Find out when to go big and when to stay subtle.
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From your neighborhood cocktail party to your annual cousins' cookie baking day, your Christmas tree will get plenty of use as a photo backdrop, which is why you want to make sure it complements—and doesn't overshadow—the rest of the image. "In the end, the décor is just an additive to the photo—the most important thing to capture are the memories of the people in it!" says Kate Lester of Kate Lester Interiors. Lester and Elizabeth Gill of Elizabeth Gill Interiors offer their best tips for turning your holiday tree into an Instagram-worthy photo backdrop.

Choose the right tree.

If you want your evergreen to create a festive background—and not end up a twiggy, forgettable accent—go big. "A wider tree is always preferable when considering a good backdrop for a photo," says Gill. "In order to select the appropriate size for your space, consider the ceiling height and overall effect you want." Rooms with standard ceiling heights can generally accommodate trees between eight and 14 feet tall, but if you're setting yours up in a two-story foyer, opt for one in the 12-to-14-foot range. Lester also recommends selecting the size of your tree based on your space. "I would rather have a tree that fits the room nicely and then arrange the photo subjects accordingly to make it work," she says. "I like when a tree takes up the full frame, so the bigger the better in my opinion." The other must: opting for a real tree instead of faux. "The smell of Christmas does exist and it can be purchased: a Douglas Fir," says Gill. "These evergreens are my top choice with respect to scale and overall appearance, as they are known to be wide and full, with needles that stay on longer than other varieties."

christmas tree decorated with golden ornaments
Credit: Kirsten Francis

Layer your lighting.

Since the lights on your tree will appear prominently in the photo, you want to keep them small, says Lester. "This way, they don't take up too much of the camera's attention from the subjects," she says. Gill recommends wrapping your tree with two layers of bulbs. "First, you will want to go around the tree, from bottom to top, pushing the lights into the center of the branches, close to where the branches attach," she says. "You then will want to do a second stringing of lights on the branches closer to where you will be hanging the ornaments."

Define your color scheme.

As you begin adding ornaments, create a cohesive look by adding decorations within a limited color palette. "Pro tip," says Gill, "don't select more than three colors to feature. This will create a decorated look for photos without looking too perfect or staged. When you choose a color scheme, note that although not every ornament has to incorporate the designated hues, the base of the tree should be lined with on-palette options." While traditional shades—white, red, gold, and silver—never go out of style, you can also celebrate with a more contemporary look. "I love to do a neutral tree and, instead, play with the textures of the ornaments and decorations. Add in felt pieces, or wooden ones, but keep the overall scheme natural and organic," says Lester. "And since I live on the coast, I always gravitate to blues and greens, if I am adding in a color. They go well with the existing décor of my house and don't compete too much with the natural coloring of a Christmas tree." But regardless of the colors and ornaments you choose, the key is to make sure you don't go overboard—and turn your tree into a photo bomb instead of a backdrop. "Decorate to complement the natural splendor of the tree, but not so excessively that by the end, you can't tell whether or not there is actually a tree underneath all of the ornaments," says Gill.

Check your surroundings.

The area you'll see around the tree is defined by how far away you set up your camera, but if you're taking full-length portraits or wide landscape shots, you should also consider the bottom and sides of the space. "More likely than not, you will see more of the bottom of the tree than the top of the tree in photographs," says Lester. "I love a tree collar made of a natural rattan or wicker—it gives the impression that it is just part of the tree." Wrap gifts (or empty packing boxes) in pretty paper to decorate the space underneath your boughs, and adorn the space on either side with subtle holiday accents. "If you are taking the photo of the grand foyer, then consider adding a pretty faux garland to the stair rails as well as some leftover ribbon you may have from decorating the tree—no twinkling lights necessary," says Gill. "If you have a simpler backdrop, perhaps in your living room near the fireplace, then I would suggest that you put a simple garland above the fireplace with lights. Remove any artwork from the wall that may compete, and please, whatever you do, don't get your TV in the photo!"

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