So for those of you reading this in the United States, you know that Thursday is Thanksgiving. A time to give thanks, think back about all the wonderful things in our lives and, who am I kidding... eat a LOT of food. For those of you reading this who aren't in the United States, well, Thursday is, well, Thursday and what better day to take pictures than on a Thursday. I thought I would focus this post on tips to help you take better Thanksgiving day photos, or again, Thursday photos if you're in Canada. I also mentioned in the title a tip on how to cook the perfect bird. Truth is I really only said that to try and get you to read this post, but highly recommend the high-heat method. Message me for details, but you'll get a moist, crispy skinned bird every time!
Okay, so what's special about Thanksgiving. Well, there's usually a lot of family and a lot of food, so let's focus on tips that will help us take better pictures of groups and food. This is a combination of my own tips and ones I've found helpful over the years.
1. Charge your battery!
I can't stress this one enough. It almost never fails. You don't charge your camera's battery so it's about half-way charged when you start the day. You begin taking photos when people start coming over and when the turkey comes out of the oven and people sit down to eat... poof, like magic, your camera battery is dead and you have to charge your battery before you can take any more shots. It's not worth it. No matter how full you think the change on your battery is, charge it the day before, so you know it has a full charge. In fact, why not buy an extra battery so you'll always have one that's fully charged. Batteries are easy to come by and if cost is an issue (some DSLR batteries can be pretty expensive) look into the knock-off brands. Do your research online cause not all are worth it, but there are some really good ones out there that are often more than 50% less than the brand name versions. The battery I use in my Canon cost $60, but I have a three batteries for it and one cost $17 and it works great!
2. Break the camera out early
Depending on the type of party you may need to start taking pictures early. In my family we start drinking right at the beginning, so you have to start taking pictures early or you'll just end up with photos of weird Uncle Alex dancing on the table in a thong and a top hat. Okay, I don't have an Uncle Alex, but you get the idea. Arrive early to take pictures of the decorations, the turkey, the snacks, the bottles of wine, etc. before any people show up.
3. Get the group
Typically people don’t stay in a large group at parties; they are all spread out in smaller groups. While having everyone in the same room at the same time, get that group shot so you'll have it afterwards. Now if there's someone you don't like in your family. this is the time to politely ask them to get the hell away from the table so they don't ruin your photo. Every holiday demands several family group shots, and then a series of candids to complete the stressful, I mean, awesome day! However, these standard shots can be boring, so the best advice is to take pictures that are as unique as possible. 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 different 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 and still get in the photo. The last thing you want is to have tons of photos from the day, with all of your family and not be in any of them. You need to be in some of the photos in case you get questioned for murder by the police. You'll need to have an alibi. Not that I ever have had to, but in case it happens, I want to be prepared. The goal for group shots is to get your entire clan in the photo, but not have too much headroom. Also, avoid using a flash if you can for a large group. It's really hard to light a large group well with a flash.
4. Capture the emotion
Keep your camera handy and turned on so you’ll be ready for those spontaneous expressions. Remember Uncle Alex on the table... yeah, that.
5. Be Candid
You can get some great shots of your family and friends when they don’t even know they are getting their picture taken. This is great for capturing emotion at the party. 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. Let's be honest, candid shots are where the fun is! Posed and constructed shots can get a little tedious (and put a strain on your patience. I don't know about your family, but my daughter isn't exactly a pleasure when you ask to take her picture). You want to get your family – especially any young children – enjoying and experiencing the holiday without any conscious recognition of the camera.
6. Don’t be afraid to zoom in or out
Don’t be afraid of zooming in so your subject fits into your camera frame. This way you can capture the expression of the subject. Also make sure you get pictures of the party as a whole, don’t be afraid to zoom out to capture the entire room. Part of how you "see" the world and transfer that vision to your photographs is determined by what you focus on and how you decide to compose your image. Fill the frame with details that will evoke the spirit of the day. Maybe it's the turkey, a special bottle of wine, or even a loaf of your favorite bread. The idea is to imagine what images will have the most dramatic impact.
7. Avoid Red Eye
One of the most common occurrences when taking pictures of people at parties is red eye. To make sure your friends and family don’t look evil eyed have them look just over your shoulder rather than directly at camera. This should help reduce the chances of red eye in your pictures therefore saving you time having to take it out before printing them. Another fix is to use an off-camera flash or even no flash (no flash guarantees there won't be any red eye) if the room is bright enough. It's probably not, so an off camera flash is probably your best best. You can fine really good off-brand flashes for under $100. You'll use it a ton during the holiday season. Well worth the cost.
8. Try different perspectives
Don’t be afraid to try different perspectives throughout the party: get at eye level with the kids to get their perspective of the party or take pictures standing on a chair or staircase to get a shot of everyone at the party. Just don't get on the table. That's where Uncle Alex will be standing.
9. How to make the food look good
If there something about the food or dish before you that has caught your attention, what was it? Is it its shape or is it the texture? Answer this and you’ll know if you are going to need a hard or a soft light, answer this and you’ll know which angle is gonna be best to photograph your subject from. Let the food inform your approach to photographing it. You'll also want to consider where you shoot from. You'll want to take your picture from slightly above sitting eye level. I utilize this particular angle all the time when I want to lead the eye across and out of an image. It works great for full table settings, multiple dishes or an obscure background element. The key is to get just above sitting level so that you can capture the entire spread in the frame while minimizing negative space in the background. Also, take photos of the food after the eating has begun. Crumbs scattered about a half eaten pie dish hold a particularly charming appeal. Food is meant to be eaten, and we all generally find it pleasing to see bits and pieces of dishes picked out – a sign that someone is enjoying it. So take a timeout after a few shots of the perfectly prepared dish and start digging in! Then, reset your frame and show a few crumbs scattered about, a rumpled cloth napkin in the corner of the frame, an open sugar packet and half drunken espresso – you get the idea.
So that's it! You're ready to have an awesome Thanksgiving with lots of great pictures. Then, when you're done taking pictures, sit yourself in from the TV, put on the football game, eat yourself sick, have some dessert, eat a little more turkey and then go to bed at 8:30. You can start post processing your photos the next day. They'll wait.