shallow depth of field, but I was very close to Ethan. Here are my settings:

I set the aperture to f/2.2 for a shallow depth of field.  Next, I needed to choose a fast shutter speed to make sure I didn’t get motion blur (did you know that babies move a lot?). I set my shutter speed to 1/160. For my ISO, I wanted to preserve a lot of the background ‘whiteness’ without getting too much grain. If my ISO was too low (ISO200), it would darken the background; and if it was too high (ISO2000+), the photo quality would degrade. I set my ISO to 640 as a happy medium with my other settings.

My flash was in TTL, which meant it compensated based on my camera settings. The flash for this scene was very important because it created catch lights in Ethan’s eyes. Without catch lights, the eyes don’t pop.

Here’s the result without any edits:

christmas baby photograph

Next, I used the clone and heal brushes in Photoshop to extend the headboard on the left and top right, then brought it back into Lightroom to adjust the technical settings. The photo was very close to where I wanted it in-camera, so I didn’t have to do very much besides brighten the photo and adjust Ethan’s skin tones.

Adobe Lightroom Adjustments

Basic Adjustments Panel

  • slight boost to exposure to increase the “whiteness” of the photo
  • brought highlights down to make sure the detail wasn’t blow-out
  • adjusted the blacks down (I always do this. It enriches the photo)
  • clarity, vibrance and saturation all got a slight boost to bring the colours up and out
 Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 7.37.49 AM

HSL Panel

A trick I once learned about brightening skin tone and helping it pop is to adjust luminance. You do this in the HSL Panel in Lightroom by grabbing the circular target and clicking on the skin tone, then dragging up to the desired level.


Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 7.38.04 AM

lightroom eye enrichlightroom adjustment brush eye enrichen

Brightening the Eyes

I used the Adjustment Brush on the eyes at full flow with minor feathering. Next, I boost exposure and highlights to bring up the catch lights, then boost clarity which make the midtones darker.

The result are clear and crisp eyes with bright white catch lights.




We loved the final result of this photo, and the others that we shot that afternoon.

before and after edit christmas baby photo

baby christmas photo santa hat


baby christmas photo elf hat