This Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States, the day that starts the holiday season and brings family & friends together. Check out this week’s Photo Tip Tuesday for tips to help create memorable, emotion-invoking images that will be enjoyed by your family for years (and generations) to come.
Every photography project s better served with some pre-planning. Scout the location (in this case, the family home) taking notice of specific details. Observe how the light filters through the windows and illuminates the room. Don’t be afraid to take test shots under various lighting conditions to check exposure and try out compositions. When it comes time to photograph your family, you’ll know exactly what to do, where to position people and when are the best times to shoot. Start shooting during the preparations or call whomever is hosting the Thanksgiving feast about the food that will be served. This will help give you an idea about what gear to bring, the number of dishes that you will be photographing, the table layout, and other factors that will influence your Thanksgiving photography session.
Use proper lighting
The best lighting will always be natural light. If you’re having Thanksgiving lunch, you’ll be able to take beautiful photos simply by placing the food right next to a window. If you’re having dinner, it’s also ideal to have diffused lighting that’s similar to the sun’s warm white tone, as this brings out the real colors of your dish while adding just enough warmth to make it look delectable. When using an external flash, just remember to bounce the light from a bright, neutral-colored ceiling, or from the wall on the side to create shadows that will give your subjects more dimension.
Zoom in for details
You’ll be best served shooting with a zoom lens during the holidays (more flexibility in composition). Fill the frame with details that will evoke the spirit of the holiday. For Thanksgiving, that could be the turkey when it comes out of the oven or when it’s placed on the table. Wine glasses, the wreaths on the doors and autumnal flower arrangements around the house are also great details. The underlying concept here is to imagine what images – when closely cropped in the composition – will have the most dramatic impact.
Highlight the turkey
The turkey is the main attraction of your feast and star of the show. Make sure you take a photo of it fresh from the oven so the skin is still beautifully crisp and glazed. Don’t forget to dress it up and garnish it with colorful food elements to compliment its golden brown, roasted skin. Use an external flash and bounce it from the ceiling or a wall to create flattering lighting and show off the legs, either in front or towards the side. Also, you can place the rest of the dishes around it to show the turkey’s size and to round-up the entire feast for that Thanksgiving table spread photo.
Photograph them fresh
You’ll want your food and dessert to look as fresh and juicy as possible, so you’ll need to be nearly ready to take your photo as soon as it comes out of the oven or kitchen. For desserts and foods with cheese or butter, you may want to just save time, keep it simple, and skip the decorations and styling so you can photograph them before they start dripping and melting. Besides, you won’t want to keep the guests waiting!
Family group shots
Every holiday demands several family group shots and a series of candids to complete the memory. Use compositions that are as unique and robust as your family! You’ll want to position the family in such a way that you take into consideration the height and width of your frame (you might want to get a step-ladder or stand on a chair to get a better vantage point) and position your family so they fill the frame. Since you need to be in some of the photos too, use a tripod and the auto-timer to get the composition you want (perhaps from up high looking down) and still get in the photo. Obviously, the Thanksgiving meal needs to be a centerpiece in the composition, so make sure the cook showcases it. The goal is to get your entire family in the photo, but not have too much headroom.
Take candid shots
Candid shots are where the fun is! Posed and constructed shots can get a little tedious (and put a strain on your family’s patience), you’ll want to get your family – especially any young children – enjoying and experiencing the holiday without any conscious recognition of the camera. Thanksgiving centers around the meal, so you’ll want to get the carving of the turkey to be the focus point in many of the photos. Keep the zoom lens on, with a wide aperture and fast ISO to capture the action (such as laughter) as it happens. Candids capture your family when they’re not expecting it, so utilize a long focal length and fast shutter to capture singular moments that will tell the story of that holiday years from now.
Inevitably, there comes a time for formal groups shots on Thanksgiving; to succeed, think of them as family portraits without the photo studio. One of the things you’ll want to do is to arrange your subjects in positions where the environment compliments them. This might mean using the holiday decorations or taking advantage of the outdoors as your setting. However, you don’t want the background to be too much of a distraction, so use a wide aperture like f/2 or f/2.8 to sufficiently reduce the depth of field. Group your family together so that they fill the frame and limit the headroom. You might want to utilize your flash to fill in the shadows, particularly if you’re shooting outside late in the afternoon. You may want to fill the frame with complementary items when capturing the completed meal: utensils, condiments, the table centerpiece, decorations, pumpkins or other food items to make the photo fill the viewers up visually. You can also move in closer by zooming in and focusing on a few important details that will make your viewers want to take a bite.
Thanksgiving is the big family gathering holiday, and emotions can be high during this time. The holiday is about spending time with your loved ones, so don’t forget to feature them in your photos. When the family members & friends start to arrive, you can be snapping away – getting candids, zoomed-in close-ups and detail work. There are a few critical pieces of equipment (tripod, detachable flash) that you should bring to make things easier, but it’s really just you and the camera. Take candid shots of the people eating and enjoying the food; capture those big smiles as your family cuts that delicious turkey open. Featuring people can make your food photos look more appealing and inviting while adding that personal touch, so don’t forget about the human element when doing your Thanksgiving photography.