From My Family to You and Yours, Merry Christmas 2022!

My family and I wish you a very Merry Christmas! As always, we hope that your Christmas season is filled with great meaning, great memories, and of course, great images.

The Christmas tree is a core of our family's traditions, and it seems that our Christmas tree adventure always has a story.

After putting the tree up, I always vowel to get a smaller tree the next year. By the next year, the tall tree issues are forgotten, but the space available for the tree is remember, and the girls pressure to go big. After getting away from carrying the tree behind the SUV, moving it to the roof, hitting things alongside of the road are no longer an issue.

However, hitting the garage door when returning home is a concern. That risk didn't materialize, but making the tree stay upright was a real concern.

This year, the girls picked a tree with about 4 or 5' of the bottom branches trimmed off (likely sold for greens, such as for wreaths). That meant I couldn't clearly discern the tree's height above the bare trunk. And, it seemed to grow a couple of feet on the ground.

When trees get that tall, the trunk becomes thick, which equates with heavy. With help, I managed to get the tree upright and moved into position.

Hours later, my daughter said "Oh!" "Oh!!!" OOOh!!!!! The extra exclamation points reference the decibel level of her exclamations.

Yep, the tree fell over. Fortunately, no decorations were yet attached. Unfortunately, about 2 gallons of water dumped onto the floor. Fortunately, a large piece of plastic caught a lot of that water.

The tree you see here is tied to the wall with fishing line. It is 20lb test line for those of you who are fishermen. It is also about 20 years old, probably the same age as the tree.

Our Christmas tree represents a huge amount of work (mostly for my girls), and the results of their effort deserve preservation in a high-quality image. After photographing the annual Christmas tree in the same location for over 25 years (I unsuccessfully lobbied for a new location this year), I have a few go-to shots dialed in.

An ultra-wide-angle focal length usually gets the selection. In addition to fitting the tree and surrounding space in the frame, this angle of view makes the room appear big, creating a more dramatic look.

There seems to be an outstanding ultra-wide-angle lens choice introduced each year, and I seldom capture the tree photo with a lens previously used for that task. The Sony FE 14mm f/1.8 GM Lens got the call in 2021. Sony FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM Lens captured the Christmas 2020 tree, the Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens captured the 2019 tree, and, going a bit narrower for a different look, the Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM Lens took in the 2018 tree.

I didn't look at my lens choice from prior years before choosing this year's lens, had the new Sony Alpha 7R V to work with, and the Sony FE 14mm f/1.8 GM Lens was the perfect match for this year's job.

At this time of the year, I know that I need to take pictures between 5:15 and 5:25 PM to have a touch of dark blue sky color showing through the windows with the exposure balanced for the Christmas lights inside. No, I can't remember this time from year to year, but a calendar item reminds me (and EXIF information from the prior year's photos can be referenced).

F/16 images from any current digital camera, and especially from cameras with ultra-high pixel density, show a slight softness due to diffraction. However, I like the starburst effect that narrow apertures, such as f/16, create from point light sources, such as the candles in the windows. Because the a7R V pixel density is so high, I opted to open up to f/11 this year. The FE 14 still creates nice diffraction spikes from the point light sources at this aperture, and the a7R V produces noticeably sharper details at f/11 than at f/16.

With only the tree and other decorative lights on, the exposure needs to be long — 25 seconds at f/11 and ISO 100. The exposure duration means that only a few images can be captured during the perfect deep blue sky time.

Long exposures also mean that the tree ornaments must be still to avoid motion blur, and the floor vibrates when walked on, making the ornaments swing. One person walking across the room at the wrong time could eliminate one or two exposures from that short period. Thus, the photo day is (usually) selected for when I am home alone at the right time.

The vertical lines in the windows (or sometimes a wall unit) on the right side of the frame look best when running parallel to the edge of the frame. Thus, a camera position leveled for both tilt and roll is usually selected. In this case, the Sony FE 14mm f/1.8 GM Lens especially impresses with its lack of geometric distortion (no correction was applied to this image), rendering the vertical lines straight.

I am fortunate to have a range of tripods to work with, and holding the Sony Alpha 7R V and FE 14mm f/1.8 GM Lens combination steady indoors is not a support challenge. However, when shooting on carpet, I prefer a tripod with some weight (or spikes) to press into the carpet fibers, decreasing movement. The Really Right Stuff TVC-34L Mk2 Tripod and BH-55 Ball Head handled this job nicely.

With that, another Christmas tree photo is in the archives.

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